Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, with its popular fall foliage, shuts down when the federal government shuts down, as during budget standoffs. Local leaf-watchers are for the most part unaware of a satisfactory alternative. Pennsylvania’s Michaux State Forest, however, offers 85,000 acres of forest that feature colors that eclipse those at Shenandoah, free of fees and controversy.
Michaux is part of Pennsylvania’s vast system of State Forests, invulnerable to politics because of their forest products role. The forests are managed to produce timber. In forests like Michaux, feel free to park in a wide spot. Explore a logging road. Follow a power line.
For a more formal experience, visit one of two Pennsylvania State Parks located within the forest: Caledonia and Pine Grove Furnace. Each offers water, picnic facilities and visitor centers. Pine Grove features a notable museum housing artifacts representing the history of the Appalachian Trail. This park is a focal point for long-distance hikers. It is situated halfway along the roughly 2,000 miles of trail. A hostel there offers shelter for the foot-weary.
Conveniently located near I-15 north from Virginia, near Gettysburg, Michaux offers a forest dominated by oaks. Generous numbers of black gum and red maple trees brighten it further and diversify the autumn color. Northern red oak dominates the forest, but large numbers of chestnut oak cover the ridgetops. The chestnut oak extends the autumn leaf viewing season, often coloring Michaux into the first week of November.
Michaux also offers a greater diversity of habitat than Shenandoah. Hemlock swamps occur there. Several man-made lakes reflect the autumn color. White pine forests shelter northern wildflowers absent from Shenandoah. A notable species is goldthread, which grows in mossy shadows. Goldthread leaves remain glossy and green throughout the winter; and its roots, used in folk medicine, glow a rich gold color.