The National Park Service hit the centennial last year, celebrating 100 years of natural wilderness and the joys of being outside. And while the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite may always be the top dogs, don’t act like Pennsylvania’s never given you anything.
We as Pittsburghers are actually really lucky to have the gift of green space. With state parks blanketing western PA, we’re free to run wild, float rapids, chase waterfalls and hit the trails with our bike (or dog). All year round, plan an adventure or pack a pic-a-nic to these awesome state parks near Pittsburgh.
Allegheny Islands State Park
Actually getting to Allegheny Islands State Park is honestly the best part of the journey. Why? It’s in the middle of the Allegheny River…and they’re islands (without any roads or bridges). That means that you’re going to have to boat, row, kayak, or swim (though, we don’t recommend it) to explore the two islands (34-acre lower island and 14-acre upper island). Once you beach your vessel, you’re set to explore the wild and undeveloped nature of the islands. Fitt tip: Take the beaten foot trails on the islands to get around. But if they flood (they do that), explore them by boat or kayak!
Oil Creek State Park
Hey history buffs and not-so-buff trail lovers, Oil Creek State Park is pretty unique (and just pretty, too). Home to the first commercial oil well EVER, this park near Titusville is littered with rustic machinery and oil derrick dinosaurs (…they’re old). But this is also your chance to stretch your young legs by hiking the Gerard Trail, a spectacular 36-mile trail loop that will take you to the famed Drake Well, Oil Creek, Miller Falls, and all the natural wonder in between.
Jennings Environmental Education Center
Let’s say you know absolutely nothing being outside and the thought of walking through the woods feels like Man vs. Wild. Go to Jennings Environmental Education Center an hour north in Butler County. There, they’ll teach you all about local flora and fauna, how to respect and conserve nature, and maybe even point out the endangered massasauga rattlesnake (hard pass for us). They have easy hiking trails and a perfect looping walk through their 20-acre prairie (the only protected prairie in PA).
Moraine State Park
Nature lovers fall all across the spectrum. There are those who can’t live without trails to bike and were practically born with a backpack on. Then there are those that think “outdoorsy” means laying on the beach. Moraine State Park doesn’t care which one you are – it’s 16,725 acres of wilderness (including 3,225-acre Lake Arthur) are perfect for swimmers, sunbathers, bikers, and backpackers. FYI: Winter is coming. Make the 40-minute drive north for sledding, ice fishing, and snowmobiling after a snowfall.
McConnells Mill State Park
For the ultimate adventurer…and ultimate Instagrammer, McConnells Mill State Park makes for the perfect day. If you’re all about outdoors (and the activities that come with it), you can hike, bike, kayak, rock climb, fish, and hunt. For the day-tripper who just gets down with a nature walk, bring your camera for the views from the top of Slippery Rock Gorge and breathtaking Hells Hollow Falls. Plus, it’s only a 45-minute drive north of Pittsburgh. Day trip time.
Ohiopyle State Park
Does anyone in Pittsburgh not know about Ohiopyle? It’s the ultimate outdoor escape in the Laurel Highlands. You’ve got biking, hiking, and backpacking on miles and miles of trails. Whitewater rafting and kayaking through rapids and over waterfalls. The perpetual jaw-dropper Cucumber Falls. Oh, and how could we forget? Meadow Run Natural Rock Water Slides! Drop into the creek bed for one epic ride.
Raccoon Creek State Park
Raccoon Creek State Park is WAY underrated in our eyes. Just a quick 30 minutes west of the city, this park is all about hospitality. Sure, you’ve got the small, sandy beach on Raccoon Lake and virtually endless 44 miles of hiking. But if you’re big on camping, this is your spot. With over 200 picnic tables, 172 modern tent and trailer campsites (as well as some you’d call “roughin’ it”), and a few unbelievable lakeside lodges and cabins, you’ll be roasting marshmallows and drinking bug juice in no time.
Hillman State Park
There’s no denying that Hillman’s got game. And if you’re a hunter or trapper, this state park (near Burgettstown) operated by the Pennsylvania Game Commission is the place to nab your next deer or turkey. Though, best wake up early if you’re looking for a trophy – it’s not exactly a secret spot. If you’re not joining the hunt, check out their miles of hiking trails or radio-controlled model airplane field.
Point State Park
Don’t act like we forgot that there’s a “State Park” tacked on the end of The Point. While Point State Park isn’t as wild as the others on this list (unless you count the Three Rivers Arts Fest), it really is the ultimate urban green space. Whether you flew the coup at the office for a brown bag lunch by the fountain or want to take your bike around the beautiful riverside paths of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, the Point is your refuge.
Keystone State Park
You probably learned this in grade school, but Pennsylvania is the Keystone State. So the fact that Keystone State Park is right by Pittsburgh (and not Philly) shows that PGH really runs PA. Just a short trip east by Latrobe, the state park is great for a family getaway. Boasting a sand beach, 78-acre lake for swimming, kayaking, or boating, and eight miles of super easy year-round trails for hiking, running, or even snowshoeing, Keystone State Park makes for one scenic excursion. Here’s a suggestion: Take your bike on the Lakeside Loop. It’s about two miles of level terrain and an occasional duck in your path.