Whoever said anything bad about a waterfall? Right. No one. That’s because they’re one of the coolest things about nature. And chances are you’re not taking full advantage these watery wonders.
You don’t have to go far to find a hike with a waterfall – seriously, Pittsburgh’s got at least 12 in the area. So next time you’re looking to stretch your legs on a beautiful hike or need a stress-relieving escape from the desk, just visit your friendly, neighborhood waterfall.
Itchin’ for adventure? It’s time for a road trip 50 minutes east to Apollo, PA. There, the three levels of waterfalls called Jackson Falls are the definition of wonderful. The middle falls are where it’s at, though. Set out on the Rock Furnace Trail with some trail mix and maybe a few beach towels. This paved trail will take you all the way to the lower falls. But to find the treasure, you’ll have to go off the beaten path, hiking up the stream until you reach the 20ft. main attraction. And with adequate rainfall, you’ll be able to wade into the small pool below to cool off.
This is it. The undisputed heavyweight champ of Pittsburgh-area waterfalls. Come on – you have to know Fallingwater. It’s the only waterfall with a house on it! In a project of architectural brilliance, Frank Lloyd Wright designed and built a structure (now a museum) over Bear Run’s falls in the Laurel Highlands, just 90 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh. Do yourself a favor and spend the day walking around the historical site’s beautiful grounds.
Hells Hollow Falls
The name alone sounds like a metal band or haunted house, but Hells Hollow Falls is one of our favorite hikes in McConnells Mill State Park. The trail to get to the falls is easy and level (and even has its own parking lot). And a short half-mile walk will get you to this sprawling, step-like waterfall. With a breathtaking view, this piece of heaven will put a spring in your step. Enough so, that you’ll be ready to take on the connecting, 6.2-mile Slippery Rock Gorge trail.
We know Ohiopyle State Park for its rapids, miles of hiking and trails, and even natural water slides. But you can’t complete your trip to this Fayette County park without seeing the namesake falls. When The Yough hits the rocks in the center of the park, it makes for a wide, powerful waterfall. Fitt tip: The best spot to see it requires a little hiking (no complaints here). Pick up the Ferncliff Trail for a two-ish-mile romp through woods and rocks with an unbeatable view.
You know when something is just too beautiful for words? Yeah, Cucumber Falls has us all choked up. An offshoot of the Ohiopyle Falls, Cucumber Run flows south, then promptly drops 30ft. into a small gorge. A very walkable gorge. Park at the Cucumber Falls Trailhead; from there, it’s just a short walk and a few flights of stairs to the bottom of the falls. And if you go at high water, be prepared for that jaw-dropping moment.
Fall Run Park
For a waterfall hike right in our backyard, make your way up to Fall Run Park in Shaler. It’s not your typical community park. Besides the standard basketball courts, picnic shelters, and playground, Fall Run Park, unsurprisingly, has that whole 30ft. natural waterfall thing we just mentioned. Lace up your hiking boots and set out on their easy nature trail, complete with wooden bridges and a flight of stairs that go directly to the falls. FYI: Go in the spring or fall. When we haven’t had rain in ages, the falls can slow to a trickle.
Once you actually get to Springfield Falls in Mercer County, you won’t have to go very far for the payoff. From the parking area on Falls Road, you literally only need to walk 50 yards until you see this natural wonder. It’s not particularly tall, but the wide falls pour over the rock to a low creek bed. To get a view from the bottom, you might have to slide down a hillside…but that’s half the fun.
Rock Falls in Slippery Rock isn’t going to win any awards like “most beautiful waterfall”. But they are the perfect spot for an outdoorsy day for fun in the sun. Rock Falls Park is a favorite for sunning yourself on the rocks, wallowing in the low streambeds, and hiking along the creek for views of multiple waterfalls and “secret” fishing spots.
When we say Hillsville, PA, do you have any idea where we’re talking about? (no, it’s not a nickname for Beechview.) We’ll just tell you that Quakertown Falls is an hour away, right between Newcastle and the Ohio border. But it’s really worth the trip. Because Quakertown Falls is pretty much two waterfalls in one. This split-level waterfall cascades off a small cliff, smacks into more rocks, and rolls into a second fall. US 224 crosses right above the falls, and you’ll just need to careful to descend (or slide on your backside) down a hill embankment to get a view from the bottom. Fitt tip: It’s hard AF to find, even if you’ve been there once. Ask a local.
This is important to note: everyone loves naming waterfalls ‘Buttermilk Falls”. There’s at least three in PA and too many to count in the US. The Buttermilk Falls that we fell for is just over an hour away near Indiana, PA. Why? It’s the tallest waterfall in Western PA. And this beaut cascades down a cliff face (this one’s got Instagram written all over it). Take the McFeely Trail for an easy hike, then the falls access trail to get to the prime spot.
Creek Falls (aka Blue Hole)
The names Creek Falls (“Crick” Falls, in Pittsburghese) or Blue Hole may sound familiar. That’s because it’s one of our favorite swimming holes too. Flowing down from The Yough, Jacob’s Creek in Westmoreland County (Chaintown, PA to be exact) features one of the most epic waterfall/swimming hole combos around. Here, after a short walk, you can jump off strategic platforms into the pool below. You can even swim up to touch the falls!
Up to this point, you really haven’t had much of a challenging hike to get to any falls. But the Gerard Trail in Oil Creek State Park packs all the wildlife, nature, and a gem called Miller Falls into a 36-mile trail (we’ve raved about it before). Two things make this spot really unique: 1) old, rusted oilfield equipment is still lying around everywhere, and 2) to get to the bottom of the falls, someone has affixed a strong length of rope so you can reverse it down the steep hill. It seems so simple, but it’s quite the thrill.
Feature image via @s.richard.pavetti | Instagram