Leaf Peeping at McConnells Mill State Park
More than 300,000 acres set aside for outdoor recreational fun are available within 124 Pennsylvania state parks. Although many of these parks are located in the Allegheny mountains region, Western PA is home to a few notable gems. Several of these parks are located within an easy drive of Pittsburgh. Hiking is the prime activity come fall as the parks are loaded with leaves painted with the brilliant hues of the season. If you are seeking a convenient, beautiful, free, and easily accessible leaf peeping destination near Pittsburgh, the easy choice is McConnells Mill State Park. Leaf peeping at McConnells Mill is the best thing to do during the beautiful autumn months in Western PA.
The history of McConnells Mill
McConnells Mill State Park is located in Lawrence County, an easy 40 minute drive from Pittsburgh. The 2456 acre park is located within the Slippery Rock Creek Gorge, a National Historic Landmark. This gorge was created via the draining of glacial lakes thousands of years ago. Hiking the Slippery Rock Gorge trail will take you on a challenging, yet scenic and rewarding journey. Big boulders and the Slippery Rock Creek provide magnificent views along the way.
Whitewater boating (Class II-IV) is popular at McConnells Mill during the spring and fall months. No swimming is allowed due to the dangerous whitewater conditions (many visitors have drowned). Be careful around rocks on any trails as many are very slippery.
Another historic site of interest is an old grist mill. The grist mill was built in the 1800’s as a place to grind grains. In 1852, Daniel Kennedy built the original mill. This one burnt and a replacement opened in 1868. Self guided tours are available Memorial Day through late September, Wednesdays through Sundays from 10:30 AM to 3:30 PM. Guided tours are offered for free by park volunteers at 1:00 and 2:00 PM.
McConnells Mill Covered Bridge
The highlight of the park is a gorgeous wooden bridge, built in 1874. It is over 90 feet long, making it one of the longest of the 5 remaining Howe truss bridges in the state. This covered bridge is actually still drivable which is pretty cool. The red color really makes it pop and creates wonderful photo opportunities. The bridge is at its’ best during the fall season as dazzling golden foliage provides a beautiful autumn backdrop. As one of Pennsylvania’s most gorgeous of the 200+ remaining covered bridges, this alone makes McConnells Mill worthy of a visit!
Hiking trails at McConnells Mill
The best way to explore McConnells Mill is via one of the park’s hiking trails. As mentioned above, the Slippery Rock Gorge trail is a popular option. However, this hike is quite long at 6 miles one way and also quite strenuous. If you are seeking something a bit less strenuous or to simply stroll around a bit and enjoy the foliage, there are a few easier options.
Hells Hollow – Short 1/2 mile trail which leads you to a small waterfall.
Kildoo trail – This 3 mile moderate loop trail follows the creek and leads to a small waterfall named Kildoo Falls.
Alpha Pass trail – Moderate 1.5 mile out-and-back trail which leads you to the covered bridge and grist mill. A bit rocky at points but should be easy enough for anyone in basic shape. Bonus – great views of the creek the entire journey.
Note that there are limited parking spots by the mill. It’s best to save these spots for those unable to hike. If you are not up for a big adventure, you can walk the paved road (pictured below) from the parking lot as opposed to hiking the trail. The paved road can easily be accessed by parking at the Point Parking Lot
Leaf peeping at McConnells Mill
The best time to visit McConnells Mill is during the colorful fall season. Sometime around mid-October you can expect the leaves to reach peak. Golden hues create a picture-perfect fall setting. Whether photographing the covered bridge, creek, waterfalls, or simply taking family photos, the setting is spectacular. A few more pictures of the spectacular fall foliage:
McConnells Mill State Park is located at: 1761 McConnells Mill Rd, Portersville, PA 16051l. Parking is free. Restrooms available. Bring plenty of water and a few snacks if you intend to do a lot of hiking. Wear appropriate workout apparel and hiking shoes with good traction. Stay away from the water at all times. Pets are allowed, but must be leashed and monitored.
What to do nearby
Grab a bite to eat and cup of joe at Beans on Broad, a cute local coffeehouse located conveniently on the route from Pittsburgh about 20 minutes away in Grove City. They serve excellent coffee and pastries and even offer a specialty Pumpkin Spice bagel and specialty seasonal espresso and latte drinks during the fall months. The decor is eclectic and the seating area really spacious. Bonus for the cozy seating and dark interior.
Also check out more of my favorite fall foliage hikes around the Pittsburgh metro.