Recent Posts

Hiking McConnells Mill State Park

Slippery Rock Creek, McConnells Mill

Rapids on the Slippery Rock Creek

Hikes are always better when there is water involved and you're never far from it when the trail follows the Slippery Rock Creek in McConnells Mill State Park. Just over the Lawrence County line and roughly forty-two miles northwest of Pittsburgh, the narrow park runs through a gorge created by erosion from an ice age melt. It begins just south of US 422 and meanders along eight miles of massive rocks and rapids. It's easily accessed from I-79.

In case you missed my piece on hiking the Laurel Highlands around Route 30, I want to include a few quick disclaimers. First, hiking isn't for everyone and you can get hurt or even die if you're not properly prepared. While I think it's great physical exercise, you need to already be in decent shape before embarking on a trip. If you're overweight, have a history of heart programs and health issues or are not in good enough shape to walk up steep hills in town without significant effort, you may want to check with doctor before you embark on anything too rigorous. Alltrails is a great resource to help you determine difficulty. Also, worth noting in this disclaimer section that there is no swimming in the Slippery Rock Creek as it's loaded with dangerous rapids and rocks. That said, kayaking south of the dam looked pretty fantastic!

Even if the above disclaimers apply to you, you can still enjoy McConnells Mill State Park’s namesake. The Old Mill, its dam and the covered bridge are all accessible by road. Parking is limited near the mill, but there are roughly three spaces available with one handicapped spot. Most of the parking is at the top of the gorge and able-bodied people should hike down even if it adds a steep, 400 foot climb at the end of their trip. Save the parking at the bottom of the hill for someone bringing their grandparents out for a nice afternoon in the woods. The folks who can't hike will also get a taste of the trail as massive boulders flank the access road that climbs the east side of the gorge.

McConnells Mill State Park, McConnells Mill Bridge

The covered bridge reflects in the pond created by the mill dam.

Trails in McConnells Mill are part of the larger, blue blazed North Country Trail system that extends into nearby Moraine State Park.The two parks are separated by just two miles along Johnson Road. Within McConnells Mill, the North Country Trail is called the Slippery Rock Gorge Trail. It runs on the eastern side of the creek until the covered bridge where it crosses and follows the western side of the ravine until it meets Hell Run Hollow where makes a roughly ninety degree turn to the west. The Kildoo Trail runs along the eastern side of the gorge parallel to the Slippery Rock Gorge Trail from the covered bridge 1.5 miles to Eckert Bridge. Novice hikers will want to take the Kildoo Trail which is semi paved until a bridge over the narrow Kildoo Run which trickles down the steep hill side in a series of small waterfalls. A number of other unnamed streams cascaded down the eastern rim thanks to a particularly rainy September on my visit.

Kildoo Trail McConnells Mill State Park

Small waterfall off a large rock just off the Kildoo Trail in McConnells Mill State Park

After reaching Eckert Bridge, the Slippery Rock Gorge Trail becomes somewhat more challenging. The trail gets rockier and it periodically climbs higher up the ridge face. On my visit, I only went about a half a mile of the remaining five miles of trail to the top of the Hell Run from Eckert Bridge. Signs posted suggested the trip could take four and a half hours, a snails pace for hiking. Another sign warned off anyone but experienced hikers. For the daring and able, through hiking the park in one day is plausible with two vehicles. One can be parked at the Hell’s Hollow Trailhead, the other in the park's main parking area. The hiking map for the park even outlines the best route to take between the two trailheads.

I can't stress the importance of proper hiking footwear for McConnells Mill. Rocky and rooted stretches out number clear stretches. Ankles will fall prey to the trail without proper support. I'm reasonably experienced and I almost fell a few times. While they're not necessary, hiking poles could come in handy especially South of Eckert Bridge. Camping isn't an option McConnells Mill State Park but anyone interested in through hiking the entire North Country Trail can reserve a shelter at the Link Road Shelter in Moraine State Park. It's not exactly in the middle so one day will end up being quite a bit more difficult than the other.

Bring a camera, too. The park is incredibly photogenic beyond the frequently snapped area around the dam. Keep your eyes peeled and plan a little extra time if you're a shutterbug. My hike ended up running much shorter than I had planned thanks to frequent picture delays. Just be sure to bring a bag with some serious padding so your lenses don't break in case you take a spill.

McConnells Mill State Park, Slippery Rock Creek

I took about seven pictures of this rock before i got it just right.

Once you've tackled the North Country Trail, treat yourself by heading to North Country Brewing to enjoy their ale heavy lineup. Established in 2005, North Country were a relative early adopter in the craft beer scene. They have a brew pub in downtown Slippery Rock and have since opened a canning facility to meet their ever increasing distribution needs. They've quietly grown one of the largest footprints of any Western PA brands. Of course, the avid TPOP reader would already know about the bustling beer scene in Butler roughly nineteen miles away.

Make no mistake, McConnells Mill and nearby Moraine State Park are known destinations. Lost in the Old Mill, Lake Arthur and all the Larping however are the outstanding hiking trails you can enjoy as well. While the Laurel Highlands certainly tops the North Country in terms of the length and total options, McConnells Mill offers a higher density of eye candy and degree of difficulty most trails to the east of Pittsburgh can't touch.

McConnells Mill State Park

Boulders in the pond created by the dam in McConnells Mill State Park

Steve is a naturalized yinzer hailing originally from just north of Allentown, PA. He came to Pittsburgh to attend Duquesne University and decided to stick around after graduation. Steve is best known for his contributions to Duquesne hoops community as the owner of the Duquesne Dukes forum on Yuku and as the former editor of We Wear the Ring on the Fansided network. He is an avid Pirates fan, home cook and policy nerd. He is the co-founder of the Point of Pittsburgh. Easily irritated by people who misuse the word regress.