How to make the most of the fall outdoors in Western Pennsylvania | Pittsburgh City Paper

How to make the most of the fall outdoors in Western Pennsylvania

click to enlarge A small crowd of people in fall jackets and hoodies stands around a lake while a guide points
CP Photo: Lisa Cunningham
An Allegheny Land Trust hike through the wetlands at Wingfield Pines in Upper St. Clair

To help our readers maximize the season’s natural bounty, Pittsburgh City Paper called in Julie Travaglini, education director at the Allegheny Land Trust, for a selection of helpful pointers. Here’s what the veteran outdoor educator suggests.

1. Don’t miss the flowers for the trees
“We tend to think of fall as leaves changing, which is true and beautiful, but we also have so many wildflowers,” Travaglini says. “We have a ton of fall colors aside from the trees.”

Travaglini suggests open meadow areas, like those at the Audobon Greenway, to appreciate the best of the region’s fall wildflowers, but she also notes some rogue ones can be found interspersed across the woodlands.

Look out for the following during your fall hikes in Western Pennsylvania:

  • Asters (various colors)
  • Chicory (blue; note: survives early frosts which produce a stunning visual effect on the flower)
  • Ironweed (purple)
  • Beebalm (various colors)

2. OK, but it’s still about those red leaves
Crimson leaves may have a monopoly on fall natural attractions, but there’s no need to hold that against them.

Travalgini says maples and honey maples produce some of the most vivid red hues and can be found in most wooded areas. She also notes poison ivy produces a “beautiful color” before dying off for the winter.

“Admire it from the trail and don’t touch,” she warns.

3. Wildlife
As critters begin to prep for the winter scarcity, they can be seen scurrying around the forest floor in search of nuts and other bounty.

“This is where you see squirrels acting crazy just trying to cache for the winter,” Travaglini says, adding that chipmunks can be found similarly engaged.

Early fall is also a busy season for insects and arachnids, which are entering the mating season. Despite their reputation, Travaglini notes almost all natives to Western Pennsylvania are harmless.

4. Mushrooms, you say?
For those looking to stock their pantries, fall is an ideal time for picking mushrooms.

Travaglini says hundreds of mushroom varieties — including boletes and colorful russulas — are native to the area, but warns against attempting to harvest these without professional guidance. Fortunately, as secretary of the Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club, Travaglini can direct you to a range of guided walks and other educational programming to help you on your way. For more, see

5. Leave no trace
Nature is to be enjoyed and to ensure it stays enjoyable, Travaglini cautions, “Leave no trace — whatever you pack in, pack out.”

While it may seem harmless to play with rocks or form them into heaps while taking a break from the trail, Travaglini notes this can be disruptive to natural habitats.

Off the trail, Travaglini offers a couple more fall hints for protecting the environment: turn off porch lights at night (which can disrupt migrating birds) and leave your summer beds undisturbed after your plants finally die (yes, this is a moral command to shirk yard work.)