Location: 733 Lake Road South Fork, PA 15956
Parking: Park at the visitors center, or at points 2, or 3 shown on the map below.
Fees: No fees to park or visit.
Directions on PCs: Locate the Google map below the search box on the right-hand side of this webpage. Click “Get Directions” on the map pin details.
Directions on Tablets and Mobile Phones: Locate the Google map near the bottom of this page, just below the search box. Click “Get Directions” on the map pin details.
The national memorial had three points of interest to me, and I’ve included a helpful map that you can print out showing those points and directions to them.
The first is the visitors center, which is on the left side of Lake Road. The other two points are the two sides of the former dam. The North-East side is accessible via a trail off of Lake Road, The South-West side requires driving around Lake Road to Locust Street, then turning onto South Abutment Road (See the map above for driving details).
The visitors center is a red building that sits on the top of the hill overlooking the former South Forks Dam and Reservoir. From the site, you can see the location of the dam, and a good deal of the land that was once flooded to fill the reservoir.
The visitors center contains lots of historical models and information panels about the Johnstown flood, including a large wall of simulated debris to give you an idea of how the whole town looked immediately after the flood.
North-East side of the Dam
After leaving the Visitors Center we took Lake Road to point #2 on the map, where you can park your car and walk out onto the North-East portion of the South Forks Dam.
As you get closer to the Dam, it becomes more and more apparent how much water could be held in the reservoir. The depth of the water was over 70 feet in places.
The former reservoir was massive, filling most of the area of the photo above up to the tree line, and in places higher. The railroad tracks were added after the dam burst and run through the former dam area.
On either side of the dam remnants, there is an overlook with informational markers.
We accidentally planned our visit on the 133rd anniversary of the dam’s failure, and the white bags were used as luminaries in a ceremony that occurred after sunset to remember the people who perished in the flood.
Route 219 wraps around the background of the former dam and appears to form an outline of where the dam used to be. Once you reach the tip of the lookout, you can see just how far away the road actually is.
South-West side of the Dam
After driving about 2.5 miles around the former lake site, you will be able to explore the South-West side of the former dam and even walk down a path that follows the Conemaugh River through the old dam.
At the bottom of the trail, there is a set of shaped stones that formed the base of the dam.
The Conemaugh River peacefully flows through the former dam site.
The trail to the base of the dam, along the river, and back up the other side wasn’t long at all and really drove home how much water would fit in the reservoir, answering a question I seemed to ponder all day:
“Could there really have been enough water in the dam to do so much damage?” I learned the answer that day on the short trail through the former dam site: Yes.