The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania
Although not as famous as its bigger sister in Colorado, the canyon formed by the Pine Creek River in North Central Pennsylvania is well worth its nickname as the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. Almost 50 miles long and up to 1,000 feet deep, this canyon is one of our watershed's very special places.
Picture: The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania Picture courtesy of Ken Frazier.
The geological history of the canyon is fascinating. Before glaciers covered the area with ice, the headwaters of Pine Creek were flowing in a northeastern direction. Then, glaciers covered the land, and when they finally began to melt, they left a dam of gravel, sand, and clay.
This natural dam blocked the northeasterly flow of Pine Creek and forced the river to reverse its flow and go to the south, cutting a way through the Allegheny Plateau. Since that time, for tens of thousands of years, Pine Creek has been silently eroding the rock, creating the scenic gorge that you can see today.
The gorge and the surrounding national parks offer many opportunities for outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, fishing, canoeing and white-water rafting. The hiking trails are quite spectacular, as they go through very rugged terrain and next to many steep cliffs. In addition, an old railroad track through the bottom of the canyon has been replaced by a bicycle path.
The best views of the Canyon are from Leonard Harrison State Park on the west rim and from Colton Point State Park on the east side of the canyon. The distance from rim to rim here is about 4,000 feet and the depth of the canyon about 800. The scenery is great in every season but especially the autumn colors draw a large crowd of spectators each year.
Picture: The best views of the Grand Canyon are from Leonard Harrison State Park on the west rim and from Colton Point State Park on the east side of the canyon. Picture courtesy of Ken Frazier.
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To ensure that the beauty of the Pine Creek River will be around for many years and generations to come, the Pine Creek Headwaters Protection Group was organized in 1987. "Dedicated to the preservation and protection of Pine Creek and its watershed," this groups works hard to protect the environmental quality of this subwatershed of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
One of the group's major accomplishments was in 1997 when Pine Creek River was declared an "Exceptional Value Stream" from Galeton to Ansonia. For more information about their activities you can visit the Protection Group's website.
How to get to the Grand Canyon?
Pennsylvania's Grand Canyon is easily accessible to visitors. Leonard Harrison State Park is located 10 miles west from Wellsboro, on SR 660. Colton Point State Park is 5 miles south of U.S. Route 6 at Ansonia.
References and further reading
Tioga County Visitors Bureau
2001, PageWise, Inc.: Hiking Pennsylvania's Grand Canyon.
Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources: Leonard Harrison State Park.
Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources: Colton Point State Park.
Pine Creek Headwaters Protection Group.