10 creeks around Pittsburgh worth the trip

Photo: Hell Run, courtesy of Hilary Meurer.

Pittsburgh kids love a good splash in non-chlorinated water where rock skipping is encouraged and wildlife exploration is assumed. Luckily, the metro area is rich with amazing creeks to wade in, dunk your siblings or find salamanders and crayfish hiding under rocks. Some creeks require a bit of a drive, but others are right in the city and accessible by public transport.

Keep in mind as you explore these local waterways to leave them as you found them. It’s an excellent educational opportunity to look for creatures and plants, play with currents and learn about the natural world. But significantly changing the waterway with stacks of rocks (called cairns), dams or litter ruins the spot for others, including wildlife. Play and have fun but return things to their natural state before you head home for a (fingers crossed) nap with your worn-out kids.

Here’s a roundup of 10 beautiful places to splash with your kids.

1. Falls Ravine Trail, Frick Park

Located in the heart of the East End and accessible by public transportation, Frick Park is the city’s largest park. Made famous by Daniel Tiger for showcasing its Blue Slide Playground, most of the park is hilly with crisscrossing streams. Falls Ravine Trail has a sweet little waterfall for kids to explore. Park at Frick Environmental Center for easy access.

2. Fall Run Park, Shaler Township

One of the most stunning accessible waterfalls in the region, the main water feature at Fall Run Park is easy to reach via a flat one-mile out-and-back trail that even toddlers accomplish with ease. The waterfall has smooth shale for sliding and lots of tranquil pools along the entire path. Steps lead up to the top of the waterfall, but it’s a treacherous area for little kids. Look for the fairy garden along your way! Fall Run can become crowded so your best bets are weekdays and early mornings. Wear old clothes – most kids leave with rips in the seat of their pants!

3. Seldom Seen Greenway, Beechview

Do your kids love trains? Then they will adore this old trestle covered with colorful graffiti. It’s a tough climb up to the trestle and not suitable for younger kids, but worth it for those who can handle it. The waterway is accessible here for little kids and has beautiful rock formations and a tunnel for exploring. Parking is off of Saw Mill Run Boulevard just before the Woodruff Street ramp and can be easy to miss. The entrance is about a mile from the closest public transit stop, but since the trail is short itself, it is doable.

Photo courtesy of Meg St-Esprit.

4. Avonworth Community Park, Ohio Township

If you want to get right out of your car and directly into the water without hiking, this is the perfect place to wade. Avonworth Community Park, located just off the Parkway North, is home to a wooden play castle, a public pool, ball fields and access to the wide, shallow creek. Benches and picnic tables line the stream and many parents stick a folding chair right in the water. A footbridge crosses the creek and is a popular spot for tossing pebbles – if no one is underneath. A deeper swimming hole is upstream near the vehicle bridge, so watch out for little ones venturing that direction. Minnows and crayfish abound, so pack a small net for an outstanding addition to a day at Avonworth.

5. Mingo Creek County Park, Finleyville

Worth a bit of a drive south of the city, nearly every portion of Mingo Creek that winds through the park is great for wading. Near the Ebenezer covered bridge are shallow pools and smooth rock formations with tiny waterfalls flowing from pool to pool that even toddlers can easily traverse. The many shelters and playgrounds make it a first-rate place to spend the entire day. Check out the model airplane flying field for some bonus entertainment.

6. McConnells Mill State Park, Portersville 

While McConnells Mill itself is on the Slippery Rock Creek which is not safe for swimming or wading, some side trails provide truly beautiful water play amidst the boulders left behind by glacier movement millions of years ago. Parking at the Hell’s Hollow Trail parking lot, wade all along Hell Run to a waterfall – a one-mile round trip. If you are up for a bit longer trek, the two-mile hike into where Hell Run meets Slippery Rock Creek will grant you a private oasis. Just remember to stay on Hell Run and not venture into the Slippery Rock itself. While you’re up that way, check out Moraine State Park, which has two public swimming beaches.

7. Brush Creek County Park, Beaver Falls 

The section of Brush Creek that runs through this small park is terrific for exploration once spring flooding has subsided. Near the rear of the park at the covered bridge is the best spot to enter the creek, which is filled with salamanders and crayfish under the large flat rocks. Across the bridge are several easy hiking trails, and the paved road circling the park is perfect for young kids on bikes. Traffic is sparse and the speed bumps enforce a safe speed throughout the park. There are picnic groves throughout. Locals recommend a sandwich from Pflugh’s Country Market, just past the entrance to the park.

Photo courtesy of Megan James.

8. Crouse Run Nature Reserve, Hampton Township

World-famous botanist Rachel Carson loved to explore Crouse Run for the wide range of biodiversity present in the ravine. Many families report finding fossils of fern leaves among the shale rocks in the creek along with a variety of fish and snakes. The conservation project has maintained much of the natural beauty, and a new project two years ago improved the safety of the entrance to the trail.

9. Emmerling Community Park, Indiana Township

Out of the way and rarely busy, this park is ideal for social distancing with kids who might be too young to understand the rules. The rocky outcroppings of this creek work well for adventuresome little explorers. Across the field, you will easily find the creek and trail which is clearly marked and becomes part of the Rachel Carson Trail as well.

Photo courtesy of Heather LeVeck.

10. Panhandle Trail, Collier Township entrance

While the Panhandle Trail traverses many miles and joins up with the Montour Trail as well, this entrance will give you access to a wide and shallow creek with only a short, easy walk. When you cross the first footbridge from the parking lot, on the left, you will see artwork designed by Girl Scouts. In that direction, you will find an easy entrance to the water. There is a bench for parents, always a bonus during the endless pandemic summer.