The mountains of the Alleghenies in northwestern Pennsylvania are full of stories of ancient rivers, scenic beauty, and pioneer adventures in an untamed wilderness. Walk in the footsteps of these pioneers as you explore sites named “Kinzua” within the Allegheny National Forest of northwestern Pennsylvania.
THE LEGEND OF KINZUA
Kinzua is a word from the Seneca Tribe of Native Americans, which translates as “fish on a spear,” or “land of many fishes.” Today the word Kinzua (pronounced “Kin-zoo”) is used in the name of many of our local attractions.
Kinzua Gorge is located in the Allegheny Plateau near the village of Mt. Jewett, PA. The Allegheny Plateau commands attention. Its narrow valleys and steep ridges have their own mystique looming in the background, changing moods with the passing clouds. The character of the people of northwestern Pennsylvania has been shaped by these hills. Fortunes were made from its resources, but they didn’t come easily. As much as the hands of men have altered the land, it appears to remain unchanged.
The bedrock beneath the Allegheny Plateau is Pottsville Formation sedimentary rock-limestone, siltstone, shale, and of more consequence anthracite and bituminous coal. This ancient seabed was pushed to an elevation of 2,200 feet by unimaginable tectonic forces. Over 300 million years, valleys and ravines were carved out of the rock by irrepressible flow of hundreds of rivers and streams. European settlers gave these places some colorful names like Thundershower, Kettle Creek, and Young Woman’s Run. Or they simply adopted the names the natives had given them, Susquehanna, Tionesta, Tunungwant and Kinzua.
Kinzua Creek rises, tea-colored, near the village of Cyclone in McKean County and flows westward for 26 miles where it empties into the Allegheny (Kinzua) Reservoir. Over millennia it carved a deep valley, a rugged wilderness rich in wildlife and inhabited by few. If its terrain appears formidable today, one can only imagine its impact on the character of earlier inhabitants. The Kinzua Valley was formerly part of the homelands of the Seneca Nation, one of the six tribes of the powerful Iroquois Confederation. Before the sale of those lands at the second Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1784, few Europeans had ventured into the remote valley. Yet less than 100 years after Chief Cornplanter and other Seneca leaders signed the treaty, the first Kinzua Viaduct, built of iron, spanned its precipitous gorge.
KINZUA BRIDGE STATE PARK
Both Kinzua Gorge and Kinzua Creek can be viewed and hiked at the Kinzua Bridge State Park, 1721 Lindholm Road, Mt. Jewett, PA. A free admission day-use park, Kinzua Bridge State Park is open from dawn to dusk daily. It offers picnic tables, hiking trails, and the amazing Kinzua Sky Walk, built on the historic towers of the Kinzua Viaduct. For groups, a free tour may be scheduled by calling the park office at 814-965-2646.
No food and beverages are available on-site, so please pack your picnic lunch or snacks. Picnic tables are located in forest-shaded areas where you can enjoy the view. The Kinzua Bridge Scenic Byway (Lindholm Road on your GPS unit) is the access road to the park. It is a state designated shared use byway for bicycles and motor vehicles. This two-lane byway winds through Pennsylvania State Game Lands and visitors have a very good chance of seeing wild turkey or white tailed deer.
Construction is currently underway at the park for a new visitors center. Scheduled to be completed later this year, the Kinzua Bridge State Park Visitors Center will be open year round and provide historic and interpretive displays on the building of the original Kinzua Viaduct (Bridge) along with classroom and educational programming for school field trips and group tours.
KINZUA SKY WALK
The Kinzua Sky Walk extends 310 feet high, reaching out 624 feet into the Kinzua Gorge. It has an amazing overlook with a partial glass floor from which you will have a 360-degree view of the Kinzua Gorge. Beautiful year round, during fall foliage season - the last two weeks of September and the first two weeks of October - the scenery is breathtaking.
The skywalk is built on the original six towers of the Kinzua Viaduct, commonly called the Kinzua Bridge, which was once the highest and longest railroad viaduct in the world until an F1 tornado in 2003 toppled 11 of its towers. Two rows of tracks, one for narrow gauge trains and a wider set of tracks for the heavier trains that used to haul coal and timber to the Great Lakes, allow visitors to enjoy the thrill of “Walking the Tracks Across the Sky.”
The creek, which can be viewed from the Kinzua Skywalk, is appropriately named Kinzua Creek and is indeed a great trout fishing stream. Visitors can hike a trail down the side of the Kinzua Gorge at the Kinzua Bridge State Park to view the fallen towers and to fish the stream.
Located along Rt. 59 in Pennsylvania between Smethport and Warren, just north of Kane along the Longhouse National Scenic Byway, is the Kinzua Dam. The Kinzua Dam holds back the waters within the 100 mile shoreline of the Allegheny (Kinzua) Reservoir. It is located within the Allegheny National Forest. Built in the 1960’s to provide flood control and power generation, the dam created the Allegheny (Kinzua) Reservoir, which some folks also call Kinzua Lake. The Kinzua Dam is one of the largest dams in the United States east of the Mississippi River.
ALLEGANY (KINZUA) RESERVOIR
The waters of Kinzua Creek enter the southern tip of the Allegheny (Kinzua) Reservoir just north of the village of Kane, PA. The Allegheny Reservoir stretches into Pennsylvania and New York; it extends 25 miles to the north, nearly to Salamanca, NY, within the Allegheny Reservation of the Seneca Nation of New York. The reservoir is perfect for kayaking, sailing, fishing or motorized boating. When fishing the reservoir, a Pennsylvania fishing license is required for the southern portion (fish.state.pa.us/license), a New York license for parts of the northern reservoir (dec/ny.gov/permits), and a separate Seneca Nation Fishing License for their portion of the reservoir (senecanation.com). Although a little complicated for licensing, the 12,000 acre Allegheny Reservoir offers world-class fishing for walleye, bass, muskie, and catfish.
Red Bridge Campground is located along Rt. 321 just north of where Kinzua Creek enters the reservoir; it is a favorite for those seeking to fish the “the land of big fishes.” Nearby is Paul’s Trading Post, 11124 Route 321, Kane, PA, where you can buy a fishing license and supplies, plus have a chance to speak to the locals who routinely fish the local streams and the reservoir.
Kinzua Point is an observation and seasonal information center located along Rt. 59 before the dam. Just west of Kinzua Dam, along Rt. 321, is a birding overlook, a great place to watch for American Bald Eagles.
A free day use swimming area, Kinzua Beach is situated along the southeastern shoreline of the Allegheny (Kinzua) Reservoir. The beach is located along Rt. 59 between Bradford and Warren, Pennsylvania; from the north take Rt. 219 south, turning onto Rt. 59 west. If traveling from New York, you can take I-86 to Rt. 280 south, which merges into Pennsylvania Rt. 321, then turn onto Rt. 59 west - the beach area will be marked with a large sign on the left, just before the large bridge which crosses the Allegheny Reservoir going to Kinzua Point (a scenic overlook) and Kinzua Dam. A very scenic drive, New York Rt. 280 and Pennsylvania Rt. 321, partially follows the northern shoreline of the Allegheny Reservoir before going deep into the forestlands of the Allegheny National Forest.
Kinzua Beach offers forest-shaded picnic areas, a concession stand, public bathrooms and changing stations, along with a short hiking trail up to Rimrock Overlook. The non-sand beach is usually not crowded and families can enjoy a day of sunshine with plenty of space to play.
Want to Know More about Kinzua? The Great Kinzua Bridge, a 114-page hardcover book by Jim Gates ($24.95 *plus shipping and handling), and the “Tracks Across the Sky” a 30- minute documentary DVD on the history and building of the Kinzua Viaduct ($19.95*) are available for purchase at visitANF.com/shop-online or by calling 800-473-9370.
FOREST TOWNS TO EXPLORE
As you follow the pathways through the Forest on the trail of all things Kinzua, you’ll have an opportunity to visit a wide variety of charming small towns, each with their own unique heritage and culture.
Smethport is a Victorian Village built around scenic Hamlin Lake. Here you can enjoy a self-guided walking tour within the Smethport Mansion District. Stop for an old-fashioned soda at Compton’s Mom & Pop Shop or tour the Old Jail Museum to learn the region’s history. The 110th McKean County Fair will be held August 15-22 at the fairgrounds located along Rt. 46 South, Smethport, PA. (mckeancountyfair.net)
Mt. Jewett, a village with a strong Swedish heritage, is the crossroads to the Kinzua Bridge State Park, the Kinzua Byway, the Kinzua Sky Walk, the Kinzua Gorge, and portions of Kinzua Creek. Kafee Sol, located at 1 West Main Street, Mt. Jewett, PA, serves breakfast and lunch daily and is well known for their Swedish breads and pastries. The Mt. Jewett Swedish Festival will be held August 14-16. This year’s theme is “A Small Town Swedish Christmas.” Events include the Festival of Lights Friday evening on Center Street, a Swedish Smorgasbord at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church on Saturday from noon-3pm with a Maypole Dance at 12:30pm, followed by a Scandanavian Band playing from 1-2pm. Sunday the feature event is the Viking Ship races down Main Street at 1pm. (Mt. Jewett Swedish Festival Schedule of Events/Facebook.)
Kane, built by General Thomas L. Kane, the builder of the Kinzua Viaduct (Bridge) has an eclectic downtown with artisan food and craft shops. A few suggested stops: Laughing Owl Press for quality paper products and handcrafted items, Kane Depot & Artworks at the Depot for quality artisan wares, the Sweet Shoppe for handcrafted chocolates and homemade ice cream, Zanadu for fabrics and crafts, and Bell’s Market for fresh produce and farm-to-table treats. Kinzua Journey is just one of Flickerwood Wine Cellar’s award winning wines available for tasting in their wine lounge. CJ Spirits, an award-winning craft distillery is located just west of Kane, along Rt. 6.
In Bradford, the Festa Italiana will be held August 6-8 from 10am-11pm. Celebrating their Italian heritage, Bradford’s town-wide celebration features tons of ethnic foods, live music, kid’s games and family fun. Authentic Italian foods including Pasta e Faggioli, pizzelles, and eggplant sandwiches are prepared by volunteers using family recipes. St. James Italian Heritage Dance Club will walk the streets and perform on Friday, August 7 beginning at 1:30pm. Fireworks will take place at 10pm on Saturday night, August 8. (Festa Italiana Schedule of Events/Facebook)
PLAN YOUR ADVENTURE
A free ANF Visitors Bureau Visitors Guide with recreation maps, trail information and information on hotels, lodging, camping, attractions and restaurants is available by calling 800-473-9370 or at visitANF.com. For personalized assistance please visit the ANF Visitors Bureau Welcome Center located at 80 E. Corydon Street, Bradford, PA.