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
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.
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!
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.
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.”