Cucumber Falls was most likely as equal an attraction to the first known group to inhabit the area as it is for tourists and residents today.
The first known group known to occupy the Ohiopyle region in Pennsylvania the Monongahela, a Native American clan of the Mound Builders. They and other Native American tribes ultimately disappeared from the region following the French and Indian war that ended in 1763.
The name Ohiopyle is derived from the Lenape Indian phrase ahi opihale, meaning it turns very white, a reference to the frothy waters of the nearby Ohiopyle Falls.**
Cucumber Run is named for the abundance of one species of magnolia tree, the cucumber magnolia (Magnolia acuminate), that still is found in the watershed.** Another explanation for its name came from a friend: the surface of the Youghiogheny River, from where Cucumber Run enters it, had the appearance of cucumbers from the way the water flowed downstream.
There is a feeling of overgrown lushness… The ice cold stream drops off a natural overhang into a crystal clear pool with a school of black lined dace…How many years have these dace been locked in, diverging under the selection of this small pool from their parents, either upstream or down?*****
Waterfalls, temporary features on a landscape…are always moving upstream as they cut into the foundation rocks of a region. Both Ohiopyle and Cucumber Falls drop over the same layer of sandstone, At one time they were in pretty much the same place…but have moved at different speeds…the result being their two current locations,** a quarter mile apart*****.
Cucumber Falls, created by Cucumber Run falling into a gorge carved out by the Youghiogheny River, is surprisingly only 30 feet high***—it looked much higher to me. Park brochures describe Cucumber as a “bridal veil” waterfall…with the stream at a low flow, you get a sense of the wispy nature of the cascade and, thus, the description.** What gives this natural beauty its distinct character is the surrounding walls that rise up on three sides.*****
Fortunately earlier weather conditions caused sufficient water to fall over the ledge to provide a magnificent view. The one other time we had stopped at Cucumber Falls nary a drop of water was falling.
When the Youghiogheny river gauge runs above 5 feet, odds are Cucumber Run has enough water in it to fill the wide veil of Cucumber Falls. When the gauge reads above 7 feet…it will be a wonderful torrent. ..with limited time, perhaps the best location to shoot from is an island in the middle of the run.****
My husband Monte and I reached Cucumber Falls in the late morning on February 15 (2103). The weather, predicted to bring a storm, was sunny with a very comfortable temperature and no breeze while we walked from the parking area to the Youghiogheny River.
Before I could wrap my coat around me Monte had disappeared, taking a path over the bridge instead of descending the steps. He took this photograph:
The mid-February weather left the stone steps into the gorge ice covered and treacherous. We were grateful for the railing we could hold onto for dear life.
I took my time descending the steps into the gorge, locating slim bare patches and collections of leaves for secure footing. I slipped twice, almost falling. After the steps ended I followed a path in the ravine. At many junctions I paused and allowed my photographic trigger finger to shoot the falls, Cucumber Run, and the Yough River in the distance.
Monte caught up with me and I noted an upcoming photographer as our roles reversed and I was instructing him to be careful as he climbed over rocks into the middle of the stream, where he exercised his trigger finger.
I wasn’t so daring. Several times I questioned my sanity as the path was quite tricky—one slip and I would be in the ravine on rocks at the edge of the flowing water.
Although I didn’t take my boots and socks off (I hadn’t thought about doing what I do at the ocean—sticking my feet in the water) I did photograph my booted foot at the edge of the water that softly licked the toe of the boot.
For those who want to visit Cucumber Falls, here are directions**:
From the Pennsylvania Turnpike, use Exit 91, Donegal, then follow Route 31 east to Route 381 to Ohiopyle State Park.
From the south, U.S. 40 is the best route. Go to Farmington, then take Route 381 north to Ohiopyle.
From central Somerset County, Routes, 30, 31 and 653 go over Laurel Ridge to Route 381.
From southern Somerset County, go through Confluence on Route 281 to Sugarloaf Road, and then over the Laurel Ridge to Ohiopyle.
From the Ohiopyle Falls Overlook parking lot in Ohiopyle, turn right onto Route 381 and go south for a short distance and over a bridge. At the south end of the bridge turn right again, up a hill. Just over the first rise and downhill a bit, you will find a parking lot on the right. Park there and head for the trail to Cucumber Falls.