McConnells Mill State Park is One of the Best Parks in PA

Published by Jeremy. Last Updated on April 22, 2024.

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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 State Park Outside of Pittsburgh, PA

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.

McConnells Mill

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.

A relatively dry Hells Hollow Falls

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

McConnells Mill State Park Outside of Pittsburgh, PA

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.

McConnells Mill State Park Outside of Pittsburgh, PA

There are several places where you can start:

  1. The first being at the mill itself along the Alpha Pass, which has a large public parking lot.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).

McConnells Mill State Park Outside of Pittsburgh, PA

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! Many of the waterfalls found here are featured in the guidebook “Waterfalls of Pennsylvania” as well- one of over 180 in the state!

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!

Find Another Spot in Nature to Visit

Find More to Do North of Pittsburgh

6 thoughts on “McConnells Mill State Park is One of the Best Parks in PA”

  1. This is great. I have visited Pittsburgh so many times but didn’t know that there’s places to hike outside the city. I love hiking and love Pittsburgh. Next time in town, I will definitely go hiking at the park. Thank you. ?

  2. How do you get to the waterfall? And are you aloud to stand in the water near the waterfall? (I’m wondering if we should also take flip flops)

  3. Alpha Falls, Kildoo Falls, and Eckert Falls are all viewable or easily accessible from Alpha Pass Trail and Kildoo Trail. Also, don’t forget Slippery Rock Gorge trail which is over 6 miles (non looping) of moderate to advanced level hiking. There’s definitely more waterfalls that aren’t on the map and not reachable by any of the official trails.

  4. Breakneck falls is my favorite. Park at the top (end of cheeseman road) and walk down the road to Eckert bridge, take the “Breakneck falls path” right at the beginning of the bridge heading downstream from the end of Kildoo trail, You’ll come to where Cheeseman run flows into the slippery rock creek. I climb up through all the boulders in the stream and you eventually reach the waterfall. There’s amazing cliffs you’ll be at the bottom of. You’ll have to make your way up the hillside to get back up top to where you would have parked. you won’t need climbing gear but this isn’t a trail/path, I usually take spare shoes and clothes, towel. Just in case as this is climbing around and over large boulders in Cheeseman run leading up to breakneck falls.

    My other favorite is the “rim climbing area” off Rim road, there’s a little parking area part way down the road, there are lots of cliffs, holes, so be careful where you are walking!!! In this section there is the “top of the rocks” area and then below those rocks, I don’t know how to explain it other than it’s massive rocks and you kinda make your way over and around them, this is a favorite area for people who are doing rope climbing as well but you can do a lot there without doing rope climbing.

  5. We just visited this park 2 weeks ago. The Kildoo trail was one of the prettiest hikes we’ve ever done. The covered bridge and mill were also pretty.


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