During the Over the Falls Festival in Ohiopyle State Park, whitewater paddlers nationwide gathered to race over a spectacular 18-foot waterfall.
Spectators gathered to watch kayakers hurl themselves off the waterfall (some with fantastic freestyle moves) all for fun! Other events at the festival included the Falls Under Lights, town party, live music, and silent auction. There are always opportunities for biking, hiking, camping, viewing magnificent scenery, taking spectacular photos, and partaking in historic and cultural activities at Ohiopyle. Below you'll read the firsthand account of Lynne, who attended this year's festival. A big "Thank You!" to our friends at the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau for the wonderful photos, and we both encourage you to "Save the Date" for next year's festival -- Saturday October 1, 2016!
Through the Woods and Over the Falls
On the way from Pittsburgh to Ohiopyle State Park in Fayette County, you'll pass a sign for the town of Normalville. I make that mental note on a beautiful Saturday in August as I prepare my psyche for what will be the day's adventure.
We drive past fields of Black-Eyed Susans. Past Yogi Bear's Jellystone Campground. Past the entrance to Fallingwater. And we arrive: Ohiopyle Over the Falls Festival.
But first, let's rewind. It's Friday evening dinner in the Strip District. Gaucho Parrilla Argentina is the place and rib eye steak is on the plate. Bellies full with two sweet slices of leftover steak literally in the bag, we walk past the line of about 40 or so patient patrons waiting to get waited on. Good thing we came early, I mutter to my mate.
Next morning, I pack a picnic lunch. Leftover tender, tasty steak made into sandwiches with some of that out-of-this-world chimichurri sauce. Some chips. Some Cokes. Some cut-up watermelon. And some cookies. We are READY!
We hit the highway and soon, we have arrived. And I mean ARRIVED!
It is nearly high noon on a Saturday on the one day of the year when hundreds of kayakers from hundreds of miles around Ohiopyle State Park descend upon it because this is the one day of the year when they are permitted to go OVER THE FREAKING FALLS. So, no surprise that scores of cars are parked here, there and everywhere. Parking lots filled.
And then we see it, the Holy Grail of all parking spots. I lament that we don't have a kayak to make our exodus from the 2003 Mercury Sable we're driving look even cooler.
This parking spot is so good, is so spot on, that we take a photo of our car (actually the car of my dear departed dad, whose car we are test driving before taking our big trip across the country to deliver it to my son in California). But I digress. This parking spot is so freaking good that I say: "You know, we can never leave here now."
But we do leave to check out the water sport action that is the 16th annual Ohiopyle Over the Falls. We walk past the dozens kayakers in the queue upstream waiting for the green "Go Sign" so that it's their turn to maneuver their way through the rapids and then down over the 18-foot-waterfall. On a kayak. Yes, while Normalville is near here, it is nowhere to be seen.
I laugh as I overhear a mother telling her two pre-teen kids: "Well, I think we can rule out something we'll never want to do."
Now, we are standing at water's edge watching, mesmerized by the sheer fearlessness of these foolhardy or fierce (I can't decide) kayakers.
One by one they would paddle purposefully toward the falls. Some go over with a plumb. Deftly maneuvering. Aligning their bodies, kayaks, the falls. And then soaring over the falls. Others not so much. And, in these instances, there's a collective spectator sigh of relief after they right themselves from being turned face down in the drink. We learn that some of the participants are as young as 13 and as old as 68...maybe even older. We see two-passenger kayaks and laugh knowingly when we hear the guest announcer calling them "Divorce Boats."
But now there's a break in the action, as the event transitions from timed race into an over-the-top, over-the-falls competition. Now, kayakers perform cartwheels and end-over-end maneuvers that is cause for extreme heart palpitations. We eat our delicious leftover Gaucho picnic lunch putting down our savory sandwiches only to clap wildly at the wildness.
But lunch is over. And then soon, the competition. We mosey back to our supreme parking spot, put the folding chairs back in the trunk along with the cooler. We hate to give up the parking spot, but it's time to go. But not before grabbing an ice cream cone at the old-timey store that's parked just across the street.
On the drive back to Pittsburgh, we reflect on our adventure of through the woods and over the falls. And we're grateful to be mere mortal spectators on this day that has indeed set a new standard of bliss. Parking spot and all.
Lynne Glover is a Pittsburgh native and bridge lover. She’s been known to stop in her tracks to collect a particularly nice rock (or pinecone) and finds joy in the simple act of looking up. She’ll turn 40 next September. Again. Contact her at and follow her on Twitter