Eco-Tourism in the Laurel Highlands: By Bike, by Boat and On Foot


| 10/9/2013 4:24:00 PM


Tags: MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR, eco-tourism, bicycle tourism, Pennsylvania, John D. Ivanko,

The Laurel Highlands stretch over three counties of mountainous terrain that starts a little over an hour east of Pittsburgh and encompass over 120,000 acres of state and federally managed parks and feature the spectacular Youghiogheny River Gorge in the Ohiopyle State Park – where we spent most of our time traipsing through the woods.  Running the “Yough,” as it’s often called, is one of the best white water rafting opportunities in the Eastern US.

For three days before the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR, held at the Seven Springs Mountain Resort, we rafted, biked, toured some of Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes, and savored farm-to-table cuisine that blew us away at The Historic Stone House.  Less than 30 miles from Seven Springs Mountain Resort, we embarked on a nature adventure, bedding down at three very different farmstays every evening.  This is the first of two blogs that reveal the experiences to be had.

Bicycle Tourism in the Laurel Highlands

For bicyclists of all background and levels, you can hop on the nearly flat Great Allegheny Passage bike trail in Washington D.C. and get off in Pittsburgh.  If you’re like us and not long range bikers (and have your kid with you), pick up your rental bikes at Wilderness Voyageurs and take the popular Ohiopyle to Confluence segment, a twenty-two mile round trip, leaving time for a delightful picnic lunch along side the Yough that the tree-lined, crushed limestone pathway follows (read: pleasant, easy, beautiful). If you have a few extra minutes, head out of Ohiopyle on the trail in the opposite direction of Confluence for a panoramic vista from a bridge overlooking the Yough Gorge.

For some serious mountain biking on some of the hundreds of miles of single track, double-track or fire roads around Ohiopyle, rent your Cannondale Adventurer bike and chat with Manager Ben Scoville or Eric Martin for their riding recos.

Traveling the Laurel Highlands by Water

For either a thrill on class 3 and 4 rapids, or the more mellow family-friendly class 1 and 2 rapids, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get on the water.  Since our son was still eleven, we opted for the scenic and slower middle Yough with our guide, Brett Lesnick, now in his ninth season with the Laurel Highlands River Tours.  He helped pass the time during a meandering section of the river with some colorful stories of his escapades as an Eagle Scout while we watched for otters and bald eagles.  Half way down, we even stopped for a picnic lunch along the shore. There’s little danger with this trip on the Middle Yough, so those with limited experience with rafting, boating or swimming will fare fine on this roughly four hour trip.

With our son Liam turning 12 next year, we’re already planning to hit the swift moving and powerful Lower Yough, with the dangerous Dimple Rock and numerous other major rapids.  “Participation is required” for these runs.  While we’ll stick with having a guide in our raft -- for our own safety and enjoyment -- more experienced boaters can rent duckies or kayaks. 

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