Two Days in the Laurel Highlands, Pa.
Posted on November 16, 2016
Riding the Laurel Highlands was a no-brainer. The area — about 3,000 square miles in the Allegheny Mountains – is just east of Pittsburgh and a short trip from our home in Northeastern Ohio. It offers hours of twisting, turning rides that rise and fall with the terrain.
We launched our trip on a rainy Friday evening in early September. It wasn’t our first rain storm and won’t be our last. Only once did we pause the rented 2016 Harley-Davidson Tri Glide Ultra beneath a freeway bridge to escape the most painful drops. Otherwise, the rain suits provided by Western Reserve Harley-Davidson in Mentor, Ohio, did their job.
We occasionally rent bikes (and trikes) for longer trips so our 22-year-old Honda Goldwing can rest at home. A variety of new models are available for rent at many of the 350 Harley-Davidson dealers around the world. If you’re planning to rent, reserve a ride as soon as you’ve firmed up your dates.
Our first stop, as the rain cleared, was Ridge Runner Distillery, 417 Fayette Springs Road, Chalk Hill, PA. The owner, Christian W. Klay, started as a winemaker before pursuing his passion for a good whisky. Today, the distillery makes rum, vodka, moonshine and two flavored moonshines – apple pie and peach pie. We paused only briefly to sample before moving on to dinner. We skipped Christian Klay winery because it was hosting a private event. We’ll have to return another time.
As the sun set behind layers of mountains, we twisted through back country to Seven Springs Mountain Resort, 777 Waterwheel Drive, Seven Springs, PA (about four hours from Cleveland) for our night. The 414-room ski lodge has summer activities ranging from swimming and golf to sporting clays and ziplines.
My marketing contact insisted that I do the Screaming Hawk Zipline, a 90-minute, four-section experience on my first morning at the resort. She didn’t know how much heights scare me. And, I didn’t care that it’s one of the best beginner zipline experiences.
I can ride a motorcycle – behind my partner Gary – on a narrow ridge of the Blue Ridge Parkway, but ask me to jump off a platform and trust a zipline harness and I get adrenaline overload.
Somehow, with patient guides and Gary’s encouragement, I scaled the pirate netting ladder to the first platform and wobbled to the edge. I surrendered to the harness and coasted 350 feet to the second, 60-foot perch. I’d faced my fear and won. Somehow I conquered three more stretches and a swinging bridge before kissing solid ground.
We didn’t have time for the second canopy trail that morning — the Laurel Ridgeline Zipline Tour at the top of the mountain – because we had coveted reservations for Fallingwater, an architectural marvel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
That was good for me as I needed time to dissolve the adrelanine. Laurel Ridgeline includes a full-length tour of the mountain that zips 10 times, crosses two sky bridges and requires rappelling. The highest point is 175 feet, while the longest zip is 1,500 feet. It takes about three hours.
Prices for the ziplines are $51 and $83, with reservations recommended. The tours run Memorial Day through Labor Day and weekends in September and October, weather permitting. For more information www.7springs.com or 800-452-2223, ext. 7997.
Within an hour of flying over the mountain, we had changed clothes and rode to Fallingwater. It’s the only major Wright-designed house open to the public with original furnishings and artwork. The country retreat, with multi-level terraces cantilevered over Bear Run Creek, was built in the 1930s for the Kaufmanns of Pittsburgh retail fortunes. It’s not just a wonder to behold, but represents architecture in harmony with nature. Wright even built a trap door in the main room so Mrs. Kaufmann could walk into the stream and practice fly fishing.
Tours require about 90 minutes to walk through the 5,330 square feet of concrete, steel and glass rooms. Longer, specialty tours are available for an upcharge.
By then we were starved and rode about 15 minutes to Ohiopyle State Park. A mishmash of independent operators offer whitewater rafting, watersports, bicycles and a variety of mid-market food choices at the entrance to the park. After sharing a tunafish sub from a mom-and-pop shop and chocolate-mint cookies from a hippie-ish bakery, we strolled the Youghiogheny River marveling at rapids and waterfalls.
At that point we took a few hours to wind through the back country, taking pictures of weathered and collapsing red barns and mountain scenery. Eventually we found our way back to Seven Springs for dinner, drinks, music and bed.
The next day we were called home early. With limits to the urgency, we stopped at picturesque Fort Ligonier in Ligonier, Pa. A full-scale, on-site restoration/reconstruction of the 1758 – 1766 original Fort Ligonier takes visitors back to the 18th century. Meanwhile the surrounding town is filled with charming shops and restaurants.
If only we’d had a bit more time we would have visited the Flight 93 National Memorial, 6424 Lincoln Hwy, Stoystown, PA. The memorial recognizes the forty passengers and crew of Flight 93 whose actions, on September 11, 2001, thwarted hijackers’ plan to attack the nation’s capital. Visitors can walk beside their final resting place and honor the courage of those who fought back against the terrorists. Known to be an emotionally moving site, we’ll have to return to the Laurel Highlands for another tour of attractions.