PA Natural wonders that are worth the trip
When planning an outdoor family activity this year, you don’t have to venture far or break your budget in search of jaw dropping scenery. On the outer fringes of our bustling city are plenty of opportunities to see mother nature in all her glory. From tucked-away waterfalls to sprawling acreage of unspoiled forest and cool, mountain springs, these day trips are all within an hour and a half of the city and waiting to deliver lasting memories for you and your family.
New Florence, PA, Indiana County
For families looking for a fun day away from the hustle and bustle of daily life, Buttermilk Falls is a quick and easy day trip. This natural wonder, once part of the Fred McFeely estate, grandfather of the beloved Fred Rogers of “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood,” boasts a 45-foot waterfall, lush, old growth forest, hiking trails, restrooms and a picnicking area.
With easy-to-navigate pebble paths and a wheelchair accessible observation deck, Buttermilk Falls is open to families of all ages and needs. Only a few minutes’ walk from the parking lot to the falls, you will find a bridge that gives way to sturdy stairs surrounded by safety fencing that lead to the breathtaking waterfall.
A metal walkway extends behind the falls where nature lovers can take in the magic of the water spilling like glistening diamonds over the natural rock wall. Between misty rainbows and white-water cascades, it’s easy to see why it is always a beautiful day in the Buttermilk Falls neighborhood.
Laurel Hill State Park
Laurel Hill State Park, with over 4000 acres of terrain, could be the weekend getaway you’ve been looking for without the hefty travel times. Just an hour away from Pittsburgh, you can stay for the day or hitch up your boat for a longer weekend of camping and water sports.
The 63-acre lake is ideal for a day of kayaking, boating, fishing, swimming or nature photography. With 20 miles of trails, hiking enthusiasts will delight to explore, from the Hemlock Trail lined with 100-year-old trees to the heavier-traveled Pump House Trail, leading hikers to the man-made Jones Mill Run Dam, a popular photo-op spot for adventure-seekers and Instagrammers.
The park can accommodate overnight campers and offers cottage rentals as well as bike and boat rentals. If you’re looking less for adventure and more of a recharge in nature, take a seat near the lake or meander down a quiet trail, taking in the sounds of silence broken only by resident and migrant wildlife. No matter the season, Laurel Hill State Park will delight your family year-round with its endless bounty of beauty.
Linn Run State Park
Ligonier and Cook Townships
If you haven’t yet ventured out to Ligonier, PA, (Linn) run, don’t walk to the sprawling, 612-acre natural wonderland that is Linn Run State Park. The park offers something for everyone, including multiple hiking trails of varying length and difficulty, picnicking areas with grills and playgrounds, camping sites, rental cabins and enchantment in every corner of this natural oasis.
Take the family on the famous Flat Rock Trail, an easy hike on a compacted dirt trail that opens up to an expansive flat rock, creating a natural waterslide. While this is a popular swimming area during the summer, explorers should take caution as there is no lifeguard, underwater currents can be stronger than they appear and the natural rocks can be extremely slippery.
Another trail in the park takes you to Adam’s Falls, where a low-flow, 15 ft. waterfall can be easily accessed for fun family pictures or solitude selfies. These areas can get quite busy, especially on weekends, so consider continuing up the mountain a bit where you will find picnicking areas sprinkled on the sides of the road with tucked-away swimming holes and meditative rock stacks in gently flowing creeks.
Continue your journey up the mountain to the Laurel Summit where you will find more adventure at Beam Rocks Overlook in Forbes State Forest, a popular spot for rock climbing.
While many waterfalls are tucked deep in the wilds of Western Pennsylvania and require a bit of a hike to access, this unique waterfall deserves a nod for its accessibility to those with limited mobility.
Just an hour northwest of Pittsburgh, all you need to do to view this 40-feet wide by 20-feet tall waterfall is park, cross the street and walk less than a minute down a short trail. Due to the width of this natural beauty, it is best to visit Springfield Falls after a good rain to ensure you are witnessing the falls in their full glory.
Enjoy a beverage at the newly constructed Cobblehaus Brewing Co. at the Falls, which offers indoor and outdoor views of the falls, firepits, outdoor seating and lawn games. Springfield Falls is a great option for anyone who wants to experience the majesty of a waterfall without all the extra work.
Jennifer Free is a freelance writer and hockey enthusiast. She lives in Pittsburgh with her two hockey-crazy sons and Deadhead husband, John. She works in Hockey Management and won her first gold medal as GM of the US Women’s Master’s Ball Hockey Team this past September in the Czech Republic.
Posted from the May 2023 issue of Pittsburgh Parent magazine