These Five Winter Hikes Around Pittsburgh are Worth Bundling Up For

You know Lora Woodward of Venture Outdoors is speaking the truth when she says the hardest part about being outdoorsy in the winter is actually dragging yourself out into the cold. But if you can muster the motivation, southwestern PA will more than reward your grit. Here are some of Lora’s favorite winter hikes that might just inspire you to layer up. (Photo: Charlene Reinhart via Moraine State Park / Facebook)

 

#1 – Emerald View Park

The hike: If you assume there isn’t any decent hiking actually in the city of Pittsburgh, this natural area tucked along the city’s Mount Washington neighborhood will quickly prove otherwise. In fact, there’s actually enough trail here to do an impressive nine-mile loop; and in winter, the already stellar panoramas of the West End, Ohio River and Downtown are even bigger sans the tree canopy. Expect some hilly terrain, moderate hiking, occasional portages through a Pittsburgh neighborhood or two and a decent amount of solitude. Venture Outdoors’ Lora Woodward says that while Mount Washingtonites count this one as a favorite, Emerald View is mysteriously off the radar for nearly everyone else. Sounds like best-kept-secret status is deserving here.

Trail map: Get it here.

Eat/drink: You’ll feel like you’re in the woods, but you’re never actually far from civilization on this hike. Lora recommends starting your day with a latte at Café Cravings, doing the hike and finishing it off with a stop at the Bigham Tavern.

 

#2 – Hartwood Acres

The hike: If you’d rather take in a museum on a cold Saturday afternoon but the rest of the family wants to get outside, this county park just 10 miles from downtown Pittsburgh is a respectable compromise. Before Hartwood Acres opened as a public park in the mid-’70s, the grounds served as the estate of notable Pittsburgh philanthropist Mary Flinn Lawrence. Lawrence’s old riding trails—now ideal routes for hiking or cross country skiing—will take you across the estate, through the preserved 1920s-era riding stables, and by Lawrence’s stone Tudor mansion. If you’re there on the right day, you can even get a tour of the house. Lora says another cultural attraction: The 11 massive outdoor pieces of modern art that are scattered throughout the property.

Trail map: Get it here.

Eat/drink: The Lawrence mansion actually hosts tea parties from time to time, but Gator’s Grille (formerly JD’s Pub) is Lora’s go-to for an après-ski/hike beer, burger and fries.

 

#3 – Moraine State Park

The hike: One of the best things about winter hiking is that your favorite spot can offer a totally different experience than it does in the summer. Case in point: Moraine State Park, which has stuff you can really only do when it’s super cold. “What’s cool about Moraine State Park is that it has this huge lake—Lake Arthur—in the center of it,” Lora says. “So once you’ve had a number of prolonged periods of freezing weather, you can actually hike across the lake. One of our trip leaders actually compared it to being in Alaska.” Lora says always check with the park office about ice conditions before venturing out, and if you don’t see any ice fishermen out there, don’t even think about it. The massive frozen lake is also apparently a great spot for kite-skiing (see photo above)—if you’re so inclined (or at least want to watch).

Trail map: Hiking maps are available at the park office, but you can find trailheads and parking areas here.

Eat/drink: A 15-minute drive will get you to the craft beers and upscale pub grub at the Harmony Inn.

 

#4 – Laurel Hill State Park

The hike: The hour-and-a-half drive to this spot in Pennsylvania’s scenic Laurel Highlands makes this pick more of a day trippers destination. But once you’ve arrived, you’ll be rewarded with some of southwestern Pennsylvania’s best hiking trails. Try the appropriately named Hemlock Trail for a trek through a hemlock forest or hike into the Jones Mill Run Dam for classic winter views of a frozen waterfall. As one of Pennsylvania’s more popular state parks, you can also count on good access throughout the property, even after heavy snowfalls.

Trail map: Get it here.

Eat/drink: Lora never starts a hike off here without a breakfast sandwich from the Trenthouse Inn (though if you get a late start, breakfast is served all day).

 

#5 – Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail

The hike: Lora doesn’t recommend tackling all 70 miles of this premier Pennsylvania trail in the winter time. So instead, bite off a more manageable loop starting at the Maple Summit Road trailhead. Here you’ll still grab some prime snowshoeing/hiking routes and killer views, but you’ll bypass the grueling three-hill section of the trail that leads to Maple Summit.

Trail map: Get it here.

Eat/drink: For Lora, it’s a toss-up between the Dairy Queen in tiny Donegal, PA and Falls City Pub in Ohiopyle.

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Lora Woodward is the program director at Venture Outdoors, a nonprofit devoted to making it easier for people to get outside and enjoy the outdoors.