5 Fantastic State Parks near Pittsburgh
Pennsylvania is home to 124 state parks, with more than 300,000 acres of land available for public recreational use. With a number of these parks easily accessible within an hour drive of Pittsburgh, it’s easy to plan a little time out to get back to nature. Take a break from the city congestion and enjoy an hour or 2 of biking, hiking, winter sports, birdwatching, picnicking, or simply just enjoying the sights and sounds of nature in a quiet setting.
Here are 5 great state parks near Pittsburgh where you can refresh, rejuvenate, and enjoy the great outdoors.
1. Ohiopyle State Park
One of the most popular state parks in Pennsylvania, this gem features a number of attractive amenities. From natural waterslides, to whitewater rafting, to hiking and biking, to fishing, Ohiopyle offers endless opportunity to enjoy various types of recreation. The beautiful Youghiogheny River runs through the park, creating a spectacular setting for whitewater rafting. Several companies offer amazing whitewater rafting trips on Class III and IV rapids on what is considered to be one of the best whitewater rivers in the East.
The standout of this park is beautiful Ohiopyle Falls, a small yet mighty waterfall which is viewable via several observing decks located near the visitor’s center. Also notable is a short hike to Cucumber Falls, one of the most photogenic waterfalls in the state. And during the summer months, don’t miss out on the Meadow Run sandstone “waterslides” for some free natural waterpark fun.
2. McConnells Mill State Park
Located just 40 min north of Pittsburgh, and being a hotspot for fall foliage, McConnells Mill is the perfect destination for a leaf peeping adventure once fall arrives. Out of all the parks in the region, McConnells Mill offers the most beautiful ambiance for fall. With a historic covered bridge, waterfalls, miles of hiking trails through leafy forests, a gorgeous creek, and a historic mill, the setting is just perfect for any type of fall recreation & photography.
Also do not miss out on the gorgeous, yet thankfully short 1/2 mile hike to Hell’s Hollow waterfall. During the spring and falls months, whitewater rafting on Slipper Rock Gorge creek is quite popular (you must bring your own equipment). Note that guided tours are not available and this activity is quite risky without the aid of an experienced rafter.
3. Racoon Creek State Park
This quiet gem is located just 30 minutes outside of the city but sees less traffic than other parks featured on this list. The trails here are peaceful and woodsy, allowing you the opportunity to soak in nature and rejuvenate. Although there is little foot traffic, the airport is fairly close so you will see plenty of planes preparing to land. Like most parks in the vicinity, Racoon is also at its’ best during the colorful fall season. Leaf peeping is spectacular if you time your visit just right.
The best hike here is a 1.2 mile loop around an old mineral springs. Along the trek, you will pass the remains of the Frankfort Mineral Springs Resort which operated as a healing resort from the 1790’s to the early 1900’s. There is a nice little waterfall and beautiful views of the creek throughout this trail. I especially love the scenery after a big storm although you must wear proper boots to cross the many creeks.
4. Moraine State Park
Although this park sees heavy visitation during the summer months due to the abundant lake activities, it’s pretty peaceful the rest of the year. Enjoy a beautiful hike through the woods, leaf peep at the peak of fall, challenge yourself to a snowshoeing or cross country skiing adventure on the Sunken Gardens trail, bike the 7 mile paved park trail, rent a canoe or kayak on Lake Arthur – there’s much to see and do all year-round, no matter what your preference is for exercise. And, best of all, the park lies just 40 min north of the city. For those who prefer to spend a little more quality time in nature, lakeside cabin rentals are available year-round.
5. Point State Park
If you have ever visited downtown Pittsburgh or enjoyed the breathtaking skyline views via any overlook or the iconic Duquesne Incline, you have seen the grandeur of Point State Park. The unusual triangle shape of the park (the downtown has been nicknamed the Golden Triangle with this park’s fountain as the tip), along with the stunning 150 foot tall fountain, really is the centerpiece of the mesmerizing skyline.
This historic park was established in the 1950’s as part of an urban renewal project. Most notably, the park marks the joining of the 3 rivers – the Ohio, the Allegheny, and the Monongahela. Today, you can tour Ft. Pitt and learn more about Pittsburgh’s role in the French and Indian war, enjoy views of the skyline and various city sights and bridges, stroll nature trails, and take a ride on the Three Rivers Heritage bike trail which runs 2 miles to The Strip District, another historic tourist area of the city. And finally, Point State is the site of many city events including the Pittsburgh Independence Day Festival.