The Allegheny Mountain range

Red Oak Lake
Day on the old course
Fall Foliage Festival
Bedford main street
Fall Foliage Festival
Farmer at the market
Omni Bedford Springs Resort
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Not bleak, stark peaks of barren granite, but lush, rolling hills of vibrant, summer green or crimson fall. Not sweltering tropical lagoons, but the deep, placid coolness of freshwater lakes. Not frantic crowds, but cheerful community. The Allegheny Mountain range, a ridge stretching along the western-central portion of the impossibly ancient Appalachians of the eastern United States, epitomises the extraordinarily inviting beauty of temperate climates — those where four distinct seasons vie for supremacy of gorgeous scenery.

This landscape has known harsh times, but today it sings of peace.

Bedford County: A scenic autumn escape

Bedford County lies at the foothills of the Pennsylvania Alleghenies. Visitors to the Borough of Bedford will find one of the nation’s best-preserved, most picturesque American villages. From the courthouse in the historic town square to the gentle banks of the lazy Raystown River, charming scenes appear around every corner or river bend.

The summertime countryside provides endless gorgeous vistas for a scenic drive. The lake at Shawnee State Park, with its sandy beach, is an excellent spot for a swim or a canoe ride. But the region truly comes into its own during the autumn. Unique to the American Northeast, the leaves of old-growth, deciduous forests erupt for a glorious month or two into an unparalleled riot of crimson, scarlet, amber, and ochre.

“Just being on top of that mountain, seeing all of the colours, the corn fields, the wheat fields below… it’s incredible,” says Kellie Goodman, President-CEO of Bedford County Chamber of Commerce. “In the fields below, you can hear the corn rustling as it dries.”

Fall Foliage Festival: Bedford County’s vibrant celebration

The shortening days work this metamorphosis with such reliability that Bedford County centres its biggest event series of the year, the Fall Foliage Festival, at this time. What started as an idea to bring more people to the community half a century ago has blossomed into an event attended by over 70,000 guests yearly; more than 400 exhibitors line the streets each October. Over the years, the Festival has grown to include a wagon train, covered bridge tours, square dancing, and an elaborate Harvest Ball. The town square is busy with an antique car parade, book and bake sales and is redolent with the smell of homemade apple cider and candy caramel apples. At Blue Knob, a popular skiing destination during winter, ski lifts are opened briefly during the foliage season for travellers to look out at the stunning autumn scenery.

“We see families getting together to enjoy their own traditions surrounding the event — holiday shopping, listening to live music, and visiting their favourite food vendors,” continues Goodman. “There is truly something for everyone.  Some come for the amazing live music on two stages, featuring lots of local talent as well as groups from further afield, like The Vogues. Children have a great time watching Middle Earth Theater, riding ponies, making scarecrows, and having their faces painted.  And on the festival’s second weekend, young entrepreneurs get their own booths in a children’s area to sell their creations.”

Bedford Springs Hotel: Hospitality & healing mineral springs

The colonial structures of the town and the rural family farms along narrow, hilly Route 30 (known as the Lincoln Highway) belie a surprisingly sophisticated tourism infrastructure. Restaurants, cafes, and wineries in Bedford Borough’s heart and nearby Everett Township offer American and Continental fare that rivals the best of Manhattan.

Bedford was once the destination of choice for its healing mineral springs. Bedford Springs Hotel was built on a property purchased in 1798, attracting city dwellers from Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York, and Washington, DC, including President Buchanan, who called the area his “Summer Whitehouse”. American presidents from Jefferson to Eisenhower were known to “take the waters” at Bedford.

“In the last century, people didn’t regularly drink water, as it was unsafe; they stuck to beer or wine. Simply drinking water at these mineral springs helped them regain their health,” explains Caroline Sherin, Concierge at the award-winning Omni Bedford Springs Resort, the modern incarnation of the old Bedford Springs Hotel. The luxury resort today includes first-class services and amenities such as an eighteen-hole golf course, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, historical tours and high-tea service. However, it retains a distinctly historic feel, with a guest book signed by multiple United States presidents, displays of the original bonnets worn by ladies of past centuries, and a historical walking tour that ranges across the property.

The Shawnee State Park: Vibrant nights and celestial wonders

An evening in the Alleghenies can be as lively or contemplative as desired. Several bars and taverns on Bedford’s main drag, Juliana Street, cater to the former. Good company and craft beers are available at Village News.

And for those whose bright, urban lives have nearly erased all memory of the stars, a clear night is the perfect moment for a slow drive into the dark countryside. “The Shawnee State Park doesn’t have a single streetlight, and even in downtown Bedford we take it for granted that we can see the stars,” says Goodman.

Several miles out of town, quiet lanes climb gentle hills, at last revealing a broad view of the vast Milky Way. It spans the blackness and illuminates farms, fields, and forests, as it has for countless ages.

Text and photos by Jan Lee