One of the things we love about Pittsburgh is its proximity to nature. We may be a large city, but it is incredibly easy to get out and hike through the beauty of Pennsylvania when the weather is nice.
One of our excursions north of the city took us to McConnells Mill State Park, located roughly 30 miles outside of Pittsburgh via I-79, to check out a mill that is over one hundred years old, a covered bridge, and gorgeous fall foliage.
What You Can See at McConnells Mill State Park
McConnells Mill is, naturally, named for the mill that is located at the heart of the park. The first mill was built in 1852 and after being destroyed in a fire was rebuilt by McConnell in 1875 as one of the first rolling mills in the USA.
Since then the mill has been maintained remarkably well and has many working features inside for visitors to explore either on their own or with a park ranger during free guided tours at select times.
In addition to the mill, the state park is also home to a beautiful covered bridge which was built in 1874 and is one of the largest Howe style truss bridges in the state.
These two come together beautifully thanks to their close proximity and make for a very photogenic combination. The rest of the trails feature gorgeous views of the forest, Slippery Rock Creek, and large boulders scattered about.
McConnells Mills State Park is also home to many waterfalls, with the most accessible being Hells Hollow Falls located about a 15 minute drive away from the mill (and an easy ten-minute walk from the parking area along a dirt path).
Unfortunately during our visit the falls were more like a trickle due to limited rainfall!
Hiking at McConnells Mill State Park
Overall, hiking at McConnells Mill is an incredibly easy half-day out for most hikers (and their four-legged companions).
On our first outing we explored the Alpha Pass and Kildoo Trails, two of several trails in the park and the most popular for visitors who wish to see the mill and covered bridge along with an easy hike.
There are several places where you can start:
- The first being at the mill itself along the Alpha Pass, which has a large public parking lot.
- The second spot is roughly a half-mile further north from the mill which adds a slight elevation grade (with steps and a hand rail) and limited parking- still on the Alpha Pass.
- The third is at the Kildoo Trail scenic view bridge on the opposite end of the trail where cars appear to park on the bridge directly (we don't recommend this).
As the Kildoo Trail is a loop, it does not particularly matter where you start if you enter from the Alpha Pass and we fully recommend hiking the entire three-mile circuit on both sides of the river rather than going out and back on the same side.
It is worth keeping in mind that the east side of the river (the mill / Alpha Pass side) is slightly rockier than the west side for most of the trail- so be prepared for an uneven walk!
Including the added half-mile for the further parking spot, a 20 minute stop at the mill to look around and take photos, and the drive from downtown Pittsburgh, the entire morning out took about four hours with our brisk hiking pace.
For those who wish to view Hells Hollow, you can make the thru-hike from the mill on the Slippery Rock Gorge Trail; however, note that it is six miles one-way with no transportation available to take you back to the start. As such, we recommend driving over to the parking area for Hells Hollow off of Shaffer Road and make the roughly half-mile hike in to see the falls from there.
If you are up for a hike from there you can take the Slippery Rock Gorge Trail out and back to your preferred distance for extra exercise as well. We did this one a separate trip, though you could easily make a full day of it by hitting up both.
Overall, if you are looking for a day trip in the city that combines history, beautiful scenery, and the ability to be home in half of a day (or a full day if you're wanting to see a lot), hiking at McConnells Mill State Park is a good option worth looking into!
McConnells Mill State Park is located outside of Portersville, PA roughly 30 miles north of downtown Pittsburgh via I-79.
McConnells Mill State Park is also one of the features in the amazing book “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Pittsburgh Edition” that we are working through as a part of this series. If you are interested in day hikes near the city we highly recommend picking this one up!
Looking for more state parks near Pittsburgh? Check out Moraine State Park (near McConnells Mill) and Raccoon Creek State Park just west of the airport! Or if you are looking for a great meal on your way back to Pittsburgh, stop at The Harmony Inn in Harmony!