Scott Harbaugh's Fall Leaf Adventure

by: Scott Harbaugh Updated:

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How much snow are we going to see this year?  Will it be hot all summer?  What are the leaves going to be like this fall?

Those are easily the three questions I get asked most often and in that order.  Folks love the autumn colors against the rolling hills and mountains in our area.  I’m right there with you.  Every October I take at least one drive around the region to just have a day to myself and enjoy the early fall air.

I thought I’d share with you my favorite trip for viewing the fall leaves.  Maybe you’ve been on some of these roads. Maybe it will open up new possibilities to you.

My favorite drive and one I don’t necessarily limit to autumn starts in Washington County.  I do tend to block out the entire day so I can make many stops along the way.

I pick up US 40 south (The National Pike) at Exit 33, Laboratory, on I-79.  US 40 is a beautiful, windy, mostly two-lane highway that runs through some of the greatest views in Washington County.  Most people are familiar with Scenery Hill.  This is just one of many gorgeous looks you get at southwestern Pennsylvania as you make your way toward Uniontown.

After about 20 miles, you’ll cross the Monongahela River into Fayette county.  The view crossing the river with the town of Brownsville on the other side is one of my favorites.  It’s a perfect miss of old Steel town and amazing foliage in one shot.

Continue on to Uniontown where you can either take Business 40 through this historic and pretty town or, if time is an issue, take the Bypass.  Either way, on the other end you have an eye-popping 2.5 mile drive that seems to be straight up hill at times.  Take a moment to enjoy the scenic overlook and look back toward Uniontown.  Wow!!

Once the elevation flattens outs it’s a calm and easy six-mile drive to Route 381 North.  Be careful, you can easily miss the left turn.  Look for the signs that say Ohiopyle.

The next 40, yes 40, miles are as my dad says, “Western Pennsylvania at its finest”.  Route 381 just winds and turns and goes up and down through Fayette and Westmoreland counties.

Take time to seek out Cucumber Falls when you get to Ohiopyle State Park.  You will not be disappointed.  Stop along the banks of the Youghiogheny River and take in the white water rafting for a few minutes. You’ll see rafting, kayaking, cyclists, hikers and more.  It’s a hodge-podge of out outdoor adventure in one place.

As you continue north along 381 simply take in the beauty.  Farmland is still abundant in this area with the occasional grain silo and dozens of cattle dotting the landscape.  It will almost take you back in time as you get lost in what still appears to be 19th century Pennsylvania.

There are a couple of turns between Farmington and Donegal.  Pay attention to the road signs to make sure you don’t miss a turn.  All the roads are marked.  You shouldn’t have much of a problem.  You will be on both routes 381 and 711 for a while. If you opt to stay on route 711 – no problem – both roads will end up taking you Ligonier.

In Donegal you’ll cross over the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  You can choose to bail at this point and take the turnpike back to Pittsburgh (take 711 instead of 381 when you get to route 31 in Donegal).  But why bail?  It’s a leisurely sort of day.

Route 381 continues to wind north through Westmoreland county.  This road does become a small two-lane road.  You can opt to follow 711 if you want a little more breathing room with oncoming traffic.  Either way, in about 13 miles, you get dumped out on Route 30 in fantastic Ligonier.

If you’ve never been to Ligonier, do yourself a favor and walk around the diamond.  Yes, it’s a diamond, not a square, in Ligonier.  And at the center of the diamond is the band stand – not the gazebo.  It’s part of the charm.  Enjoy lunch or dinner at any of the nearly dozen great restaurants or cafes.  You’ll find whatever you want simply by walking around.  You won’t regret it.

After grabbing a meal, I continue on 711 North through Westmoreland County to Seward.  Pick up Route 56 North in Seward for a quick jump to Route 22.

Most of us think of Route 22 east of Pittsburgh as Monroeville, Murrysville, traffic.  Yes it is, but the 40 miles from Seward to Murrysville will shock you.  If you have driven often to State College or Johnstown from the Pittsburgh area you already know what I’m talking about.

Take it all in (you’re in the home stretch) as you hit hills and valleys past Bolivar, Blairsville, New Alexandria, Delmont and Export.  There are numerous places for you stop if you need that cup of coffee as hours in the car starts to settle into your head and body.  The views of northern Westmoreland County slowly blend into the more suburban feel of Delmont and Murrysville as you approach the end of the road … figuratively.  Once to Monroeville, the choice is yours on how you want to get home. I usually just take the Parkway East into Pittsburgh, smile and call it a day.