PA Wilds Day 2: Austin Dam ruins & the Kinzua Experience
Travel time: ~ 1.5 hours
Day 2 of our five day road trip through the Pennsylvania Wilds started off a little dreary, but turned out to be one of the best days of the trip overall, weather-wise.
After packing the car back up, we set out to see some sights that today serve as visual testaments to the will of humankind and the power of Mother Nature.
About 25 minutes later we arrived at Austin Dam.
This large concrete dam was built by the Bayless Paper Co. in the early 1900s, and measured 50 feet tall and 540 feet wide. Little did the builders know, the dam would give way in 1911 and decimate several downstream communities, ultimately killing 78 people and causing $10 million in damage.
Today, the ruins stand as a reminder of the tragic events that took place back in 1911. Nearby, visitors will find a monument honoring those who lost their lives, as well as a pavilion housing historic photos of the dam. Primitive camping and fishing are popular activities at the site, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.
After a couple hours of exploring, we determined we must return for camping and to see the popular Dam Show concert that takes place at the ruins each summer.
Then, we started out on an hour-long drive to the Kinzua Experience.
If you’re looking to see a magnificent view or to take a taxing hike – Kinzua Bridge State Park has you covered.
Visitors will be in awe of the unending number of breathtaking views at this state park, located in the Allegheny National Forest & Surrounds Landscape of the Pennsylvania Wilds.
When Kinzua Bridge was constructed in 1882 it was the longest train bridge in the world at over 2,000 feet. In 2003, a large portion of the bridge was toppled by a tornado, but the remains were never removed from the valley floor.
Today, visitors find the remaining section of the old train bridge has been refurbished into a state-of-the-art skywalk. We walked out to the ledge and took in the view – where one can still see damage caused by the 2003 tornado: looking down is the old bridge… across the valley one sees barren spots on the hillsides, places where the tornado touched down and flattened trees.
If you’re feeling especially adventurous, take the Kinzua Creek Trail down to the creek bed where you can walk along downed bridge ruins. Keep in mind this trail, nearly half a mile, is listed as “most difficult hiking,” and what goes down must come up. The steep trail is recommended only for hikers who are in good physical condition and wearing sturdy boots. (We “survived the height & the hike” and, I can attest, it was challenging – especially on a very hot day!)
Before leaving, we made sure to get our PA State Parks & Forests Passport stamped and also had a late lunch at Little Sisters Big Rig, a food truck and catering service located at the state park visitors center. (Boy, was it delicious!) (Note: KBSP also stamps passports for Bendigo and Elk State Parks.)
We made our way to Lantz Corners Getaway, our lodging for the evening, and found out about a nearby annual event – Flickerfest at Flickerwood Wine Cellars, just outside of Kane. There we enjoyed music, arts and craft vendors, and food (and purchased some Wilderness Red wine!) before we explored downtown Kane.
By this point, we were already realizing this trip was going to the perfect find-it-as-you-go, laid-back vacation we were looking for.
As we returned for the evening, we grabbed some pizza from Barrel House Restaurant, next door to Lantz Corners, to enjoy along with some “Shark Tank.”
Then we began preparing for the next day’s big adventure.
[This is the second article in a five-part series, entitled “5 Days, 5 Distinct PA Wilds Experiences,” written by PA Wilds Center Outreach Specialist LaKeshia Knarr. Read more about the series here.]