Category Archives: Outdoors

Side Trip – Mt. Davis, Pa.

Mt Davis (33)Not even 10 miles from the National Road in Grantsville, Md., is a pretty cool natural landmark – Mt. Davis, the highest point in Pennsylvania at just over 3,200 feet. I was pretty surprised I had never made a detour to the mountain, despite traveling just south of the area so frequently.

Boulders at the summit of Mt. Davis.

Boulders at the summit of Mt. Davis.

Due to the mountain being west of the Allegheny Front, it’s prominence isn’t really all that great compared to other summits. However,  there’s still some pretty commanding views of the surrounding area from the mountain’s observation tower.

Mt Davis (19)

The observation tower and the high-point are just north of Springs, Pa., and just west of Salisbury, Pa. The mountain is surrounded by rural roads that form a rough loop around the mountain. There are two ways to get to the observation tower: a one-mile trail from a large picnic area (which I inadvertently took), or from a parking lot almost adjacent to the tower.

At the summit itself, a natural wind effect has resulted in a series of large boulders arranged in a ring. Plaques providing information about the mountain and local geology have been affixed to many of the boulders. The high point itself – marked by a USGS disk – is on a boulder near the observation tower (hint: look for a boulder that comes to a point at its top).

A view to the west.

A view to the west.

I’ve always found making to the top of a state high point to be a unique experience. Additionally, south-central Somerset County is tied very closely with its neighbors right below the Mason-Dixon Line in Grantsville. The small community of Springs hosts the annual Springs Folk Festival, and is also closely tied with Penn Alps and the Spruce Forest Artisan Village.

A close-up view of Salisbury, Pa., to the east.

A close-up view of Salisbury, Pa., to the east.

Based on my getting turned around several times during my visit to Mt. Davis, I feel that the best way to get to the mountain from U.S. 40 is via Md.-669 in Grantsville, which becomes Pa.-669 at the state line. Just north of Springs, make a sharp left onto Savage Road. Take Savage Road for about three miles until taking a right on Mt. Davis Road. Signs will direct you to the observation tower and picnic area. Of course, there are a number of ways to get to Mt. Davis, some of which may be more direct than the aforementioned. I’ve gathered that the route is better marked coming from the north than the south.

The top of this boulder is the highest point in Pennsylvania.

The top of this boulder is the highest point in Pennsylvania.

Because Mt. Davis is part of Forbes State Forest, backpack camping is permitted almost anywhere, with setback restrictions, and there are no fees to use the land.

The USGS marker at the high point.

The USGS marker at the high point.

The view to the east.

The view to the east.

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Mile 53 – Fort Necessity N.B., Farmington, Pa. (Part II)

This is the second of two posts on Fort Necessity National Battlefield in Fayette County, Pa. The park is broken up into three sections: the main unit, which consists of the visitor center, the actual fort and Mount Washington Tavern; Braddock’s Grave; and Jumonville Glen. The latter two are both west of the main unit – Braddock’s Grave being about a mile west along U.S. 40, and Jumonville Glen, which is accessible from U.S. 40 by going north on Jumonville Road, which branches off U.S. 40 at the summit of Chestnut Ridge (a few miles west of the visitor center). My first post focuses more on the visitor center and the fort itself. So, this post is dedicated to the other parts of the park.

Mount Washington Tavern at Fort Necessity N.B.

Mount Washington Tavern – This early 19th Century building is another still-standing original tavern and inn built to cater to National Road travelers. Unfortunately for me, it is closed during the winter months. However, that doesn’t mean that walking around the building is also off-limits. Since Mount Washington Tavern is located within the main unit, it’s possible to walk up to and around the building when visiting the fort and visitor center. It’s important to note that, although the path to the tavern is paved, the last part of the path is very steep, so if that’s a problem, there is also a separate parking lot for the tavern which is accessed via the road in the main unit. When the building is open (April 15 to Nov. 1), it functions as another museum/exhibit area, and tours may be available.

The present burial site of Gen. Braddock.

Braddock’s Grave – This unit isn’t very large, but it still is worth stopping by for a quick walk through the site. Basically, the site features two historic elements. The first is the grave of Gen. Edward Braddock, who was killed in the opening years of the French and Indian War. To avoid desecration of his body, Braddock’s army buried him in the middle of Braddock Road, which was originally built by George Washington and then improved by Braddock. When his remains were discovered in the 1910s, they were relocated to the present, marked grave. The original gravesite is also marked, and is reached by a short walk down a remarkably well-preserved section of Braddock Road.

The original site of Braddock's Grave.

That section is only a short part of what remains of the entire road, and is preserved similar to the Oregon or Mormon trails in the western states. Braddock Road is a predecessor to the National Road, and was meant to connect what is now Cumberland, Md., with modern-day Pittsburgh. From Braddock’s Grave east to Cumberland, the National Road either parallels or is built on top of Braddock Road. Along this corridor, it’s not uncommon to find various things named after Braddock. For example, I attended Braddock Middle School in Cumberland, and the original beginning section of the National Road in Cumberland (present Md.-49) is actually Braddock Road, and retains that name today.

Braddock’s Grave is open year-round, but in the event of snow, the parking lot is closed and is not maintained.

The preserved section of Braddock Road. Gen. Braddock's original grave is at the end of this path.

Jumonville Glen – Like Mount Washintgon Tavern, Jumonville Glen is only open seasonally. It preserves the site of the first skirmish between George Washington’s army and the French army. The site contains outdoor exhibits and is self-guided.

In my opinion, Fort Necessity is one of the more overlooked National Battlefields in the NPS system. This isn’t surprising, since it doesn’t carry as much historical significance as Civil War sites like Antietam, Shiloh or Gettysburg. However, significant improvements to the visitor center, the high level of interactivity and the relative compact-ness of this park compared to others really makes it a great place to visit and is a gem of the National Park System.


Mile 53 – Fort Necessity N.B., Farmington, Pa. (Part I)

The entrance to Fort Necessity National Battlefield, right off U.S. 40 - the National Road.

Until last week, I hadn’t been to Fort Necessity National Battlefield since the early 2000s, and I was expecting the site to look much the same as when I had last visited…nope. Instead, the park has built a massive new visitor center, complete with all kinds of interactive exhibits. So, instead of writing about Fort Necessity for one post, I decided to break it up into two parts, mostly to not have an overload with pictures.

In addition to travel in general, one of my specific goals is to see every unit of the National Park service. I’ve owned and kept an updated National Park Passport since I was 12 (2002), and I’m starting to run out of pages (but that’s another post). So, as any experience National Park traveler knows, every visit begins at the visitor center. Compared to just about every other park system in the country, NPS visitor centers are, for the most part, top-notch, and actually complete the entire park experience.

The beginning of the National Road exhibit in the visitor center.

Fort Necessity National Battlefield is one of two national park units that is actually located along the National Road or in a city through which it passes (this does not apply to the rest of U.S. 40, however). The other is Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park in Cumberland, Md. The park preserves the scene of the first battle that sparked the French and Indian War.

We’ll start with the visitor center, which, again, is very impressive.  Inside are several connecting walk-through exhibits, which focus on the entire history of the park – not just the battle and war itself. Exhibits include the area before Europeans, the battle and war and my favorite – the development of the National Road and historic preservation. I was really impressed with the amount of information and attention to detail in all aspects of the short tour.

Inside the Fort Necessity replica.

Then, of course, is the centerpeice of the entire park: Fort Necessity. For some reason, it’s always surprising to me how small these old forts actually are. “This protected an army?!” At Fort Necessity, you can walk in and around the replica fort, which is simply a wooden structure surrounded by a circular wooden fence and then earthworks on the outside. The trail to the fort from the new visitor center is pretty cool – straight through a grove of pine trees before breaking open to the battlefield and the fort itself.

The replica of Fort Necessity.

The next post will highlight the outer areas of the park: Mt. Washington Tavern, Braddock’s Grave and Jumonville Glen.

The relatively new visitor center at Fort Necessity.

Fort Necessity National Battlefield‘s visitor center is open  every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except federal holidays. The grounds are open for personal touring every day from sunrise to sunset.

Like some NPS sites, Fort Necessity does charge an entrance fee – $5 for adults, and children 15 and under are free. That fee allows for a weeklong pass to the park – well worth it.

Fort Necessity also teams with three other Pennsylvania NPS sites – Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site outside Altoona and Johnstown Flood National Memorialsoutheast of Johnstown – to offer a yearlong entrance pass for all three sites for up to two pass owners and three other adults – for just $15. Again, well worth the price.

The entrance to the walk-through exhibit.


Mile 24 – Casselman River Bridge S.P.

The original Casselman River Bridge near Grantsville, Md.

Just outside the town of Grantsville, Md. is Casselman River Bridge State Park, a small, four-acre site that preserves a stone bridge that served as the original crossing of the National Road over the Casselman River. The 80-foot bridge was built in 1813, and underwent a significant restoration in the 1970s. At the time of its construction, it was the longest single-span stone arch bridge in the country.

The current U.S. 40 bridge and the I-68 bridge from the original Casselman River Bridge.

Interestingly, this crossing was in use as part of the National Road until 1933, when the modern bridge that carries ALT-U.S. 40 was built. And in the 1980s, Interstate 68 was completed slightly farther upstream. In lobby of the Penn Alps restaurant, which lies just beyond the eastern end of the old bridge, there is an aerial shot of all three bridges crossing the Casselman River, which to me is an interesting juxtaposition of transportation history in the U.S. In fact, even from ground level, it’s possible to get photos of all three bridges together.

The park is free, but unstaffed, and is located at 10240 National Pike, Grantsville. A recently-completed walking path and crosswalk enables visitors to walk to the park and Penn Alps from Grantsville. There are picnic tables and plenty of room to walk around and fishing is allowed in the Casselman River. For more information, visit the Maryland DNR’s web page for the park here.

The deck of the Casselman River Bridge