Easy, Pretty Hikes Near Pittsburgh!
Looking for some great hiking in the Laurel Highlands of southwestern Pennsylvania, within an hour of Pittsburgh? Want options good for the whole family, from kids to adults?
Scenic Ruins in the Forest: Great for Photos
There are plenty of hiking trails in Linn Run State Park to entice the whole family, but let’s start with the most unique of the bunch: The beautiful ruins that are easily reached halfway down Flat Rock Trail.
To reach the mysterious crumbled chimney pictured, park at the Adam Falls parking area (more on that waterfall later). To begin Flat Rock Trail, take the path to your right if you’re facing the road.
You’re going the right way on Flat Rock Trail if the river, Linn Run, is on your left the whole time. You’ll reach the ruins in just a few minutes, since they’re halfway to Flat Rock, and the whole trail is only half a mile long. (Side note: If you enjoy those ruins and are near Boston, MA in the future, check out the Franklin Park ruins!)
Flat Rock Trail is Perfect for Kids
Flat Rock Trail is an excellent hike for kids, since it’s flat, wide, and short, with plenty to see. (In its accessibility for children, it reminded me of this Santa Cruz hike we did in California.)
If you’re hiking with young kids, the path probably doable with a hearty stroller because there aren’t too many bumps, but it is certainly not paved, so plan accordingly.
As you walk (yes, I don’t just get my fitness from online workouts), ogle the privately owned cabins and their hammocks, but be a good bunny and don’t trespass, tempting as it is! Should you want to rent your own public cabin, reservations are available on the DCNR site.
Map: Forbes State Forest vs. Linn Run
Now is a good time to clarify the difference between Linn Run State Park and Forbes State Forest. Before continuing this article, I recommend you pull up this official map of the region in an adjoining window to get a visual for the whole shebang.
In that map, you can see where the confusion arises: The two parks are swirled together like latte art! Usually these hikes are thought of as in Linn Run State Park, and much of the infrastructure is under that label, but know that while you’re driving through the greenery, you’re going between the two park parts.
Swimming and Snakes in Linn Run
Time to talk about some dangers mixed into the fun! Flat Rock Trail fittingly ends at, well… a big flat rock. As with slippery rocks in Bash Bish Falls in my sweet Massachusetts, visitors sometimes use them like waterslides and splash around.
Now, as both a middle school teacher and double mama, I’m impelled to warn you (in a stern voice, perhaps whilst wearing spectacles for effect) to use extreme caution when entering wild water. Better yet, if you want to get wet, drive a short distance to famed Idlewild water park!
Want a little more motivation to stay on dry land? SNAKES! Yes, according to this sign near Flat Rock, there are Northern Water Snakes sliding around that river. Yeek!
Adams Falls Waterfall
Let’s move on to something less slithery and more inviting, shall we? The Laurel Highlands has some stunning waterfalls (fellow travel blogger, Jim, has the ultimate list of PA waterfalls if you want to collect them all) and Adams Falls is a sweet little baby sister of the bunch.
To reach this waterfall, park in the lot marked “Adam Falls” (more about the name change soon) and follow the signs for a very short trot to the waterfall. It’s small. It’s fun. It’s worth a peek.
Does “Adam Falls” Have an “S” or Not?!
Here’s a mystery from this English teacher to you: What the heck is going on with Linn Run State Park toggling between the title “Adams Falls” (plural) and “Adam Falls” (singular) for that little waterfall?! How many Adams are there? Is there just one Adam falling?
Let’s investigate. The sign in the parking lot indicates one single Adam, as does the official map from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
…But the Bench Says “Adams Falls”
You’d think that official map would be the end of the story, but it’s not. The bench just a few feet from the parking lot sign indicates multiple Adams: a whole gaggle of Adams, perhaps. Awkwardly, it appears that the “S” on the bench has been carved in deeper for extra emphasis. WHY? What in tarnation is going on?
Further, numerous online articles about the region describe “Adams Falls” with the “S” loud and proud. Moreover, many locals I chatted with in Ligonier talked about “Adams Falls,” using the “S.” If you have any information about this raging controversy, please — oh please — weigh in! I want closure. Scroll down for my confused face.
A Note About Wearing Dresses While Hiking
At this point you may notice that I am wearing dresses in these hiking photos — multiple dresses. Why? So the first reason is very relevant to you: We went back to Linn Run State Park THREE times in three days, so I was wearing different clothes. This is relevant because it shows how easy it is to get to from Ligonier (the cute town just a few minutes away where we were staying), and also how alluring, varied, and accessible the many hikes in the park are.
The second reason is that as an artist, well, I just think dresses look pretty in photos — especially brightly colored and fluttery ones. The ones I wear are from my friend Sarah’s company, Leota, which is woman-run, and (because women know what women want) offers all machine-washable, stretchy fabrics that are honestly easy to hike in.
As a final reason for these fashion choices, I just plain old enjoy funny poses with bizarre juxtapositions… like a flowered red party dress next to mud and rocks. Read on to learn about the juxtaposition between my dress and a rattlesnake.
Beam Rocks: THE Hike for a View
Now for the most important part: Where to hike in Linn Run State Park for an awesome panoramic vista of the Laurel Highlands. For the excellent overlook pictured in the lead photo of this article and below, follow the signs on the road to drive to the Beam Rocks trailhead. (Alas for the lazy among us, you can’t just drive to the summit of this one like you can at Mount Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts.)
The path to the Beam Rocks summit pictured here is harder than Flat Rock Trail, but still quite easy. (Certainly easier than Boulder, Colorado hikes!) From the parking area to the top is 0.9 miles, and could be done by kids, though there’s moderate climbing at the end to reach the top of the rocks at the end. You just have to be alert for one thing…
Watch Out for Rattlesnakes!
THERE. ARE. RATTLESNAKES. IN LINN RUN. There really are. The good news is that they don’t attack unless attacked, so just keep your eyes peeled for them on the trail, and give them as much room as possible if walking by.
Being oblivious Bostonians whose most natural experiences come from the urban Emerald Necklace park system, we weren’t watching where we were going, and might have been in real trouble (aka, attacked) if a man hadn’t come sprinting back to breathlessly warn us: “5 minutes down the trail, a GIANT rattlesnake is coiled right before the turn! Watch out!!!”
What to Do When a Rattlesnake is on the Trail?
Hyperventilating, we tiptoed along the path, following the kind gentleman who’d warned us. Suddenly, he froze. He pointed to a mini mountain sitting on the left side of the trail. I’d never seen a rattlesnake in the wild, but this one looked just like the cartoons: Perfectly wound upon itself… watching.
Thankfully, the trails in Linn Run State Park are relatively wide. The three of us very slowly inched along the right side of the path, giving as close to the recommended three feet as possible.
We made it out with only an angry glare from the snake, but I want to emphasize again: If we hadn’t been warned and thus paying attention, it’s possible we could have been bitten. Eyes up!
Other Laurel Highlands Attractions
There’s plenty to do in Linn Run State Park (in three days, we didn’t even have time to explore a fraction of the other recommended trails and sights there), but it’s nice to mix nature with human-made fun. Here are some other recommended things to do in in the Laurel Highlands region that I’ve really enjoyed:
• You MUST see Fallingwater if nearby. It’s one of the most famous pieces of architecture in America!
• Just minutes from Linn Run, see the remarkable glass paperweights on display at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, Ligonier.
• Looking for a place to stay in Ligonier? We enjoyed this hotel (affiliate link).
More Things to Do Near Forbes State Forest:
• Follow the Fred Rogers Trail to learn about the real Mister Rogers in his hometown of Latrobe, PA.
• Get fresh produce and laugh at the hilarious, sassy signs at Pletcher’s Farm Market.
• Visit the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg, PA. Fabulous for both kids and adults.
Do YOU Like Laurel Highlands Hiking?
So what about you? Have you been to Linn Run State Park or Forbes State Forest in southwestern Pennsylvania? If so, what were your favorite sights? If not, which of these hikes seems most enjoyable? Do share!