There is a smell in the air that is special to fall. It is an obscure mix of rotting leaves, mushrooms, and cold. The smell works its way into my nose as soon as I walk outside. I associate the smell with chestnuts, apples, cider and homemade donuts frying in oil. It is a time for raking and jumping in leaves, frantically working on the summer projects that are left undone and getting the house ready for winter.
This is one of those fleeting, transitional times between seasons. The leaves are just starting to turn, but it doesn’t feel like fall yet. My childhood was full of fall trips to look at leaves. Every year, the family was loaded grumpily into the car with a jug of cider, sandwiches and apple muffins to go look at leaves that looked the same as the ones in the yard.
It was an annual tradition. Since I grew up outside of Erie, many of the amazing places we went to visit are a short drive away today. Trips included Jakes Rocks, Kinzua Dam, Kinzua Bridge, Cooks Forest State Park, and more. When we finally got to the destination, it was always a place worth exploring.
There are some requirements for a great leaf trip. The place has to have an overlook of some sort to get you above the forest to see the wash of color. There should be something else to do, since looking at a pretty view is only good for about 15 minutes. Bathrooms of some sort are always a plus, as is a picnic table or two.
One of the most memorable fall trips was to Kinzua Bridge State Park in Pennsylvania. This viaduct was built as a train crossing in 1881, the highest in the world at the time. It crossed 300 feet above a valley and was over 2,000 feet long. It became a park in the 1970s.
It was a wee bit unnerving to walk on something that was that high in the air. The valley below could be easily glimpsed through the breaks in the boards. I’m not sure we ever made it all the way across the bridge and back, though we definitely made it over halfway across. The view was stunning, perhaps made more stunning from the bit of fear as the cool wind whipped across the bridge.
I will never get across the bridge now. Most of it was ripped down by a tornado years ago, though that may be a good thing. It is now called the Kinzua Bridge Skywalk and ends in a partially glass bottomed overlook with a spectacular view of the valley below. A new visitor’s center showcases the history and natural history of the bridge and is well worth the visit.
Audubon Community Nature Center is leading a field trip to Kinzua Bridge State Park on Wednesday, October 12. The ACNC van will leave the Nature Center at 9:00a.m and return around 1:30p.m. It costs $35 or $26 for members. Space is limited and pre-registration is required.
Another great place to look at leaves is Rimrock, in the Allegany National Forest outside of Warren, PA. Rimrock is a rock city that perches on a hill above Kinzua Bay. Visitors walk down a series of stairs to look over the Kinzua Reservoir. The overlook is lined with stonework laid down by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s.
The rocks are perfect to play on. There are rocks that rock back and forth, rocks to climb, rocks to walk on and a rock staircase built into a crack in the rocks to travel down to the base of the overlook and descend a one mile hiking trail that leads to the reservoir at Kinzua Beach.
It has all the elements of a perfect destination: a great view, something else to do, picnic tables and rustic bathrooms. Just be sure to bring your own water and wear shoes that are made for walking. If you want fewer stairs and a less steep experience, nearby Jake’s Rocks has the same great view without the stairs.
Allegany State Park is also home to a rock city known as Thunder Rocks. Even better for leaf peeping is the Stone Tower that look over the valley. An early morning hike can put you up above the valley as it fills with fog.
Chautauqua County has a couple of parks that were chosen for their views. The Tom Erlandson Overview Park near Frewsburg is the second highest point in Chautauqua County. It features a rolling hillside with distant views of Chautauqua Lake. The Luensman Overview Park is in Northern Chautauqua County and features a view of Lake Erie and the hillsides descending to the lake. Both have picnic pavilions, trails and restrooms.
Fall is the perfect time to find an excuse to travel to someplace new. It’s not as hot as the summer months and not as hard to travel as it can be in winter. There is always someplace new and different to explore. Drag some kids or a friend or a dog out and explore some of the fall landscapes that are here. I feel lucky to live in an area that was so frequently a “daycation” destination in younger years and make a point to visit some of the amazing places that are available in the region. You should too.
Jeff Tome is a Senior Naturalist at the Audubon Community Nature Center.