Yes, the perfect season for hiking in Pittsburgh is fall.
The combination of colorful foliage, and long enough days for afternoon hikes, should be begging people to hit the trails. And luckily for Pittsburghers, the area is basically just a big forest with a bunch of mountain ranges. There are a lot of places to hike in Pittsburgh. There are trails in the middle of the city, there are trails in the suburbs, and there are trails in our state parks outside of Allegheny County.
Here are five trails that Pittsburgh City Paper especially enjoys:
Boyce Mayview Park, Waterfall Trails
Hike length: 1 hour
Upper St. Clair in the South Hills is home to Boyce Mayview Park, a wonderful and well-maintained public park with sports fields, an impressive pool, and a large community center. But it is also home to some great blazed trails, and signposts at just about every intersection.
The park has many features, and all worth exploring, but CP recommends taking a hike to view the park’s waterfalls. Boyce Mayview offers a few small waterfalls, which are best viewed after some rain. The main waterfall on the Mid-Falls Trail is about 10 feet high and trickles quietly down shale rock.
A good place to start a hike through Boyce Mayview is at the parking lot at Garden Drive (where the Community Garden is) at the southern end of the park. From there, take the Sky Meadow Trail to the Upland Trail, and then enter the Morton Ravine Trail. Follow the ravine trail north to the Morton Falls Bridge and gaze up at your first waterfall. Continue back on the Morton Ravine Trail until hiking to the Switchback Trail. Scuttle down the switchback and walk to the bridge.
From the bridge, it’s a short hike on the Mid-Falls Trail to the 10-foot falls. Return to the bridge and then take a short trail along the run down to Chartiers Creek for beautiful views of the water and a perfect rock skipping spot. Retrace your steps to return to the Garden Drive parking lot.
Frick Park, Riverview to Falls Ravine Trail
Hike length: 1 hour 15 minutes
This Pittsburgh Park has some of the only trails accessible by public transit. The 65 and 74 buses will drop you off near the start of the trail close to Blue Slide Park. (The 61C, 61D, 64, and 93 will also drop you off about half a mile from Blue Slide Park.)
Frick Park is home to many trails, but Riverview Trail quite literally offers you some river views (even if at a distance) of the Monongahela River. It’s also home to a babbling stream at the bottom of a ravine. Frick Park can get crowded on weekends, so keep that in mind when trying to social distance.
Start at Blue Slide Park and follow the Riverview Trail, which is paved for a while. At the end of the paved section, stay to the right and follow the trail until you hit the intersection of the Lower Riverview Trail. Turn right onto Lower Riverview, and follow it until the Firelane Trail Extension. Hike down that trail until coming upon the Lower Frick field. Walk past the field and through the parking lot until the Falls Ravine Trail.
Follow Falls Ravine for a while on a very slight and easy incline. Then after reaching the four-way intersection at the end of Falls Ravine, take the riverview extension trail up the hill until it connects with the Riverview Trail. Turn right, then follow the trail back to Blue Slide Park.
Harrison Hills Park, Rachel Carson Trail
Hike length: 1 hour 30 minutes
The Rachel Carson Trail is named for Pittsburgh’s most famous environmentalist and runs about 45 miles all through the North Hills. However, with Allegheny County being developed and all, a lot of the trail runs along roads.
Luckily, there is a section of the trail that runs through Harrison Hills Park in Natrona Heights. The whole section through the park is pretty long, so CP is providing a shorter version that has a pay-off in the middle of an overlook with amazing views of the Allegheny River.
Start at the parking lot in between Veterans Lane and Cottontail Drive near the entrance of the park. Follow the yellow blazes painted on the trees. Those coincide with other trails sometimes and other colors, but following the yellow is following the Rachel Carson Trail.
The trail is moderately difficult with climbs and switchbacks, so bring water. It passes near a small pond at one point. Eventually, a field and some playground equipment emerge. Keep following the trail for a bit longer, and take a break at the Watts observation point. Take some photos of the Allegheny, and then retrace your steps back to the parking lot. For a quicker, but less interesting way back, follow Cottontail Drive back from the playgrounds to the parking lot.
Raccoon Creek State Park, Wildflower Trail
Hike length: 1 hour
The state park in Beaver County offers 42 miles of trails to enjoy. It’s big. No one can do them all in one day. But hiking through the Wildflower Reserve can be accomplished fairly easily, and it is well worth it.
The Wildflower Reserve entrance is located just off of Route 30 at the eastern edge of the park. There are, of course, wildflowers (less in the fall, more in the spring), as well as vernal pools, great fall foliage, and trails along the rock ledges of Raccoon Creek. Take the Jennings Trail (blue blazes) to enjoy all these wonders. The vernal pools are particularly worth a stop, and there are benches along Raccoon Creek to take rest.
At the end of the Jennings Trail, follow the red blazes of the Max Henrici Trail, which will complete the loop back to the parking lot. There isn’t too much elevation gain, and the entire hike is not very strenuous.
McConnells Mills State Park, Rapids Loop
Hike length: 1 hour 10 minutes
This state park in Butler County is well-known for white-water rapids, but it also has killer hikes and some old-growth forest to enjoy. The smell of pine and spruce trees along Slippery Rock Creek is hard to beat, and the hiking trails are extremely easy to find and follow.
Start at the parking lot located near the intersection of Johnson and McConnells Mills Roads. There is a short trail downhill to the section of the North Country Trail that travels along Slippery Rock Creek. Turn left when hitting the trail, which will take you south. Relatively soon, the mill will appear, which is a good spot for photos.
From there, hikers can either cross the covered bridge to access the Slippery Rock Gorge Trail, or avoid the bridge and take the Kildoo Trail. It doesn’t matter if they both travel south along the creek, and the goal is to get to the Eckert Bridge about a mile downstream. The trails are fairly straight, but have many boulders and logs, so don’t expect to travel fast.
Then cross the bridge to take the other trail back up north to the mill and then back to the parking lot.