Powdermill Nature Reserve is a Hidden Gem in the Laurel Highlands

Last Updated on September 15, 2021 by Jeremy

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One of the fun things about running this site is that we're always discovering new places that were right in front of us but we never noticed. One recent spot we learned about was Powdermill Nature Reserve in Rector, PA (in the heart of the Laurel Highlands), and, naturally, went immediately.

This nature reserve is managed by the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and is designed to monitor the wildlife populations found in western Pennsylvania. But beyond their important work, the facility has a few fairly modest exhibits highlighting the animals of the region, a marsh machine to purify wastewater from the facility, periodic lectures and events, and some shorter hiking trails to check out as well!

So while you may not have a terribly long visit at this one, if you are passing by, it is most certainly worth the stop. So let's jump into what you can see a bit more!

What You Can See at Powdermill Nature Reserve

Powder Mill Nature Reserve

Within moments of arriving to Powdermill Nature Reserve, you'll catch in some pretty cool scenes. The main facility here is modern yet rustic with unique environmental designs built-in, like the rain barrel system that collects gutter run-off and a nearby pollinator garden as well. From there, you will likely want to pop inside to check out the reserve's small collection of exhibits before heading out on a trail or two.

Exhibits at Powder Mill Nature Reserve

As the facility exists to study the wildlife of the area, it should be no surprise that they have a fairly robust exhibit dedicated to what you may find in this part of the state. These taxidermied animals cover just about every animal type imaginable. Squirrels and groundhogs are found next to foxes and bears, many bird species can be seen, and so much more. As far as exhibits go, this one does a great job in feeling quite complete based on our (albeit limited) knowledge of local wildlife. 

Exhibits at Powder Mill Nature Reserve

Beyond this, the facility has a mock stream to showcase the importance of maintaining the ecology of our waterways, as well as a marsh to convert waste into purified water- important tangential exhibits all revolving around the health of wildlife in the area!

What Bird Are You? Exhibit

One of my favorite exhibits was a flow chart simply entitled “What Bird Are You?” This one uses common personality traits to help guide you to which bird most matches your persona. As someone who doesn't have a crazy fondness for water, isn't terribly social, and works during the day, I found out I was most in line with a hawk. I'll take that. This exhibit is especially fun to check out with others to discuss how you are different as it makes for a great conversation starter.

Hiking at Powder Mill Nature Reserve 

Hiking Trail at Powdermill Nature Reserve

When it comes to hiking at Powder Mill Nature Reserve, you have many options ranging from just a short 2-3 minute walk, a half-mile loop, or a mile+ hiking trail as well. 

The shortest walk is simply through an enclosed research area right in front of the facility where you can walk through a small garden-like area home to many kinds of plants and signs denoting what each one is. 

Triple Tree at Powdermill

From there, the longer trails offer proper walks within nature on dirt paths that can have some small obstacles like rocks or tree roots. When walking these brief trails, you'll also find some signage pointing out the names of plants as well as significant items to see like a triple tree and the creek. While these trails aren't terribly hard to walk on for most, they're also not 100% fully accessible as they are still conventional dirt trails all the same.

Overall, Powdermill Nature Reserve makes for a quick stop in the Laurel Highlands. I was able to hit most of the trails and the exhibits in about an hour, but depending on how much you want to get out into nature you could likely make a stop here in even less time. As such, it is a great spot to combo up with nearby parks like Linn Run State Park (what I did) or attractions like Fort Ligonier, the Compass Inn Museum, or Polymath Park!

Powdermill Nature Reserve is located at 1795 PA-381 in Rector, PA. Note that the nature center has summer and winter hours. 

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