Pittsburgh—what do you really know about “Steel City” (named for its steel-related industries) located in the southwestern part of Pennsylvania? For starters, it sits at the conflux of the Allegheny River and the Monongahela River, forming the Ohio River. The bridges over the rivers, 466 of them (the most in the world), many painted bright yellow (one of the city’s official colors), are why Pittsburg earned the moniker “The City of Bridges.” And that’s just the start of the many intriguing things about Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh’s industrial history, solid through the 1970s, helped build a rich foundation of renowned museums and galleries, parks, medical centers, and a diverse cultural scene. Today, education, health care, and technology industries drive the economy and have transformed Pittsburg into the thriving community you see today. Pittsburg frequently enjoys being “the first” in so many lists and poles: from the most livable city to the best place for singles to serving the best bagels in America.
And there’s plenty to explore just outside the city limits, and visiting a state park is one way to get to know the area. Pennsylvania State Parks are managed by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (Pa DCNR). Besides an excellent line-up of scenic outdoor experiences, the state parks are free for everyone. There’s no reason not to explore Pennsylvania’s great outdoors. Here’s a list of state parks nearby and why you should visit them.
Map of State Parks Near Pittsburgh PA
Here is a map of the Pennsylvania state parks covered in this post:
List of State Parks Near Pittsburgh
The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation & Natural Resources (DCNR) through the Bureau of State Parks manages 300,000 acres of state parks and public lands. Paying a visit to these scenic sites supports resource development and protection. Let’s take a look at the state parks near Pittsburgh and see what makes them excellent places to visit.
1. Ohiopyle State Park
Location: 124 Main St, Ohiopyle, PA 15470
Scenic Ohiopyle State Park is an hour and 15 minutes southwest of Pittsburgh. The park encompasses 20,500 acres and is the southern gateway for a trek to the Laurel Highlands, a gorgeous mountainous area, and is home to the deepest gorge in the state, Baughman Rocks, and flowing swiftly right through the center of the park is the Youghiogheny River Gorge, one of the best whitewater river experiences in the eastern states.
The park, famous for its many waterfalls, is frequently referred to as the “Niagara Falls of Western Pennsylvania.” Ohiopyle Falls and Cucumber Run are, without a doubt, the most visited and photographed of all the falls in the park.
From camping to kayaking, Ohiopyle offers a multitude of activities for every skill level and every member of your group. The park attracts millions of visitors annually, so plan ahead to visit this rich and diverse natural area.
Interesting facts: Within the park is Ferncliff Peninsula Natural Area, a unique spot that was a tropical swamp 300 million years ago. You can view exposed prehistoric fossils from this time frame on a two-mile loop (moderately difficult) along the periphery of the peninsula. And Ferncliff is a microclimate, which provides the exact conditions for globally rare plants to thrive: Barbara’s buttons, Sand grape, and the Appalachian oak fern are a few species that flourish here.
2. Point State Park
Location: 601 Commonwealth Pl, Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Point State Park is located right at the “Golden Triangle,” where the Allegheny River and the Monongahela River meet to form the Ohio River. Designated a National Historic Landmark, Point Park commemorates the events and people of historical significance; plaques, markers, and monuments are throughout the grounds. The Fort Pitt Museum and the Fort Pitt Blockhouse are major points of interest. With its towering 150-foot water spouts, a reflecting pond, and dynamic LED lighting; the Point State Park Fountain makes a dramatic impression along the riverfront.
Interesting facts: The Fort Pitt Blockhouse was built in 1764 and is the oldest monument in Pittsburgh; most of the structure, the timber, bricks, and stones are original, making the Blockhouse the oldest “oldest authenticated structure west of the Allegheny Mountains.”
3. McConnells Mill State Park
Location: 1761 McConnells Mill Rd, Portersville, PA 16051
Head 40 miles north of Pittsburgh to get to McConnells Mill State Park; there’s so much to see here, you won’t know where to begin. There’s an old gristmill and an eye-catching red-covered bridge, Slippery Rock Creek Gorge, and numerous waterfalls, including Hells Hollow Falls, not the tallest falls in the park, but it certainly has the most intriguing name. Photographic opportunities abound within this gorgeous and scenic site.
The geological features of McConnells Mill State Park were created by the melting glacier waters that carved out the steep walls and left huge boulders throughout the area. Eons ago, layers of peat, sand, and mud compressed and formed the bedrock; over time, the substructure eroded at differing rates, resulting in the unique characteristics of the area that lend themselves to hiking, whitewater boating, climbing and rappelling centers, hunting and fishing.
Helpful tip: There’s no backcountry camping (or any camping) within the park; however, plenty of camping and lodging opportunities are nearby.
4. Moraine State Park
Location: 225 Pleasant Valley Rd, Portersville, PA 16051
Moraine State Park is another option close to Pittsburgh (40 miles north); the park’s focal point is Lake Arthur, a 3,225-acre body of water with 42 miles of shoreline that offers boating, swimming, fishing, windsurfing, and waterfront cabin rental. There are also hiking, biking, horseback riding opportunities, and an 18 hole disc golf course.
The park is an excellent example of land reclaimed after mining activities left the ground barren. In the early 1900s, Frank W. Preston, a geologist and naturalist, noticed the raw area had many glacial moraines left behind after moving glaciers. He formed the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, and eminent domain was used to take the land, which was recreated and restored. The park derives its name from this prominent glacial feature.
A Trail of Geography driving tour leads you to the Jacksville Esker Glacial Deposit north of the park. The deposit, called an esker, is what develops when melting ice in a glacier forms a tunnel; frequently, the tunnel fills with sand and stones, and as the glacier recedes, this material gets left behind. This Jacksville Esker is considered one of the best-preserved in the state.
Helpful tip: Lake Aurthur has nine public boat launches. With ideal sailing conditions, the lake is home to Lake Arthur Sailing Club and the annual Regatta, a two-day festival dedicated to sailing education, racing, and entertainment.
5. Cherry Springs State Park
Location: 4639 Cherry Springs Rd, Coudersport, PA 16915
Cherry Springs State Park is three and a half hours northeast of Pittsburgh, it’s a bit of a drive and requires planning, but the memories of a visit to Cherry Springs will be out of this world.
The 82-acre park is named for large stands of black cherry trees and is surrounded by Susquehannock State Forest. The forest and Cherry Springs State Park are beautiful places to visit; however, what draws people here year-round is the “dark sky park,” considered the best (and darkest) place on the eastern seaboard for stargazing.
Cherry Springs started gaining popularity as an ideal spot to view the night sky in the late 1990s, and in 2000 Pa- DCNR made it official. In 2007 the site was designated as the second “International Dark Sky Park,” that “under optimum conditions, the Milky Way casts a discernible shadow” and is visible without binoculars or a telescope.
While people flock here for the stellar night-time sky views, the infrastructure here is limited. There are two viewing areas, one short-term, the Night Sky Public Viewing Area, one long-term, the Overnight Astronomy Observation Field, and a rustic campground for seasonal use.
Helpful tip: Check the night sky calendar before planning your trip; the night sky is best viewed with very little moonlight. Moonlight decreases what you can see.