The trails themselves might be officially dubbed “Xen’s Trail,” “Upper Trail,” and “Falls Trail,” but locals refer to the collective nature area off of Squaw Run Road as “Trillium Trail,” and indeed, maps recently posted at the site are headed with the moniker “Trillium Trail.” There are two parking lots available; both provide access to the ends of Xen’s Trail, so neither lot is inherently preferable; it all depends on how crowded they are (and apart from, say, the first few days of warm weather in March, the lots are rarely so crowded as to preclude finding a spot).
Xen’s Trail is the “main” trail, a level walk beneath a gentle hillside. The trail crosses a creek multiple times; this used to be more of a problem, particularly during rainy months, but recent redirections of the trail and new stepping stones placed in the creek have made this a relatively painless procedure. Be aware, though, that crossing will still be difficult when the creek is particularly high, and unfortunately, the stepping stones (particularly beneath the stairs across the street from the larger parking lot) do not offer optimal traction. This aside, Xen’s Trail is a very easy and relaxing trail.
Upper Trail is, as its name implies, a trail that runs along the hillside. Running parallel to Xen’s Trail, the two of them effectively make a loop between the two parking lots. Upper Trail may be unassuming in length, but it’s also one of those trails that can be happily repeated, due to the little surprises it offers (blind bends, the sudden appearance of a dried-up creek, etc).
Falls Trail is slightly more demanding. The stairs up to the top of the falls might appear intimidating, but the climb should be easy for any Pittsburgher who’s had to navigate the city’s topography on foot. Shortly after one reaches the end of the stairs, there will be something of a clearing on the right; this will lead to what passes for an overlook of the falls (there used to be a stone balcony, but that apparently fell apart years ago, with only a few remnants of the walls remaining). The falls are actually best viewed from the bottom (the trail to this location is unmarked and unnamed, but the intersection is located by a bench that’s markedly positioned under a (fir?) tree, off of Falls Trail before the steps begin in earnest).
That said, Falls Trail is still worth hiking; the view is enjoyable, even if tumbling water is mostly absent, and besides, if one forgoes the clearing and continues to walk straight ahead, there’s more of the park to explore. Don’t panic when you encounter the fence; it merely denotes the boundaries of the park.
Fenced-in areas throughout the park are apparently part of an experiment to study the effects on the native vegetation when deer are isolated from the areas in question. Upper Trail cuts through one of these regions, necessitating entry through a zig-zag entryway deigned to prevent deer from entering. These areas have apparently been successful, because the past few springs have seen trillium in the park again (making it worthy of its unofficial moniker). As impressive as the area may be in fall and winter, it is for this reason that spring is the best time to visit the park; even if one doesn’t encounter trillium, simply driving down Squaw Run Road is one of the hidden joys of the Pittsburgh region. Consisting of a stretch of woods untouched by buildings or commerce, it is one of the more scenic roads around. Unfortunately, it’s only a few miles long…
Please note: signs at the entrances to Trillium Trail make it clear that dogs are not permitted. This may have as much to do with nature preservation as it does with the complications that arise from permitting pets (unsightly litter bag dispensers, etc), but in any case, to some, it may be welcome to find a nature reserve in which a hiker does not have to fear being accosted by unleashed, domesticated animals.
Also of interest in the area is Scott Park, which is off of Squaw Run Road right next to the turn for Squaw Run Road East. At first the park might appear to be little more than a fifty yard length of grass with a few benches at the end, but there is also a little trail near the fence (after a while, the trail seems to lose its focus, but that’s a great excuse to aimlessly wander through the woods; don’t worry, the creek on one side and the road on the other will keep you from getting lost).
Another great little nearby park can be found off of Fox Chapel Road. Salamander Park is probably one of the lesser known parks in the Pittsburgh region, which is a shame, because what it may lack in size and amenities, it more than makes up for in serenity and views.
There are no recreational facilities at the park, and there isn’t even a restroom; instead, it is an extremely minimalist area, consisting of a handful of log benches, a trash bin in the parking lot, and a trail that can be walked in less than fifteen minutes.
The trail effectively makes a loop from the entrance, with a cutoff near the end that goes over a bridge to provide access to Squaw Run Road. One half runs alongside a creek, while the other runs alongside a hillside that is impressively rocky in one section.
Like Trillium Trail, Salamander Park has multiple signs in the parking lot and at the trail entrances proclaiming “No Dogs Allowed.” Depending on your proclivity for pets, this is either a very good thing or a very bad thing. One side effect it seems to have is that Salamander Park tends to be very sparsely trafficked, making it an excellent choice for those who are seeking quiet and isolation. Unfortunately, the park is also very close to roadways, even in its more remote areas; for this reason, summer may be the preferred season in which to visit Salamander, due to the insulation offered by vegetation in full bloom.
Salamander Park can be accessed off of Fox Chapel Road; if heading north, the parking lot will be on the left, almost immediately after the intersection of Squaw Run Road. Across the road from the parking lot is Salamander Trail, which connects Salamander Park to Squaw Valley Park. If hiking this trail, don’t be put off when the trail seems to end at a power plant; instead, keep walking until you reach the road, then make a right, cross the bridge, and turn left at the pedestrian crosswalk. The trail picks up after a short flight of stairs.
Please note: Google Maps identifies the location where Salamander Park is as “Fay Park.” This is inaccurate, as evidenced by the sign in the parking lot itself clearly labeling the area as “Salamander Park” (across the street, Salamander Trail is similarly marked).