Looking for an ideal place for camping, biking, hiking, kayaking, or just wandering through quaint little shops in a village nestled in the mountains? We discovered such a place a few weeks ago, just an hour-and-a-half southeast of Pittsburgh: Ohiopyle State Park.
Strange name, right? The name Ohiopyle derives from the word ohiopehha, meaning “white, frothy river”—a good description of the Youghiogheny River as it passes through the 19,052 acres of forested park in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania. We enjoyed several gorgeous autumn days in this park, and would recommend it to everyone who loves mountains, rivers, and fresh country air.
We drove to western PA in our 2004 Fleetwood Southwind RV, towing our new Jeep (not our VW). Why a new Jeep and not a VW? Thanks for asking.
A New “Toad” for our RV
After the debacle of trying to tow our VW Jetta Wagon on a lightly used tow dolly we had purchased (for the near-disastrous results, check out our Vlog “If Anything Can Go Wrong…”), we bit the bullet and purchased a new Jeep Cherokee Latitude Active Drive 2 (essential for four-down towing, which means all four wheels on the road rather than just the two rear wheels). We then had the Jeep outfitted with a Blue Ox towing system, which is an impressive set-up of tow bars, hitches, wiring, safety chains, and a gizmo that activates the car’s brakes when you hit the brakes in your RV.
After connecting the Jeep to the tow bars mounted on the RV, we have to disengage its transmission (a process involving 19 simple but essential steps that must be done in the correct order). If all is done correctly, we’re ready to tow and go. The towing itself is pretty easy, as the car just follows the RV. If the RV makes a turn without a problem, so will the Jeep. Backing up is another story . . .
If you want to tow a car (called a “toad” because it’s towed, yeah), it’s not quite as simple as hooking it up and heading off. Some cars can only be towed four-down, others only two-down on a tow dolly, and the rest not at all. You need to check each vehicle’s manual, and double-check with the dealer, to make sure you have the right car for your needs.
Flat Towing vs. Car Dolly
Most tow dollies are cheaper than tow-bar systems, and both have their advantages and disadvantages.
You’ll need room to store your tow dolly on your campsite. It can usually be tucked in under the front or back of an RV and be mostly out of the way. It’s heavy enough that you don’t want to have to maneuver it too far, however. And a dolly adds to the weight you are already pulling.
A towing system is twice as expensive. Your car needs to be positioned correctly in order to attach and detach the tow bars. And you have to disengage your transmission correctly, according to the manual’s directions. But when not in use, the tow bar folds up right on your RV and is out of the way.
Both work, so it depends on the car you already have, or how much you want to (or can) spend to get ready to tow. There’s usually no right or wrong, just what best suits your needs. Of course for us, the tow dolly was wrong.
Anyway, on a bright October morning, we headed west on Interstate 80 through the Delaware Water Gap and across the beautiful state of Pennsylvania (our home state, so we’re a bit prejudiced), its mountains aglow with the colors of autumn. “We” in this case was the two of us, plus our three dogs (Tucker, Mitzi, and Oliver) and our cat (Cali). The pets have all adjusted well to RV life, the dogs buckled up in safety harnesses and the cat in her crate when on the road.
Our trip was about 8 hours, or 260 miles. (It was supposed to be shorter, but for some reasons, our GPS detoured us through the hills—and we mean lots of hills—of Maryland.) An 11-ton RV towing a 2-ton car uses a lot of gas (we get 7-8 miles per gallon).
When our gas tank was getting low, Kathy used the iExit app and found a truck stop ahead, where we hoped to (1) get gas, and (2) take a short break to get coffee and walk the dogs. Not as easy as it sounds! The pumps were all diesel (we take regular), and all the truck parking spaces required us to back in (which is difficult to impossible when towing a car). So we drove around the building to what we assumed would be the exit, but it wasn’t! Instead, our way out was blocked by a heavy chain suspended between two cement posts. The trucks exited the same way they entered after fueling up, but since we bypassed the pumps, we were stuck, with no way to turn around without unhooking the car and doing an eight-point or more turn.
While Jeff held his breath (but kept taking video for our YouTube channel—see above), Kathy found an employee and explained our dilemma. Much to our relief, he readily unhooked the chain, as he’s done for other RVs, so that we could make our escape and fuel up elsewhere. Lesson learned. From now on, we’ll also check Gas Buddy to see if the truck stop has regular gas as well as diesel.
By the way, many gas stations cannot accommodate an RV because of the position of their pumps and the amount of space available to enter and exit. Google Earth can sometimes help us see if a gas station will be accessible for our 37-foot Class A motorhome.
Ohiopyle and the Yuk!
When we finally arrived at the park, we were delighted to see that our campsite was large, level, and shaded by an array of colorful trees. Awesome! The park has a new welcome center overlooking one of the waterfalls on the Youghiogheny (pronounced Yuck-a-gain-ee, and locally referred to as the “Yuck” or “Yuk”). Our plan was to do some biking, but it was impossible to resist the urge to walk through the tiny but quaint town of Ohiopyle, enjoy some iced coffee, and just sit and watch the river for a while.
Eventually we headed out on the Great Allegheny Passage, a 150-mile groomed “rail trail” connecting Pittsburgh to Washington, DC. We love riding on rail trails (former railroad beds turned into biking and hiking paths) both for the amazing scenery and the fact that you rarely have to ascend more than a 2% grade! We rode only a few of the 150 miles before heading back to town.
The next morning we woke up to the sound of rain on the roof of our motorhome. Kathy actually woke up several times during the night because the rain was so heavy and LOUD. Jeff, with his hearing aids on the shelf beside the bed, slept soundly through it all.
A rainy day isn’t great for outdoor activities, but a short drive away was Fallingwater, one of the famous houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Built as a weekend home for the wealthy Kaufmann family of Pittsburgh in 1935, this architectural wonder of concrete and steel extends over a waterfall on Bear Run Creek. Eventually donated to the state, guided tours run year-round, and it’s definitely worth your time to visit, even on a rainy day. (Ironic that we visited Fallingwater on a day when water was falling from the sky, right?) The place is well run, and if it rains, they even supply umbrellas!
We wished we could have stayed in Ohiopyle longer, but we had to batten down the hatches, hook up the Jeep, and head northwest to Jeff’s alma mater, Geneva College, for homecoming weekend and a reunion of the “Eight Bells.” The Eight Bells is a barbershop double-quartet Jeff sang with in college (and it’s still going strong 38 years later). Highlights of the weekend included spending time with Jeff’s college roommate Ron and his wife, Robyn, watching the Golden Tornadoes win an exciting football game, and a concert featuring current and past members of Eight Bells. Jeff was thrilled to be able to perform a few numbers with fellow Eight Bells members over the years—a great walk down memory lane!
This trip was a good opportunity to hone our RV skills, practice shooting some videos, and take a break from all the chores at our lake house. We had a ball, and it won’t be long until we set out for our long trip to Florida, Texas, and beyond during New Jersey’s cold winter months. We hope you’ll follow along,
And please, be sure to post your questions and comments below!