A Leaf Peeper’s Paradise: Your Ultimate Guide to Fall Foliage in Pittsburgh and Beyond
How to track fall foliage in your area, and where to see the best views this autumn.
As the seasons change from summer to fall, the leaves on the trees will soon be changing from a lush green to tawny shades red, yellow and orange — and in some places, this change will happen sooner rather than later.
Tracking the change
SmokeyMountains.com, a resource used by more than 20 million travelers to the Smoky Mountains and beyond, offers a tool called the 2022 Fall Foliage Map to help track the progressive changing of the leaves nationwide. It touts itself as the “ultimate visual planning guide” to the autumnal sights and peak colors around the U.S., while also giving users the option to report fall foliage in their area to make the map more accurate.
For those who fancy themselves leaf peepers, this tool can help you plan your fall foliage journeys throughout Western Pennsylvania.
While there isn’t much change yet, the map predicts that southwestern Pennsylvania will start to see minimal and patchy autumn leaves as early as Sept. 12.
By Sept. 26, it estimates that trees throughout the entire state will be either partially changed or nearing peak colors, and most of the state will be either near or at peak by mid-October. Allegheny County is expected to reach its peak by Oct. 17.
Where — and when — to see the changing leaves
While some of the most famous leaf-peeping hot spots are in New England and out west, Pittsburghers don’t have to travel far to see some stellar autumn colors.
1. Pittsburgh’s own city parks are easy stops to peep some pretty leaves, and with hundreds of acres of trails, visitors are bound to find some special sights without ever leaving town.
Schenley Park, with 465 acres of greenery, offers both a sprawling hilltop view of the city and a range of trails throughout Panther Hollow. Frick Park, too, offers644 acres, making it the largest park in Pittsburgh. It also features an assortment of tulip, ash and red maple trees, which all change colors at slightly different times. This promises an assortment of picture-perfect fall colors.
2. The Three Rivers Heritage Trail, a 33-mile nonlinear trail with segments on the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers, is a popular spot to see some spectacular colors. Spanning the city’s North Side, Downtown and South Side neighborhoods, the trail is easily accessible from various points, and offers leaf peepers views of the city skyline and rivers surrounded by shades of red, orange and yellow.
For most of Pittsburgh, mid-October will be your best bet to see the leaves at their peak.
3. The Great Allegheny Passage, spanning about 150 miles between Downtown’s Point and Cumberland, Maryland, boasts fall colors a bit earlier in October. The trail carries pedestrians and cyclists through Ohiopyle, a state park rich with autumnal beauty at the southern ridge of the Laurel Mountains. If you’re up for a hike, you can brave the somewhat difficult Baughman Trail to take in a dramatic panorama of the Youghiogheny River Gorge.
4. Hop on Interstate 79 to Erie for some autumn sights around Lake Erie and Presque Isle State Park, a 3,200-acre peninsula boasting diverse woodlands. The greenery around Presque Isle Bay, along with that of the paved multi-purpose trail, offer the best look at changing leaves. Leaf peepers can also book a sightseeing boat tour on the Lady Kate on weekends throughout September, offering a look at the scenery as fall’s earliest colors begin to emerge.
Visit Erie in late October for peak colors — and to enjoy fewer crowds without the summer tourists.
5. Speaking of the Laurel Mountains, the entire Laurel Highlands is dense with various types of trees — oak, maple, cherry and more — and offers multiple scenic overlooks for prime leaf peeping. Barely an hour outside of Pittsburgh, you can pick up the Lincoln Highway — Route 30 — which carries those traveling by car through roads lined on either side by sprawling trees and wildflowers. If you’re looking for a nice drive this fall, look no further.
6. The Lincoln Highway also will take you right to the Flight 93 Memorial, a somber yet beautiful memorial park surrounded by trees. These trees — mostly sugar, maple, white oak, elm and hemlock — take on rich shades of red starting around mid to late September.
7. Travel about 2 hours north to the Allegheny National Forest, rife with deciduous trees that take on warm shades of red, orange and yellow starting in late September. You can take the Longhouse National Scenic Byway, a 36-mile road that loops around the forest with ample views of picture-perfect vistas. The forest also offers a wide range of activities throughout the year, including birding, boating, camping, biking, hiking, skiing and more.
8. In Pennsylvania Dutch Country, fall foliage begins to pop up in late September and can be viewed through November. In Lancaster County, leaf peepers can hike, take a driving tour of covered bridges or view the region’s sprawling vistas by train through the Strasburg Railroad, the oldest operating railroad in the U.S.
Lancaster also offers farms at which guests can stay the night, along with pumpkin patches, apple orchards and fall festivals aplenty.
9. Leaf peeping in the Poconos is so popular that there’s a separate page for them on the mountains’ website. While the scenic mountains are about 4.5 hours from Pittsburgh, they have more than 127 varieties of trees, shrubs and plants, making for famously beautiful fall views for drivers, hikers and cyclists alike.
The Pocono Mountains also have a Fall Foliage Forecast, which goes live on Sept. 8. Travelers can use the forecast to plan their trips through three color zones — this means leaf peepers will be able to see peak colors three separate times in three separate parts of the 2,400-square-mile region.
The trees here generally begin to put on their colors starting in mid-September, reaching a peak from early to mid-October.
10. Jim Thorpe, a small town situated within the Poconos, offers fall foliage weekends, complete with scenic train rides, handmade arts and crafts, food, free live music, children’s activities, ghost tours and seasonal specials from local restaurants, shops and galleries. Starting on Oct. 1 and running through Oct. 23, the festival gives leaf peepers the chance to see the beauty of the Pocono Mountains on full display, while also enjoying a range of family-friendly activities that benefit the town’s local economy.