Last Updated on October 23, 2020 by Jeremy
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Fall is a special time in western Pennsylvania. Our normally green part of the state starts to explode with vibrant colors just about everywhere you look between early-to-mid October and the start of November.
We'll be upfront in saying that nearly any Pittsburgh park could make for great fall color viewing during this time of the year. But when we get out to chase pretty leaves, we have to admit, we like to go to places that are large and give us a chance to truly explore in the beauty of nature.
Part of this is because color change may be gradual over the various tree types found in any given park- peak color is truly a relative term. But the other part is that when colors are at their peak, we simply want as much as we can get. So the parks we wanted to feature in this fall foliage guide are just that- big parks that tend to be color explosions in the fall!
Our first park is right in the heart of Pittsburgh- the 456 acre Schenley Park! Not only is this park easily accessible, it has some absolutely beautiful fall colors that can be enjoyed in a pinch.
So whether you take the roughly one-mile loop around the Panther Hollow trail, go up to the scenic overlook, or simply drive around on the windy, twisty roads, this is a great one to experience if time or distance is of concern.
Looking for a few more hiking trails but want to stay in the city limits? Frick Park is the place to be (during fall colors or otherwise). At 644 acres it is the largest park in Pittsburgh and has many trails where you can either go on a quick hike or a nearly five-mile loop of the park!
Moraine State Park
Moraine State Park is one of our favorite parks in the region, and at about 45 minutes north of Pittsburgh we can safely say it is worth the drive. Why? It is home to a beautiful, 3,200-acre lake (Lake Arthur) as well as a gorgeous protected green space around it.
This makes for some really beautiful views of the fall foliage, whether you walk along the lake on the Sunken Garden Trail on the south shore, take a ride on the bike trail on the north shore, or get out on a standup paddleboard with SurfSUP Adventures. There are truly a number of great ways to take in the fall colors here!
It is also worth noting that as Moraine State Park is located further north, the fall colors often reach their peak a week or two earlier than in Pittsburgh proper. So if you wait until the city's colors are at their best, you may be too late for this Butler County gem.
McConnells Mill State Park
If there is one park we return to regularly each fall to catch the colors, it is McConnells Mill in Lawrence County. Like Moraine State Park, this one is a roughly 45-minute drive north of the city (it is also just about 15 minutes from Moraine as well- make it a day and stop at both!) and is home to a gorgeous mill, a red-painted covered bridge, impressive waterfalls, and so much more.
Naturally, this color contrast pops even more with peak fall foliage and is worth the drive to see! Just be prepared for somewhat limited parking here and solid crowds on weekends as this is one popular spot even without fall colors (which, like Moraine, is often just a bit ahead of the city itself).
Raccoon Creek State Park
One of the things we love most about Raccoon Creek State Park (located about 45 minutes west of Pittsburgh) is its size. At 7,500 acres, it is one of the largest parks in the region, and whenever we visit we often feel quite alone in nature.
While you may not be as alone during peak fall foliage, this one is a great spot to go on long hikes and take in the colors and beauty all around you. Before heading home, don't forget to drive over to the Frankfort Mineral Springs waterfall for an extra treat- especially if it has rained recently!
The State Parks in the Laurel Highlands
In the Laurel Highlands, it would be easy for us to simply tell you to visit Ohiopyle to check out the fall colors. The hike between Cucumber Falls and Cascade Falls is one of our favorites, and the fall colors make this park even more impressive if you can time your visit right.
But as Ohiopyle is also well known, that means this one can be quite crowded at times as well.
Thankfully, the Laurel Highlands is full of several state parks (all a short drive away from each other), which means you really can make a day (or days) out of it to take in the beauty. So beyond Ohiopyle, why not take a hike to the Jones Mill Run Dam at Laurel Hill State Park (pictured), Spruce Flats Bog at Laurel Summit State Park, venture out to the Flight 93 Memorial, or drive just a bit further to Mt Davis- the highest point in the state.
All of these will be bursting with color in mid-October, and the drive to get to each can be just as pretty as walking in the parks as well! It is also worth noting that this part of the Laurel Highlands tends to reach peak fall colors one or two weeks prior to Pittsburgh- so don't sleep on this one.
Regional Bike Trails
Finally, our last spot we recommend checking out the fall color is simply on one of the many bike trails in Pittsburgh (click the previous link to our guide to them all). The reason we're going general with this one is simply that exploring by bike allows you to cover a vast distance over a condensed period of time which, during fall, means you get to see a great deal of color in an outing!
One of our favorite trails that is great for a fall ride is the Butler-Freeport Community Trail as it is a 20-mile north-south ride connecting Butler and Freeport (naturally). This one has many of the elements we love in bike trails, including riding around a secluded creek (near Freeport) but also out in rolling hills (near Butler) and gives many chances to catch the color changes over the long ride.
It is worth noting a special safety concern with biking in the fall is that the trails can be covered, sometimes substantially, with leaves. As such, these are best approached after a dry period and with added caution.
Do you have a favorite spot to check out the fall colors in Pittsburgh? Comment below to share!