Things to do / Travel Guide
Philadelphia and Poconos, PA Fall Foliage Tours and Guide
Click for Fall, 2010 foliage report and map, updated every three days.
Autumn travelers to Eastern Pennsylvania will find three areas of interest for fall foliage viewing. The Poconos are the most popular resort destination in the state, year round, with a wide range of activities and quaint towns, and the fall colors attract many weekend visitors,. Further south, a unique fall destination is the Amish country. Here, in addition to the autumn colors, you are also able to observe the Amish's fall harvest activities in Pennsylvania Dutch Country's rolling countryside. Philadelphia's urban dwellers will find colorful fall foliage opportunities right in their backyard. Hikers will find the nearly 200 miles of Appalachian Trail cutting through the region an active and rewarding way to enjoy nature during its most colorful season.
Peak colors are reached in the northern areas of the Poconos in early to mid-October, reaching the southern part of the state around the last week in October
Poconos, Pennsylvania Fall Foliage Tours and Guide
The Poconos are compact enough to travel around in easily, yet chock full of attractions so that visitors will have many different options for enjoying the fall season. The resort-rich area is a great choice for vacationers looking to add some luxury, be it golfing, biking, or just relaxing in the Jacuzzi on their autumn vacation. There are many local festivals this time of year, and the mild climate makes the outdoors inviting for hiking, rafting, fishing and, did we mention, golfing. Although the mountains don't even reach the heights of the Catskills to the north, the Poconos are an excellent fall destination, especially for families.
You can choose to hike, bike, raft or just drive and enjoying the scenic viewpoints along the way. The area is compact and the roads are good. Following are several short suggested drives in the area that will give you some great fall views along the way.
For hiking, kayaking, fishing and other outdoor activities, the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area provides 40 miles of fall foliage viewing along the Delaware River. U.S. Highway 209 parallels the Delaware River on the Pennsylvania side. Across the river at the Delaware Water Gap in New Jersey, take the trail to the top of Mount Tammany. Further north, enjoy the foliage views from the highest point in New Jersey – High Point State Park. The views extend up to 80 miles and getting to the top is quite simple. Right off I-84, the park is worth a stop even if you are heading elsewhere.
- State Road 191 between I-80 and I-84, east of Scranton. The local Interstates are scenic as well.
- State Road 309 between I-80 and I-81, southwest of Scranton.
- Head west out of Scranton on U.S. Highway 6, and pass through the historic towns of Dalton, La Plume and Factoryville. You are now driving in the area known as the “Endless Mountains”. Near Tunkhannock you have two options. The first is to follow State Road 29 south to U.S. Highway 11. The other is to loop north of U.S. Highway 6 on State Roads 92, 374 and 407 and end up back on U.S. Highway 6, just west of Scranton. Highlights on this trip are the views at the mountain summit near the intersection of 374 and 407, and the recreational attractions available in Lackawanna State Park.
- Travel between Lackawaxen on the Delaware River and Carbondale on State Road 590 and U.S. Highway 6. The road passes through the quaint towns of Honesdale, White Mills and Hawley. Be sure to catch the view from the crest of High Knob, west of Waymart.
- Detour south from U.S. Highway 6 at Hawley for a drive along the shores of Lake Wallenpaupack on State Route 507, which intersects I-84 on its southern end.
- Drive the loop starting in Jermyn, 13 miles north of Scranton. The loop includes State Roads 107, 247, 106, 347, 374 and 171. The most scenic spots are at Finch Hill Corner (at the intersection of 247 and 106), Elk Mountain near Herrick Center, and the villages of Clifford and Royal.
Hikers and bikers can enjoy the foliage of the Lehigh River Gorge in the 25 mile run from White Haven to Jim Thorpe. The highlight, and one of the most popular fall foliage viewing spots in the Poconos, is Lehigh River Gorge State Park. Featuring many hiking paths and bike trails that wind over rolling hills amidst the oaks, maples and gray birches putting on their annual show, the park is excellent for hiking and biking.
Autumn is a perfect time for bird watching, as well. September and October are the best times to witness the annual birds of prey migration. Thousands of hawks, eagles, falcons, and other birds pass by the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, north of I-78 near Hamburg, Pennsylvania. There are both excellent foliage scenes and bird spotting opportunities at both the North and South lookouts, with breathtaking views of the Appalachian Ridge and Valley Province.
Poconos, Pennsylvania Fall Foliage Routes and Train Rides / Excursions
There are probably fewer than 100 steam locomotives still operational in the United States and three of these are in Scranton Pennsylvania at the Steamtown National Historic Site. On October weekends, two fall foliage excursions are available: to Moscow and to Tobyhanna. The Moscow trip takes 2 hours and the Tobyhanna trip close to four. Both include views of the Poconos, with its historic bridges and picturesque countryside. Both excursions are round trips with some time allowed at each destination.
The Stourbridge Line runs special fall foliage railroad excursions along the Lackawaxen River, including some time in the village of Hawley. The vintage trains leave from Honesdale in the Poconos on weekends, but only during peak foliage season. The three-hour trip costs approximately $16 per person.
Further south, leaving from Jim Thorpe, the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway, covers a 16 mile roundtrip along the Lehigh River. The trains are from the 1920's. Make sure to allow enough time to explore the Victorian Architecture and unique shops of historic Jim Thorpe. One hour rides depart several times a day (weekends only) at a cost of about $12 per person.
Lancaster and Pennsylvania Dutch Country, PA Fall Foliage Tours and Guide
In the fall, the Pennsylvania Dutch Country comes alive with the colors of the foliage and the activity of the autumn harvest season. It is a different kind of fall foliage experience in this rolling countryside dotted with its communities of Amish and other “Plain People”. Here the experience is about the people – their towns, farms and lifestyle, with nature providing the backdrop.
If you want to be sure to get a horse-drawn buggy in your fall photos, follow State Route 772 as it traverses the area, from Gap to Manheim. From Lancaster, follow State Route 324 south to Pequea on the banks of the Susquehanna River.
In February, 1861, President Lincoln took his inaugural train ride on the tracks of the Strasburg Railroad. Riding the very same route in October, you will enjoy the fall foliage while being pulled by a genuine steam locomotive. As one of the area's leading attractions, the train runs several times every day, with rates staring around $10. That includes the bandana and pole for carrying your lunch as you ride the rails.
Harrisburg, Hershey, and York, Pennsylvania Fall Foliage Tours and Routes
West of Pennsylvania Dutch Country, there are several good fall foliage spots near Harrisburg. Thirty minutes south of Harrisburg, Gifford Pinchot State Park has several hiking and biking trails along Pinchot Lake with the colorful views descending from the hillsides, all the way down to the waters edge.
North of Harrisburg, the foliage views along the banks of the Susquehanna River can be enjoyed from State Route 147.
Enjoy the steam-powered fall foliage trains running on 11 miles of Middletown & Hummelstown Railroad track up the Swatara Creek Valley. The ride is 75 minutes round-trip, and uses coach cars from the 1920's. Tickets are approximately $10 and a “Hobo Sack Lunch” can be purchased separately. The trains run three times a day on weekends, but only during peak foliage season. The train station in Hummelstown is about a 10 minute drive from Harrisburg to the west, or Hershey to the east.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Fall Foliage Tours and Guide
If your foliage viewing time is limited to a lunch hour or a day trip from Philadelphia, you will most likely not make it all the way to Vermont. There are some very good displays of fall foliage in and near Philadelphia. The leaf-peeping season peaks during the last two weeks of October, when the show is already coming to an end further north.
In the heart of the old city, Washington Square Park has enough trees to make an enjoyable urban fall color experience. The surrounding area is also home to some trendy restaurants and shops. Elsewhere in Center City Philadelphia, Rittenhouse Square is in a more residential neighborhood. William Penn himself planned this leafy oasis in the middle of Philadelphia in the 1600's. Enjoy the fall colors and some of the nearby galleries and boutiques.
In the northwest part of Philadelphia, Fairmount Park provides a foliage experience which seems far removed from the surrounding urban environment. The park surrounds 7 miles of the Wissahickon Creek Gorge and several miles of the Schuylkill River, including many acres of native forest. Hikers and bikers will find 215 miles of trails in the park, one of the largest city parks in the world. Walk or drive on Kelly Drive or West River Drive along the Schuylkill River for the foliage views closest to Center City. Further north, the park enters the Wissahickon Creek Gorge.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Fall Foliage Routes
To the north and to the west, there are several excellent fall destinations less than an hours drive from Philadelphia.
Valley Forge National Historic Park provides history and golden fall foliage views all in one colorfully wrapped up package. The golds, oranges, and reds of the fall season provide a colorful backdrop to the statues and structures in the park. The 21 miles of bike trails, and 19.5 miles of hiking trails, connect the various historic sites with foliage views all along the way. On crisp Saturday evenings in the fall, park rangers invite the public to hear stories around a campfire. Valley Forge is located less than half an hour west of Philadelphia.
Approximately 1 hour to the southwest, in the scenic Brandywine Valley town of Kennet Square, Longwood Gardens, is a world-class display garden, featuring majestic trees, historic architecture, and amazing fountains. Explore the 20 outdoor gardens along the one mile long walking path. Don't miss the golds, oranges, reds, and yellows of the Oak and Conifer Knoll, or the copper beeches and Japanese dogwoods of The Cow Lot. And you certainly want to make sure to experience the tulip trees, ashes, and maples of the Forest Walk, just to name a few of the star fall gardens.
Ridley Creek State Park, less than a half hour west of Philadelphia, has several miles of hiking and biking trails that extend over the park's rolling landscape and meadows for a low-key fall foliage experience.
Heading north into Bucks county, about 45 minutes from Philadelphia, experience the drive on State Route 32 from Washingtons Crossing. The prime viewing spot in the area is from Bowman's Hill Tower in Washington Crossing Historic Park, between New Hope and Washington Crossing. Expect to see gold, yellow, and red trees surrounding the blue ribbon of the Delaware River, north beyond New Hope and south to Trenton. Further north, fans of covered bridges will find a dozen of them in Bucks County; an added bonus to their leaf peeping visit.
Allentown and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Fall Foliage Train Rides and Excursions
The Reading and Northern Railroad Company run special all-day autumn leaf excursions from Port Clinton, north of Reading to Jim Thorpe along the Little Schuylkill River. Tickets cost $39 and must be ordered in advance. Port Clinton is about 30 minutes west of Allentown.
Less than an hour north of Philadelphia, at New Hope, PA, the New Hope & Ivyland Railroad runs fall foliage trains every weekend in October. The 2-1/2 hour, 35-mile round-trip run features some open-air and other vintage cars and costs about $25. Start the trip from either Warminster, 30 miles north of Philadelphia, or New Hope, less than an hours drive further north on the Delaware River.
About 30 miles west of Philadelphia, in West Chester, Pennsylvania, the West Chester Railroad runs a Fall Foliage Express on most Sundays in October and November. Round-trip tickets cost $10, and the 90 minute train runs twice a day between West Chester Market Street Station and the Victorian station at Glen Mills. The cars are from the 1930's, and the railroad is actually one of the first in the United States.
In addition to the foliage, enjoy the history, as well. Spend some time in the shops and streets of West Chester. Although there may be a slight local bias, the Philadelphia Enquirer has called West Chester "one of the world's most perfect small towns".