These are the most accessible trails near Pittsburgh for people with disabilities | Pittsburgh City Paper

These are the most accessible trails near Pittsburgh for people with disabilities

click to enlarge These are the most accessible trails near Pittsburgh for people with disabilities
Tranquil Trail in Frick Park.

Spring brings some much-needed sunshine after facing the long, dark days of winter. It helps lift many Pittsburghers out of our seasonal depression, gets us out of our homes, and back out into the healing embrace of nature. Unfortunately, nature isn’t fully accessible to everyone, particularly those with mobility-related disabilities.

Pittsburgh is a difficult city in which to build ADA-certified trails due to the topography — rolling hills, sharp slopes, and varying elevations. Even relatively “flat” trails in the city and surrounding areas have gentle grade variations, but not enough to comply with the ADA regulation that requires 3% or less. The ADA also requires trails to be at least 36 inches wide and provide a stable surface without loose gravel or dirt.

According to the CDC, around 12% of Pennsylvanians have a mobility-related disability, and folks with disabilities are more likely to suffer from depression than those without. Getting out into nature is an important key to fighting depression, whether the symptoms are seasonal or year-round.

With all this in mind, Pittsburgh City Paper took a look at the most accessible trails in the area. Most are not ADA-certified, but some are close, and after speaking with Brandon Riley, Director of Community Projects and Engagement at Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, we’ve learned that there is a lot of positive work and innovation brewing behind the scenes.

click to enlarge These are the most accessible trails near Pittsburgh for people with disabilities
The Frick Environmental Center.

For instance, the ability to rent track chairs, or all-terrain wheelchairs, has been floated in western Pa. (Programs are already in place in state parks in Michigan, Colorado, eastern Pa., and New Jersey, among other locales.) Additionally, online trail topography maps could be added in the future because, according to Riley, “It’s one thing to provide an accessible trail, but we need to update the information to let people know what they’re getting into with slopes and terrain. There’s not a lot of consistent information out there, and that can present a barrier.”

Still, some facilities around Pittsburgh are ahead of the curve when it comes to accessibility. Here’s a look at a few notable examples:

click to enlarge These are the most accessible trails near Pittsburgh for people with disabilities
Clayton Hill behind the Frick Environmental Center.

Frick Environmental Center Sensory Classroom and Trail
2005 Beechwood Blvd., Squirrel Hill

Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy launched plans for building a new sensory and disability-friendly center at Frick Park. The new accessible education center will include a renovated path with 5-foot wide, elevated trails that will be more accessible for people with mobility-related disabilities.

With full inclusivity in mind, this environmental education project is aimed at providing an inviting space for those with sensory issues, persons who are blind or deaf, and those who use mobility devices such as wheelchairs. In the planning phases of this project, individuals with disabilities were invited to the table to speak about their experiences. 

The downside: This project is not yet open. However, construction is slated to begin in May 2024.

The Tranquil Trail in Frick Park
1000 Lancaster Ave., Regent Square (This entrance leads to an accessible parking lot right along the Tranquil Trail.)

Speaking of Frick Park, this is currently its most wheelchair-friendly pathway. With accessible parking, this easy, 1.1-mile in-and-out trail runs alongside a babbling creek. It’s flat and sturdy enough to accommodate people of most abilities. The path leads along Fern Hollow Creek from Lower Frick Park to the Homewood Cemetery.

The downside: Because this trail lies alongside the creek, it may not be safe during or right after heavy rainfall, as the pathway may become flooded. 

McKinley Park, Chicken Hill
900 Delmont Ave., Beltzhoover (This is the best access point for Upper McKinley Park.)

The loop around the Chicken Hill area of McKinley Park is as close to meeting ADA accessibility guidelines as possible, with wide, paved paths and a nearly flat trail. Noted on the McKinley Park master plan blueprints, this trail system was aimed to provide an accessible pathway to all of the park’s major facilities.

The downside: Chicken Hill is close to busy areas, so it may not be as tranquil or immersed in nature as some prefer.

North Park Lake Shore Loop Trail

303 Pearce Mill Rd., Allison Park (You can access the Lake Shore Loop from Pearce Mill Rd. or Lake Shore Dr.)

For those who enjoy longer treks, the Lake Shore Loop Trail is five miles long and mostly paved. Much of the trail abuts the road, but you can enjoy lake views, garden views, and bird watching along the trail. The path is also dog-friendly and open year-round. Amenities along the trail include shelters, enclosed restrooms with running water, sitting areas, and water fountains.

The downside: With grades above the ADA maximum, the trail may not be fully accessible to all. 

Moraine State Park, Butler County
225 Pleasant Valley Rd, Portersville (To access the trail, take the South exit from Rt. 422.)

OK, so it’s not in Pittsburgh, but it’s close. Moraine State Park’s 7.3-mile multi-use trail runs through winding wooded areas, meadows, and along Lake Arthur. The smooth asphalt and wide berth make this an excellent path that, while not ADA-certified, is wheelchair-friendly for most. 

Since 2021, the lake has had an ADA-complaint dock that has a wide ramp for wheelchair access and a trough system to steady watercraft, making water recreation at the park more inclusive for all.

The downside: The hills along the trail surpass a 5% grade in some areas.