Fall is a beautiful time to visit the mountains and towns of Central Pennsylvania. The heat of summer is over and the leaves are starting to change into all sorts of glorious autumnal shades. I had always wanted to see the historic town of Bedford, Pennsylvania, and made arrangements to stay at the Omni Bedford Springs Resort. I looked at a map of PA to see what hiking options are around Bedford and saw that Shawnee State Park is very close and that Blue Knob State Park is only a 25 minute drive away. I also saw that Blue Knob mountain is the second highest mountain in Pennsylvania. That peaked my interest and I printed a trail map of the park from the park’s web page.
I set out on a three-day, two-night trip late afternoon on September 30th and arrived in Bedford about 90 minutes later via the PA Turnpike.
I drove around town to get a lay of the land and then checked into the Omni Bedford Springs Resort. The hotel is a series of lodge-like buildings called houses. They are all connected and flank the main entrance building. All are built of several different architectural styles, but blend together well. Native Americans knew of the springs and used them for their healing powers. A stone inn was the original hotel structure and was built in 1806. The resort has hosted 13 U.S. presidents, seven of whom visited during their presidency. President James Buchanan, born in nearby Franklin County, used the Bedford Springs Hotel as his summer White House. In fact, in 1858 President Buchanan received the first transatlantic cable ever sent while he was at the Bedford Springs Resort. They also boast one of the nations first golf courses and indoor pools. Bedford Springs Resort is a National Historic Landmark.
At almost every turn in the buildings there are historical photographs, maps, artifacts, flintlock rifles, arrowheads, and even log books, some of which pre-date the civil war. The resort was lovingly and respectfully updated in 2007 and includes all the modern conveniences. It features an amazing spa (the pool, spa, and hotel, all use water from one of the eight mineral springs on the property). There are also a Spencer Oldham/A.W. Tillinghast/Donald Ross designed golf course and modern clubhouse, several restaurants including the bright and beautiful Crystal Room. Most of the furnishings at the hotel are antiques or antique reproductions.
The grounds are beautifully maintained and were decorated with many pumpkins and gourds during my visit. A fast-moving stream and a mountain ridge sit directly across the road that runs in front of the Bedford Springs Resort. Activities offered vary by the day and the season and can include: hiking on its trails, horseback riding, tennis, biking, lawn games, fly fishing, archery, trap shooting, and more. In the Library there’s even big jigsaw puzzles that people can work on while relaxing there or when just passing by..
After checking into my nicely furnished room in Springs Eternal House (It is very near the Springs Eternal Spa part of the resort. I requested my Jeep from the valet and headed into town to watch the Steelers vs. Ravens “Sunday Night Football” game. It didn’t seem like too much was happening (after all it was early on a Sunday night in a small town), so I headed back to the resort and watched the game at the rustic Frontier Room’s bar. Jess the bartender was friendly and efficiently made drinks for the very busy restaurant and bar’s patrons.
After a very restful night’s sleep on the comfortable bed and soft down pillows, I had breakfast in the Crystal Room Restaurant.The restaurant offers a wonderful breakfast buffet which I opted for. There’s always some type of eggs on the buffet or you can order your favorite egg dish (still included with the buffet). I chose a bacon, onion, and cheddar cheese omelet. The omelet was fluffy and done just right, it tasted as magnificent as it looked. Highlights of the buffet included the blueberry maple fresh made sausage, chocolate bread pudding, and french toast and pancakes with interesting accouterments such as cinnamon maple butter, and Somerset maple syrup. There’s also charcuterie,fresh fruit, and healthier breakfast offerings on the buffet. The Crystal Room even gives you your own small individual bottle of Heinz Ketchup when you request the condiment. Outstanding service was delivered by servers Todd, Sharon, and Wanda the hostess.
A Challenging Hike on Blue Knob Mountain
After relaxing for a little while after breakfast on Monday morning I headed out to Blue Knob State Park. I had heard of Blue Knob Ski Resort, but other than that I didn’t know much else about the park. As you get closer to Blue Knob, the road follows a fast-moving mountain stream which continues into the State Park.
I purposely went past my turnoff road to Mountain View Trail in order to see more of the park. I drove up the road and past the swimming pool which would probably be wonderful in the summertime. I continued up and onto a switch back road which ascended up the mountain. After driving for about ten minutes I came upon a big clearing and parked for a few minutes. The view was quite spectacular, looking down on the valley and more mountains in the distance. I later realized that if I had kept driving on that road I would have reached the ski resort.
After admiring the view, I headed back down the mountain and picked up the road to Willow Springs Picnic Area where I would then pick up Mountain View Trail. I headed up the mountain again and after about ten minutes of driving I found my destination and the trail marker post. I parked and admired the view from there of the valley and surrounding mountains stretching out towards the horizon with blue skies and a few puffy clouds overhead.
When hiking alone, as I sometimes do, it is very important to call someone before you start your hike to let them know where you are hiking and tell them that you will call them back at an approximate time after you’re done. I also left a piece of note paper on the dash of my jeep where someone could see it with what trail I was on and my cell phone number (you can’t always count on there being cell phone service on a hike. Also make sure your phone is well charged before a hike.).
I strapped on my hip pack with water, snacks, survival kit, waterproof matches, cord, emergency blanket, some toilet paper if needed (you don’t want to be grabbing any leaves that you don’t know what they are), and my trusty Swiss Army knife. I also applied DEET insect repellent to any exposed areas and wore a hat to prevent mosquito and tick bites. I had on a good pair of hiking shoes. Additionally, I carried a trail map that I had printed from the state park’s website.
Mountain View Trail is a 5 miles long loop trail and was rated as a most difficult trail. The first 100 yards were flat, wide and easy. Then the double red blazes that marked the trail turned directly up the side of the mountain. I was like, are you kidding me? After scrambling vertically up the side of the mountain at about a 60 degree angle for over a 100 yards, the trail went to the right and a less steep, yet constant, ascent up the mountain. After hiking for a while I was starting to understand why the trail was rated as most difficult. With a narrow path, loose rocks and downed trees to scramble over, wet parts, and a constant, sometimes steep ascent, this was one of the most challenging trails I had ever done. Also the trail was very narrow and almost always on an angle reflecting the slope of the mountain. I had to stop and let my heart rate lower a few times after some of the steeper parts. It wasn’t as if you were on the side of a cliff or rock climbing, but was close to being the next level down.
I followed the trail blazes, winding up and around the mountain and through some beautiful eastern woodland terrain with a high tree canopy overhead. At the time the leaves hadn’t changed yet and fallen. I could see some surrounding mountains occasionally through the tree cover. It would probably be a more constant view after the leaves have fallen.
After winding up and around the mountain for an hour and twenty minutes with no indication that the trail was going to reach the top of the mountain anytime soon, I decided to turn around. I had no intention of hiking the full trail anyway.
As I started to head back down I thought to myself to be careful, that probably most hiking and climbing accidents occur on the way down when you’re tired and the muscles are starting to get a little tight from the climb up.
After hiking down for about 15 minutes I planted my left foot next to a medium-sized log on the narrow path. The side of my foot brushed the side of the log and the log was rotten and fell apart, as it did, my left foot started to slide out. I lost my balance and tried to regain it, but couldn’t. Then my brain started firing the message that a fall was imminent. Due to the fact that I was descending I fell forward down the hill. In the process I banged my left knee on a rock, ripping my jeans at that spot and scraping my knee. Luckily the rest of me landed in dirt. I lay there for a few seconds taking stock of my condition. I thought, for the most part I’m OK. I tried to get up, but had some long plants or weeds wrapped around my legs which I quickly got off. I stood up, brushed the dirt off and examined my knee. Although hurting somewhat, it seemed OK. The biggest wound I sustained was to my pride, but soon got moving down the trail again. I was very lucky that that was my biggest injury. In researching Mountain View Trail more after my hike, I saw that there are better places to start that would have afforded me a more scenic hike with better and additional mountain views.
All in all, it was a glorious day in the mountains with 80 degree temperature and sunny skies. It’s great to get out into the Pennsylvania wilds every once in a while to get away from the city, work, and the news cycle. It helps to recharge one’s batteries. Seeing the beauty of nature, whether in the city or mountains, it emphasizes the fact that we must all do a better job of protecting our environment from pollution and respecting the flora and fauna of our beautiful planet.
Beautiful and Historic Downtown Bedford
After my hike I visited the quaint town of Bedford. Parking is free, It felt nice to park in a downtown with no parking fees. There are however time limits of parking in various sections. Having been a town now for 250 years, many of the structures in Bedford are from different architectural eras and styles and include several very old stone buildings. And Fort Bedford Museum is a reproduction of the original fort, which was built in 1758 during the French and Indian War. The museum houses over 4,000 items from Bedford’s past. I went to see the Fort on the last day of my trip, but unfortunately it is closed on Tuesdays (It pays to plan your itinerary ahead of time to avoid such disappointments).
According to the Historic Downtown Bedford’s website,the first non-native settlement was a frontier trading post called Raystown. Bedford was settled in 1751 and incorporated in 1795. The fort was built by General Forbes and his troops as he marched towards Pittsburgh to confront the French at Fort Duquesne. Fort Ligonier is another of the forts that Forbes built as he cut a road through the Pennsylvania wilderness. Fort Bedford was also the first one taken over by American rebels. James Smith’s Black Boys, a group of American patriots, reportedly took over the Fort in 1769, after the British had abandoned it and before the American Revolutionary War began. Fort Bedford is situated on a rise next to the Raystown Branch of the Juniata River.
And if you’re wondering, did George Washington ever sleep here? The answer is yes. Both times he was commanding troops. In 1758 Colonel Washington led Virginia provisional forces, who built a road from Fort Cumberland (Cumberland, Maryland) to Fort Raystown (the fort was called this for a period before being named in honor of the Duke of Bedford in England). He and his troops then joined General Forbes on his expedition to expel the French from the Point in present day Pittsburgh. President Washington brought his army to Bedford in 1794 when he entered the region to quell the Whiskey Rebellion. His headquarters was Bedford’s Espy House, which is a National Historic Landmark today.
Seeking a recharge after my trip I wandered into HeBrews Coffee Company at the corner of Pitt and Richard Streets. I ordered a coffee and asked if they could fill a little zip lock bag that I had in order to ice my knee. They gladly obliged both requests. Extra appreciative, I put a couple greenbacks in the tip charge. I plopped down on a very comfortable couch near the front of the storeroom and watched the comings and goings of downtown Bedford through the large glass windows for awhile. The coffee is quite good. HeBrews is somewhat of a hipster coffee shop that is nicely decorated and also has some inspirational messages on its walls.
Strolling around downtown Bedford I discovered the Bedford Candies shop. Inside it was every kid’s (and adults too) dream. Specializing in homemade hand-dipped chocolates, truffles, and different flavored popcorn and caramel corns, the business was established in 1929. They also have a store in Altoona. As soon as you walk in you notice the front counter is actually about ten plexiglass bins of different types of popcorn and caramel corn. A little further into the store there are several cases filled with many different types of beautiful chocolates and truffles. On the store’s other shelves were just about every kind of candy faves one could think of. The store even had blue and pink cotton candy in plastic containers for purchase. The few chocolate items I tried were scrumptdillyicious. I even tried a piece of chocolate covered bacon, how trendy! The milk chocolate caramel corn is also a big winner in my book.
While there I spied a small poster that mentioned a joint tasting of Bedford Candy chocolates and Briar Valley Wine at their Bedford tasting room. I asked the friendly manager of the candy store where the winery’s tasting room was and she said it was almost directly across the street.
Seeking a little medicinal relief from my difficult hike I ambled across Pitt Street and into the Briar Valley Winery tasting room. It was a big, beautiful, and bright space. The front of the storeroom had racks of the different kinds of wines that the vineyard produced. In the rear hung paintings of various local artists for sale which added to the ambiance of the store. In the middle was the tasting bar.
I inquired about a tasting with the tasting room manager Olivia and was told it was five dollars and wouldn’t be deducted if I bought a bottle. I agreed and the tasting of about 10 Briar Valley Wines was on. The wines—whites, reds, and rosés of various vintages—were very good. I especially liked the 2010 Proprietor’s Rosé and purchased a bottle after the tasting. Olivia is a very friendly person and in talking with her I learned that she is a native of Northern California, and is married to a native of Bedford, PA. They were tired of “working to live” as she said due to how expensive California is and decided to move back to his hometown after living there for many years. Olivia said they have been enjoying life in Bedford very much.
In downtown I also saw a building at the corner of Pitt and Richard Streets that had no signs out front and had no lights on inside. The big store room was filled was historic cars from different eras.
According to Tonya Grimes, Main Street Manager for Downtown Bedford, Inc., a fun upcoming event is the Downtown Bedford Wine & Spirits Walk which will happen Saturday, November 3 from 1 – 5 p.m. The festival will feature local wine, whiskey, spirits, brews, and food in downtown Bedford.
I headed back to Omni Bedford Springs Resort after my little excursion to downtown Bedford. After showering I headed for the Frontier Room bar where I enjoyed a Pastrami Reuben, fries, and a Manhattan. Later I took a refreshing dip in the resort’s historic indoor pool, fed by mineral springs.
The next morning after breakfast I headed for my appointment at the Springs Eternal Spa where I had made an appointment for the Hiker’s Delight 25 minute foot massage. Heather checked me in and I was soon greeted by the men’s spa attendant, Mitch. He showed me to the locker room and gave me a robe to put over my bathing suit and a pair of plastic sandals. When ready I went into the relaxation room where I was met by my masseuse, Jonathan.
We went to a small massage room with a reclining massage table in it. He gave me a light blanket in case I wanted more warmth. There was soft, tranquil music playing on the stereo. Jonathan’s skillful massaging of my feet soon put me in a deep state of relaxation. 25 minutes elapsed much too quickly. Jonathan escorted me back to relaxation room which was completely crowded with people waiting for their treatments. I grabbed an apple chai tea, fresh fruit, and trail mix from the offerings there and headed outside on the veranda where there were additional lounge chairs. I’m glad that I did, it was a beautiful morning, not to warm and not too cold. They have big hedges at the outside of the spa to make it secluded. A fountain was running in the middle of the garden, flowers, pumpkins,and gourds added to the pleasing surroundings. I was in a very nice state of relaxation.
After lounging for awhile I went back inside and enjoyed the men’s steam room, hot tub, cold dipping pool, and deluge (a shower with five separate heads focused on you). I even applied some cucumber body spray before the deluge. I then showered and upon leaving I felt as tense as a blob of jello. Men need a little pampering too! Everyone I dealt with at the Omni Bedford Springs Resort was very nice and focused on delivering the highest quality customer service. Even if you aren’t staying overnight at the resort you can book a spa treatment or eat in any of their restaurants. The spa has several special packages for the fall/winter seasons and restaurants on the property are offering a special cocktail, dessert, and food menu to celebrate the Season of Smoke, all October long.
Bedford Dining and Points of Interest
The Bedford dining scene, in addition to the four restaurants at the resort, include a few downtown and several on the outskirts including on Route 30. Golden Eagle Inn boasts 16 guest rooms and two dining rooms, one fine and one casual, in an old stone building on Pitt Street. Also on Pitt Street is the Bedford Tavern & Seafood House, which promises “Best seafood this side of Baltimore.” It is housed in a 200-year-old stone building. Another historic stone building restaurant is Jean Bonnet Tavern on the Lincoln Highway (Route 30). Horn O Plenty is a farm to table restaurant which features seasonal and woodfired oven items on its menu. For new American cuisine there’s 10/09 Kitchen. The Green Harvest Co. is a casual, comfort food restaurant and bakery that also offers vegan and vegetarian selections. There’s also the Village News, one of Bedford’s oldest restaurant and beer bars. Olde Bedford Brewing is actually a newer brewer of craft beers. I tried their Fat Jimmy’s Arancia Hefeweizen beer (4.5% ABV) on tap at the hotel and it was quite nice.
There are many other points of interest in Bedford. Old Bedford Village takes one back to life during the town’s earlier years.The National Museum of the American Coverlet puts decorative coverlets in the spotlight. Pitt Theatre is Pennsylvania’s oldest continuously operating movie theater and offers first-run movies, music, events, and plays from local companies including Off Pitt Street Productions. There is also a Bedford Arts Cooperative which produces and promotes arts and entertainment in the town. The Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art – Bedford is housed in a gorgeous historical building. A racing aficionado? The Bedford Speedway is Pennsylvania’s oldest dirt track.
Photos and story by Rick Handler, executive producer of Entertainment Central.