Allegheny National Forest and the Kinzua Bridge

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My winter roadtrip from NYC through Montreal, Ottawa, and Kingston on my way to Ohio concluded with a night in the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania and a morning stop at the Kinzua Bridge State Park.

It took me about six hours to drive from Kingston, Ontario, to Westline, Pennsylvania via Syracuse where I grabbed a beef and stilton sub to go from the Blue Tusk for lunch–YUM–and some treats for family and friends at Hercules Candy Company.

By the time I got to Westline it was raining, I had lost all cell service, and I was driving through the forest in the dark hoping I would eventually see a sign directing me to the Westline Inn where I was spending the night. The GPS could not make heads or tails of the place and I ended up driving back and forth on the same stretch of road multiple times until I finally lost all patience, turned where I thought the road was supposed to be, and continued driving until I finally came to a tiny town and the inn, which had a parking lot full of cars.

I gathered my bags and ran into the building but was a soaking and tired mess by the time I looked up and realized I was standing in the middle of a rowdy bar full of men. Aside from the servers, I didn’t see a single female in the place. I hurried over to the bar, collected my key for my room above the pub, and retreated to my small and sparsely furnished room.

The place is billed as a hunter’s retreat and I can see why—if all you need is a bed and a place to grab a bite, this is it. Clean but without many amenities—no cell service or WiFi, no bathroom accouterments, and lots of sound from the bar below. It was exactly what I needed that night and for about $40 it was also easy on my travel budget! I would stay again, and I would venture down for some food next time as well—this time I was too tired and in need of sleep.

The next morning there was no one around when I went to leave, which was only an issue because I hadn’t paid! There was a note written on a napkin and taped to the back door asking me to settle up by leaving my money on the bar… which was only an issue because I didn’t have the right amount in cash!

I found a woman in the kitchen who was very kind and went to her car for her purse to help me make change. I ended up buying from her what she had, which allowed me to fulfill my obligation to the establishment and give her a tip for helping me out. I don’t know if this would have been the experience had I paid when I arrived/the bar was open, but in case they don’t have a credit card machine, consider taking exact change!

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After all this excitement I was a bit later hitting the road than I had originally planned—nevertheless, I made my way to Kinzua Bridge State Park to learn as much as I could about the former railway bridge before I needed to head west toward Ohio.

Kinzua Bridge

Brian and his brother took a motorcycle trip together several years ago and stopped at the Kinzua Trestle. As we swapped stories after the fact, it turns out they arrived to find what remains of the trestle and nothing more.

My experience was quite different in that they have since built a wonderful visitor center with more official parking and signage directing you to various viewpoints of the trestle. There is also a SkyBridge, completed in 2011, that allows you to walk out on the remains of the bridge and look down into the valley below.

While it had stopped raining at some point during the night, the sky was still heavily overcast and threatening so I decided to head to the outdoor activities first in case the ominous clouds opened up. There were a number of informational signs along the trail and I stopped at each overlook to take pictures and admire the remains from different vantage points.

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According to the visitor center’s website:

The 339-acre Kinzua Bridge State Park, located in McKean County, is the home of the reinvented Kinzua Viaduct. The Viaduct, once the longest and tallest railroad structure in the world at 2,053 feet long and 301 feet high, was partially destroyed by a tornado during 2003.

It was really cool getting to walk out to the end of the trestle, imagining what it would have been like to have conducted a train across those tracks when it was originally constructed in 1882! At the end there’s a small patch of glass you can walk over and look through to the remains below. I can only imagine how busy it gets during the summer—in mid-December, I had the place to myself.

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I began to feel raindrops as I headed back toward the Visitor Center so I entered on the bottom floor and then worked my way to the top. I don’t think this is how you’re meant to do it, but it worked fine—the exhibits were all very interesting and interactive, but it wasn’t necessary to complete them in any particular order so you can wander around and see what’s of interest to you.

I enjoyed the audio and video exhibits, especially the local lore of a pilot who flew under the trestle while it was still standing, as well as an exhibit on the first floor about other pioneering ventures from the area. (Fun Fact: Did you know the Zippo Lighter was invented in McKean County?) There was also a cool model train that ran around a track along the ceiling, stopping at various screens where you could learn something new. I definitely followed its route around the room!

For my family and friends in Ohio, the Kinzua Trestle and Allegheny National Forest are only a 3.5-hour drive away. I would put both on your list for a fun weekend away!

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