Like any true Pittsburgher, I love griping about the things that, well, make Pittsburgh Pittsburgh; the topography, the weather, all things Pirates-related, etc. But I also love the variety of parks in the area; in some cases, the drive itself makes the trip worth it. If nothing else, the roads in the Pittsburgh region are always interesting to drive; the same cannot be said for some of our neighboring states (heck, even other regions of Pennsylvania).
The belt system is one of my favorite things about Pittsburgh; it’s not only a great way to find your way around, but following the belt system can introduce you to parts of the region that you were previously unfamiliar with. The orange belt, in particular, passes by a number of parks, including Settlers Cabin Park, North Park, Boyce Park, White Oak Park, Round Hill Park, and Deer Lakes Park.
Of these parks, Deer Lakes is by far my favorite and a must-visit. While most of the other parks are relatively generic, Deer Lakes is a singular getaway place. Low-flying planes are not an uncommon sight, due to the park’s proximity to Rock Airport. Otherwise, there is very little traffic noise, and the park feels as if it has distinct sections and themes, rather than being a mere string of picnic pavilions and playgrounds.
One of the park’s signature offerings is its 18-hole disc golf course, one of the few in the area. Last summer witnessed the installation of concrete tee pads, as well as other renovations. The course can be accessed via a parking lot off of Cattail Drive (if the lakes are on your right while driving, Cattail Drive will be on your right immediately after passing the second lake).
The lakes are, of course, the primary attraction of the park; they are stocked, and accordingly, fishing is permitted. I’ve noticed that traffic in the park seems to experience a drastic drop outside of trout season; depending on what sort of recreational activities you intend to pursue while at the park, this might be worth taking into consideration when planning your visit.
There are two large parking lots near the entrance; one, which can be accessed via the very first right after entering the park, is by a large playground and the lowest of the lakes. The other lot is further up the road, also on the right, between the two lakes. Gentle, paved foottrails surround the two lakes and make for a relaxing walk (there are actually three lakes, but the third does not feature a paved walkway). A network of slightly more difficult (and interesting) trails exists.
The yellow trail can be accessed at several points surrounding and between the pine trees that feature at the eastern end of the lower lake (they’re across the path from the large pavilion). This trail features an eminently enjoyable section through a grove of pines and a field with various, unmarked paths; unfortunately, the trail also crosses the disc golf course in several places, which can be annoying to all concerned. Although the trail is otherwise a wonderful walk, during busy times, it might be advisable to explore other areas.
The white trail, in the same area, is an enjoyable but lengthy walk (almost four miles in one direction). As an alternative to the yellow trail, it works perfectly. It comes very close to the park’s boundaries, which means that some sections almost cross into people’s backyards, but there’s enough of a buffer zone for sufficient privacy and to ease feelings of discomfort. Obviously, if time doesn’t permit, the whole trail doesn’t need to be walked, and for those hikers for whom backtracking lengthy sections of a trail is anathema, one can construct a small loop by hiking the white trail and then heading back on the yellow trail (c.f. the trail map). This section of the yellow trail doesn’t cross the disc golf course, so you’re safe on all counts.
Although there are pavilions in the lake region, I tend to think of the section of the park off of Crayfish Drive as the true “shelter section.” To access this area, make a right out of the parking lot (it doesn’t matter which parking lot you’ve chosen) and continue on the main park road; the turn will be on the left and marked by a huge sign naming the picnic groves and the trails available in the region. Most of the pavilions are located quite far from the road or designated parking areas; essentially, this is a trade-off between convenience (the need to lug picnic baskets, etc.) and privacy.
In the shelter section of the park, the blue trail is a joy to explore; it cuts past all of the shelters in the area, giving one a nice overview of the area; however, for this same reason, it is advisable to hike this trail during the off-season. There is an impressive field/hill on the east section of the trail; although climbing to the top does not offer the vista one might expect, it’s worth the trek all the same.
I admit that I didn’t find the green trail very impressive, given that much of it seemed to be an unattractive stroll through a wasteland. Moreso, after crossing the firebreak, I found myself lost; the blazes simply seemed to disappear into a thick meadow with no discernable trails. It is possible that I was following the wrong blazes; in this area, apparently green circles may denote paths for equestrian and cyclist use, while rectangles are used for the green hiking trail. Nevertheless, in the shelter region, stick with the blue trail; it’s more enjoyable in every sense.
Directions: The main entrance to the park is located directly off of the orange belt (specifically, Creighton Russell Road), so from Saxonburg Boulevard or thereabouts, it’s a simple matter of following the signs. There is a very memorable underpass near the entrance to the park that can be used as a landmark. Be warned, though, if heading east on the orange belt, that after making a left from Starr Road onto Deer Creek Valley Road, the very next right is the turn to make to continue on the orange belt; this turn is not marked.
From Rt. 28, there are multiple ways to access the orange belt; for ease of access, I suggest taking the exit for the Pittsburgh Mills; if exiting from south Rt. 28, make a left at the traffic light and stay in the left lane until the stop sign. If exiting from northbound Rt. 28, make a right at the traffic light but get into the left lane; you will encounter the same stop sign. Make a left, and at the four-way intersection, make a left onto Butler Logan Road. Continue to follow this road, and at the next four-way intersection, go straight (note that traffic from the left does NOT stop, a frustrating situation because it’s something of a blind spot). At this point, you will be on the orange belt, and the park will be located on the right.