Exploring sites named “Kinzua” within the Allegheny National Forest of northwestern Pennsylvania brings outdoor adventure and history together. Late summer and early fall are beautiful times of the year to explore this region as prime fall color adds to the beauty during the last two weeks of September and the first two weeks of October.
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 the area’s natural and manmade attractions.
Kinzua Gorge is located in the Allegheny Plateau near the village of Mount Jewett, Pa. Its narrow valleys and steep ridges have their own mystique, changing moods with the passing clouds.
European settlers gave these places colorful names such as 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. 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. The free-admission day-use park offers picnic tables, hiking trails, and the amazing Kinzua Sky Walk, built on the historic towers of the Kinzua Viaduct. The park is accessed by the Kinzua Bridge Scenic Byway (Lindholm Road on a GPS unit), along which you have a very good chance of seeing wild turkey or white-tailed deer.
The Kinzua Sky Walk reaches out 624 feet into the Kinzua Gorge. It has an amazing 300-foot-high overlook with a partial glass floor from which you have a 360-degree view of the Kinzua Gorge. The skywalk is built on the original six towers of the Kinzua Viaduct, commonly called the Kinzua Bridge, which was the highest and longest railroad viaduct in the world until a tornado in 2003 toppled 11 of its towers. Visitors can hike a trail down the side of the gorge at the Kinzua Bridge State Park to view the fallen towers and to fish the stream.
The Kinzua Dam holds back the waters of the Allegheny (Kinzua) Reservoir and is one of the largest dams east of the Mississippi River. The reservoir stretches from Pennsylvania into New York and is perfect for kayaking, sailing, fishing, or motorized boating.
Although a little complicated for licensing (you need a Pennsylvania, New York, or Seneca Nation license depending on your location) the 12,000-acre Allegheny Reservoir offers world-class fishing for walleye, bass, muskie, and catfish. Red Bridge Campground is located along Route 321, just north of where Kinzua Creek enters the reservoir, and is a favorite for those seeking to fish the “the land of big fishes.”
Nearby is Paul’s Trading Post, 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.
A free Allegheny National Forest 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.