Raccoon Creek State Park is a 7,500 acre park located about 30 miles west of Pittsburgh. With a 100+ acre lake, a 300+ acre wildflower reserve, over 40 miles of hiking trails, and relatively little infrastructure beyond these, this park is perfect for those who want to experience the great outdoors as it was meant to be.
During our recent visit we decided to try out two of the most popular hiking trails, the Forest Trail and Lake Trail, to capture a cross-section of the nature this park offers.
What You Can See at Raccoon Creek State Park
In being a 7,500+ acre park, there are a lot of spots to explore. The trails at the wild flower are some of the most popular (we hope to check those out in the spring), and the lake and forest hikes put you out in the middle of nature to experience striking landscapes that gradually change as the hike goes by (perfect for a fall visit like we experienced).
Perhaps the best thing about this park is not that you are surrounded by wonderful nature, but rather the fact that you can experience it while being almost completely alone.
During our visit in late fall right before peak colors we counted a grand total of ten people on our two-hour hike on the lake and forest trails, and nearly all of those were at the beginning and end of the trail respectively. So if you value solitude while exploring beautiful scenery, this park is one to consider.
Frankfort Mineral Springs Waterfall
If you are still in the mood to keep hiking after the long loop shared above, head down the road just a bit further past the ranger station to the Frankfort Mineral Springs Waterfall.
This waterfall is easily reached within about 5 minutes walking from the road (take the left path on the similarly named loop to get there faster), and is set beautifully with a small rock overhang behind it. During the spring this trail is full of beautiful wildflowers (including Trillium), and is a perfect add-on after a long hike on one of the longer trails in the park.
For those who want to do the complete Mineral Springs loop, you can go out and back to the waterfall in just over a half mile. But as the full loop is just over a mile in its own right, it does not require much extra effort to go the whole way around.
Hiking the Forest and Lake Trails at Raccoon Creek State Park
The forest and lake trails at Raccoon Creek State Park can be broken up into three distinct segments.
From the parking area immediately following the entrance to the park (off of Route 18 across from the ranger station), you enter a path marked for the lake trail. This trail comes to a split where you can either go left or right along a wide path. We recommend turning right as it helps with navigation later on.
The first segment is here and on this one the trail is well maintained and, while not featuring any blazes, is relatively easy to follow all the way to the lake. (Note that while you do pass the lake, all the infrastructure is on the other side, so if you want that this is not the hike for you.)
Once you pass the lake, the proper “lake trail” begins and is a narrow pathway through the woods much like more conventional hiking trails. The trees here are marked with blue blazes, but we found that the park did not do a good job in highlighting that these trails were in fact the same. For those who do not like elevation grade changes or climbing over (or under) an occasional fallen tree, the start of this trail would be a good point to turn around.
For those who carry on, you'll just keep following the trail until you reach a four-way cross and a sign marking the lake trail (albeit, with no arrows for direction). This is where you can get confused rather easily. If you go straight, the path has no blazes that we could see. The paths to the left and right have white blazes, which is for the forest trail, but no signs indicating what one you should take. We recommend taking the left path following the white blaze down hill. This one will take you back to the main path in about two miles of hiking.
When you get to the end of this trail, you'll pop out on the wide path you were on at the beginning of the first segment. Turn left here and continue down a few hundred feet until you reconnect back up with the exit path to the road you parked on.
Overall, this hiking trail is incredibly easy to follow outside of the few key turns mentioned above and is the perfect introduction to the beauty that is Raccoon Creek State Park. Just be sure to watch out for an occasional fallen tree, spot of mud, and ticks as we found a few on our dog in mid-fall.
Raccoon Creek State Park is located 30 miles west of Pittsburgh in Beaver County- just a few minutes west of the Pittsburgh Airport. A list of hiking trails and blaze colors is available on the Raccoon Creek State Park website. The 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!