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10 family-friendly hiking trails in and around Pittsburgh

Sally Quinn
May06/ 2019

Our region’s geography lends itself naturally to pockets of hillside trails and parks tucked between neighborhoods. State parks, city parks and community projects pepper the map with enough hiking options for any outdoor enthusiast.

Here are 10 of our favorite trails for adventurous kids who love to get out and explore nature. Each one offers more than a simple stroll, with special features, cool activities and educational programming.

Fall Run Park in Shaler is a favorite spot for kids, dog walkers and joggers. Photo by Sally Quinn.

Fall Run Park

The sun-dappled trail at Fall Run Park in Shaler passes alongside a creek through a forest ravine. Well-maintained wooden bridges criss-cross over the wandering waterway and keep the path fairly smooth for sibling racers. A mile from the entrance, you come to the main feature, a 30-foot waterfall that splashes over rocks into the stream below. A staircase gives easy access down the slope to the bottom trail. We love that the stream is shallow enough to allow kids cool relief on hot days. Bring water shoes for easy footing.

The trail is one that’s obviously treasured by its regular visitors. We even found a fairy garden at the bottom of a tree, inhabited by tiny gnomes, fairy-sized doors and decorative flowers. When families emerge from the woods, they can take advantage of the playground, basketball court and picnic shelter.

Don’t miss the great photo ops at McConnells Mill State Park. They’re everywhere! Photo by Sally Quinn.

McConnells Mill State Park

We can’t visit the 2,500-plus acres that comprise McConnells Mill State Park and not think about the long-ago glaciers that pushed these giant, prehistoric rocks into place. We imagine dinosaurs popping up from behind the jutting ledges fringed with ferns. The park is nestled within Slippery Rock Creek Gorge, which boasts designation as a National Natural Landmark, so it has that going for it, too.

Park at the Kildoo Picnic Area to access the blazed trail pointing the way down the steep hill to the old mill. Explorer kids love finding the painted spots on trees that point the way. You can also stroll down the road for an easier trek. Learn a bit of farming history at the 19th-century gristmill. Check out the rushing water of Slippery Rock Creek and the covered Eckart Bridge. Continue your hike on the path that follows the creek downstream, scrambling over rocks and tree roots. This is adventure hiking at its finest!

This little park is perfect for the smallest hikers. Photo by Sally Quinn.

Mary Roberts Rinehart Nature Park

A much smaller spot for little legs to explore is Mary Roberts Rinehart Nature Park in Sewickley. Named after the bestselling mystery writer of her era – referred to as America’s Agatha Christie – the tiny 3-acre park was once part of the author’s estate.

Neighborhood volunteers, who reclaimed the neglected space, maintain the park. Features include a picnic pavilion, hand-built rock amphitheater that’s used as a classroom by Quaker Valley School District, zig-zag trails and a firepit. Native species plantings include a work-in-progress pollinator garden for bees and butterflies. Virtually everything used within the park is recycled.

Once past the gravel opening, paths transition into cushy wood chips where little ones can run or admire the small stream bubbling alongside. Kids will be delighted with occasional free programming. Fitting for a park of this size, Fairy Day on May 12 welcomes kids to build fairy houses with a costumed sprite leading the activities.

Kids can get a bird’s eye view of Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve from the Tree Top Lookout. Photo by Sally Quinn.

Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve

The Audubon Society of Western Pa. manages the 5 miles of trails on Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve’s 134 acres in O’Hara. Pick up a free map at the Nature Store, which sells an eclectic array of nature-inspired goods. Nine trails cover a range of habitats – shady forests, steep and narrow thickets, meadows and pine stands—as well as varying degrees of difficulty.

Spring Hollow Trail takes kids to the Tree Top Lookout, where they can walk out on a wooden platform to get a birds-eye view of the reserve. Bring along binoculars to examine wildlife you might encounter. Pack a lunch to munch in the cool shade of the Pond Pavilion. Little kids will love the Discovery Ground where they can pump water onto sluices, dig in the sand or climb through the hillside “mine.”

You’ll find lots of programming for families, beginning with Babes in the Woods events and preschool Fledglings. Visit the calendar for upcoming events.

The Blue Slide is raucous, scream-inducing fun. Photo by Sally Quinn.

Frick Park

The crisscrossing, looping trails at Frick Park cover 664 acres, which makes it Pittsburgh’s largest historic regional park. With multiple entrances, it’s worth downloading and printing the park map so you and your kids can explore the various trails and features. Our favorite is the Riverview Trail, which conveniently begins and ends at the Blue Slide Playground (Don’t forget your cardboard!).

Or enter via the Frick Environmental Center, a Living Building and certified LEED building, to access new, cutting-edge ways to park discoveries. The Clayton Trail loop begins here, as does the smaller Woodland Trail that leads to the Observation Deck.

Check out year-round family-friendly programming on the calendar, such as Full Moon Hikes, wildflower walks guided by a naturalist or an introduction to birding.

Take a break from hiking and visit the farm animals at Round Hill Park. Photo courtesy of Allegheny County Parks Foundation.

Round Hill Park

The trails that encompass the 1,100 acres of this Allegheny County Park are easily walkable with occasional hilly areas. What we love most about this beautiful space is the list of options – all free – when kids begin whining: “I’m bored!” “I’m tired!” “I’m hot!”

Presto! Mom looks like a genius with solutions to all their problems.

Round Hill Park is home to the Allegheny Farm Corps, a volunteer group that works the farm and donates crops to the Community Food Bank. Not to be confused with a petting zoo, this working exhibit farm gives kids a chance to get close to farm animals, like horses, goats and pigs. Stop by the pond and visit with the ducks.

And don’t forget to bring lunch. There are 17 picnic shelters, as well as picnic tables scattered throughout the park. Your kids will spot lots of playground equipment, plus a tempting spray park (opening June 1) that will have them begging for return visits.

Kids love the switchback that takes them from the River Heritage Trail to Washington’s Landing. Photo by Sally Quinn.

River Heritage Trail selections:

The 24-mile Heritage River Trail runs along the riverfront of Pittsburgh’s three rivers. We have some favorite spots within that system that appeal to families for various reasons, one of which is the stroller-friendly paving. Download a map here.

The wet and wild Water Steps are a popular stop on a North Shore hike. Photo by Leah Hunt.

On the North Shore of the Allegheny, families have two fun options. While hiking along the North Shore Riverfront Park below PNC Park and Heinz Field, kids can climb onto Mister Rogers’ lap or wade in the Water Steps. It’s a fine spot to watch for watercraft and wave to boaters.

Farther upstream on the North Side, closer to Heinz Lofts, there’s free parking at spots along River Avenue. Take your hike toward Washington’s Landing, where a switchback built from a former railroad trestle leads to the island. Continue along the shore to Redfin Blues Grill for cool drinks and snacks on the deck above the marina before continuing to loop back.

On the South Side, we begin at Southside Works and access the riverfront below Hoffbrauhaus. Kids will enjoy the zigzag path and looking at the marina boats. Take the trail towards Downtown and enjoy a shady path under a canopy of leafy branches. The trail can be easily exited to the South Side Flats. It’s fun to travel one way along the river trail and loop back along Carson Street where a stop at spots like the Milkshake Factory is a welcome treat.

The fountain at Point State Park is the crown jewel of Pittsburgh. Photo by Sally Quinn.

Point State Park, Downtown, is another worthy urban hike, offering a mix of history, natural species plants along the trails and a gorgeous inside-out view of the city. The wide waterfront trail is a beautiful walk that features a breezy spray from the 100-foot fountain. You can stroll along winding shady paths, too. Pop into the Fort Pitt Block House, built in 1764, the oldest architectural landmark in Pittsburgh. Exit the park through the Portal Tunnel and over the Reflecting Pool. Need more details? Click here for a map.

Sally Quinn

Sally Quinn is an award-winning writer and editor who has been covering her favorite city for more than 20 years. She welcomes comments and story ideas for Kidsburgh.

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