Powdermill Nature Reserve is a Hidden Gem in the Laurel Highlands

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!

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Touring Birch Creek Farmery Gives an Appreciation for Ethical Farming

As supporters of all things local, it should not be a surprise that we buy our meats and vegetables from area farms as best we can. This includes CSA subscriptions in the summer months, weekly visits to farmer's markets throughout the city, and buying bulk meat orders to fill our deep freezer from time to time as well.

While we are not writing this post to get into the ethical debate on meat-eating outright, we do believe that it is important to know where your meat comes from and that the animals are treated as humanely as possible along the way. By shopping at local farms, we are often able to see all of this first hand!

Naturally, when we started shopping for local meats, Birch Creek Farmery in Burgettstown, PA, quickly came on our radar. It didn't take long after looking at their website to realize that the family who runs the farm have values similar to ours in this regard, and we've become devoted customers ever since (including even visiting the farm for a wine dinner in the past as well).

Cut to a few years later, and the team (now friends) at Birch Creek Farmery invited us out for a proper farm tour to see how they raise their animals. As these tours are open to the public as well, we thought it'd be fun to share a bit more about what the experience is like!

Note: Birch Creek Farmery said that tours can be customized a bit for your interests. Want to spend more time petting and feeding animals? They can do that. Want to learn more of the technical details that go into farming? They can do that too. We opted for a general tour which involved a long walk around the property to see as many animals as possible. Be sure to dress accordingly in long pants and shoes you don't mind getting muddy!

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Take a Stroll Through a Sunflower Maze at Maple Bottom Farm

At this point, it should be no surprise that we love checking out sunflowers near Pittsburgh when they're blooming. They're Angie's favorite flower and one of mine as well. 

So when we heard that there was a sunflower maze at Maple Bottom Farm in the Laurel Highlands, I had to go check it out shortly after it opened for the season.

While you may want to temper your expectations for the maze element of this one, this field checks a lot of boxes for us in that it is quite large, gorgeous, and allows for ample opportunities for photos inside the field itself!

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Schwirian Farm Sunflower Festival is a Must Visit in July

Our visit to Schwirian Farm for their annual sunflower festival at their farm just outside of Elizabeth, PA, was a few years in the making. 

The reason for this is that prior to 2021, the annual festival was brief- just a day or so (the rest of the season the farm would be closed to the public). As such, it shouldn't be a surprise that we simply missed it by either being out of town or not being on top of tracking when that exact date would be.

But starting in 2021, the festival changed. Instead of being just a single day, it runs for a full week thanks to its incredible popularity (in 2021 the festival runs from 17th-25th). Since I had this one on my calendar for a full year to ensure I didn't miss it when it came back, we made sure to go on the very first day and were very glad we did.

In this one, we wanted to share a bit more about what you can expect when visiting the Schwirian Farm Sunflower Festival!

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Take a Trip Around Lake Arthur on Preston’s Pearl

Lake Arthur at Moraine State Park is one of our favorite outdoor spots in southwest Pennsylvania. It is hard to ask for more than a beautiful lake with a number of fingers and inlets that just beg being explored.

We've featured many ways you can explore the lake including taking out kayaks from Bear Run Campground, standup paddleboarding with SurfSUP Adventures, and even enjoying Moraine State Park's bike trail which runs along the shoreline. But all of these activities required some degree of effort in order to enjoy. For something a bit more leisurely, the park offers boat tours on the resident pontoon boat from late spring to early fall. 

For many years, guests would enjoy the waters via the resident boat Nautical Nature, but in 2021 the Moraine Preservation Fund launched a new pontoon boat that offers 90-minute sightseeing tours, dinner/brunch cruises, and more.

I was fortunate enough to get out on the water for the ship's inaugural sailing as part of a media preview and share more about what you can expect on this one here!

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8 Waterfalls Near Pittsburgh You Must Check Out

With so many rivers, streams, and creeks in and around Pittsburgh, you'd imagine there have to be a few waterfalls- and you'd be right.

The region is home to a significant number of waterfalls worth exploring, but we do have to note a caveat that many are lacking in size compared to falls you'll find in nearby states (the tallest near Pittsburgh is just about 30 feet whereas waterfalls in upstate New York a few hours away can break 200 feet!).

In fact, most of what we'd consider waterfalls here may only be five or six feet in height in total which are notable highlights when exploring a local park, but perhaps not the sole reason you'd visit a specific park on its own. To make matters worse, many of these are also heavily dependent on the rains such that they may just be a trickle during dry spells.

While the latter still affects even our biggest waterfalls, in this guide we wanted to only feature some of the biggest and most inspiring waterfalls near Pittsburgh. But to hit these, you'll have to go on a bit of a drive!

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Hiking Nine Mile Run from Frick Park to Duck Hollow

When thinking of hiking in the East End, odds are good your thoughts will quickly turn to Frick Park– the largest publicly accessible park in Pittsburgh. But there are a few other green spaces off of these main trails that you may not know about, and one of which is Nine Mile Run!

Although Nine Mile Run was technically annexed by Frick Park just a few years ago, this one is often viewed as its own space thanks to its unique position jutting out from the park south towards the Monongahela River (where it later connects up to the slightly longer Duck Hollow Trail that follows the river). Couple an even more recent effort to clean the waters at the run and you have a natural area that is a bit under-the-radar despite being a part of a more-well known city park.

So rather than include this one in our Frick Park article, we thought it'd be best to feature this one on its own!

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Boyce Mayview Park – Numerous Trails Here (So Have a Map Handy)

It took us three tries to properly hike Boyce Mayview Park. 

The first time we went, the access point we selected was overgrown and we had many ticks jump on us (and our dog) in just a few feet. We decided to explore the more accessible northern end of the park during this visit. 

The second time, the road going to the parking area I had intended to visit was closed and the detour to get there was sufficiently long that I gave up (this was on me).

But the third try, I made it, and after exploring this one properly I do have to admit there is a fair amount to see- just be sure to have a map on your phone handy.

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A Brief Visit to Mount Davis – Pennsylvania’s Highest Point

At 3,213 feet, Mount Davis is recognized as the highest point in Pennsylvania. And at just under two hours driving from Pittsburgh, it is an easy day trip to check off this spot from your Pennsylvania bucket list.

But while Mount Davis' claim to fame is its elevation, I have to admit, visting this one may not be exactly what you are envisioning.

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Laurel Summit State Park – Spruce Flats Bog and the Views

Laurel Summit State Park is an interesting one as it is technically only just six acres in size and can be found within Forbes State Forest surrounding it on all sides.

So while all the highlights you may expect to see when visiting this one are technically in Forbes State Forest, they're often described as being part of Laurel Summit State Park thanks to the trailheads mostly being within Laurel Summit. (The state park maps show this as such as well.)

While this is a somewhat odd naming convention, we're sticking with calling the sights as part of Laurel Summit State Park all the same, and there are several interesting things to see here!

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