Raccoon Creek State Park, which is located west of Pittsburgh, near the airport, is worth a visit if you’re ever in the area; there is a swimming area off of the lake, plenty of trails, and simply driving through the park is a relaxing, eminently enjoyable experience.
I didn’t have time to hike all of the trails at Raccoon Creek State Park; it would surely take multiple visits to do so and, particularly at this time of year, I don’t think the city slicking likes of me are up for hiking the entirety of a 9.5 mile trail…but here are a few comments on the trails I did explore.
When entering the park from Rt. 30, the second pulloff on the left provides access to the Heritage Trail (the aforementioned semi-epic day hike). The opening volley is almost comically steep and is easier to scale if you can get up a decent burst of speed (or simply leap-bound up). After that, though, it’s fairly level, with a few climbs that seem positively tame compared to the beginning. Admittedly, I probably only went a few miles in, but I didn’t find anything that particularly impressed me about the trail…
Valley Trail, however, was positively delightful. The trail can be accessed via the parking lot for the section of Raccoon Lake that’s open to swimming; even if one doesn’t intend to swim or hike the Valley Trail, it’s strongly encouraged to make the detour to the beach regardless. There is a small peninsula with benches that one can walk out onto, and simply walking along the lakeshore is an enjoyable enough diversion.
Valley Trail also begins with a steep ascent, although in this instance, the severity is tempered by stairs. At the top, there is a cutoff for the campground, but continuing on the upper trail, one is treated to an impressive vista of the lake below. I would assume that the splendor of this view is diminished or altogether lost in summer, but in winter, when all of the leaves are down, it’s quite a view.
The Wetlands Trail is also enjoyable and very memorable, following a hillside above, well, wetlands. Although there is no one single view as impressive as that offered by Valley Trail, the overall impression made by the trail makes it highly recommended.
Of course, hiking isn’t the only recreational opportunity offered at Raccoon Creek. The lake, apart from offering swimming opportunities, is open to boating, fishing, and, in the winter, ice skating. There are also a plethora of camping facilities, from trailer campsites to cabins to shelters offered on backcountry trails. There is even a large cottage off of the lake that can be rented; tellingly, there is a one-week minimum stay during the peak season.
…also, did you know that the Raccoon Creek State Park area was once the site of a popular resort? According to http://farmanddairy.com, Frankfort Mineral Springs Health Resort was a popular summer getaway in the 19th century; apart from being a mere vacation spot for the privileged, it was claimed that the mineral-rich waters contained medicinal properties. A very short trail to the springs themselves exists. The trail begins off of Rt. 18; heading south from Harshaville, it’ll be on the right after the ranger station.
Directions: Depending on your starting point, there may be more direct methods of approaching the park, but as a general rule of thumb, from Rt. 30, one should turn south onto Rt. 18; from Rt. 22, one should head north on the same Rt. 18. Rt. 18 cuts straight through the park, and the intersections for the roads heading west and east through the park are located by the ranger station; if one misses the turn, it’s advisable to turn around, because there aren’t any other practical means of entering the park.
As a side note, there is an alternate entrance to the park off of Rt. 30; for details, consult the Pennsylvania DCNR Raccoon Creek directions map.