Best Summer Backpacking Trips Near Pittsburgh

May 28, 2016 8:00 AM

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

One of the best things about living in Pennsylvania in the summer is the abundance of state parks and hiking trails, especially in the Pittsburgh area — you’re almost never too far away from a great backpacking trip. Pittsburgh-area trails have something for everyone, whether you’re hiking for the first time or are experienced and looking for a challenge. Here are five of the best places to check out if you want to get back to nature and head out on a backpacking trip.

Forbes State Forest

Located in Pennsylvania’s scenic Laurel Highlands, Forbes State Forest boasts 50,000 acres across three counties, providing plenty of opportunity for a backpacking trip — or two or three. Visitors can take in views from Mt. Davis, the highest point in Pennsylvania at 3,213 feet, by taking one of three loop trails up. Each trail offers a different experience and a different length, with three, five and eight-mile trails. In addition to hiking opportunities, the forest also offers horseback riding, mountain biking and camping, with spots for both backpackers and motorized camping.

Baker Trail
(412) 475-8881

The Baker Trail spans 132 miles of dirt trails and back roads from Pittsburgh to the Allegheny National Forest, passing through forests and farmlands in Armstrong, Indiana, Jefferson, Clarion and Forest counties. Established in 1950 and named for attorney Horace Forbes Baker, who helped to re-establish the Pittsburgh Council of the American Youth Hostels after World War II, Baker Trail is one of 18 state-designated hiking trails. For those looking to camp along the trail, it offers nine open-front shelters stationed along the trail, as well as primitive campsites for tents. The trail is currently under the sponsorship of the Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy.

Rachel Carson Trail
(412) 475-8881

In addition to being the guardian of the Baker Trail, the Rachel Carson Trail Conservancy has its own trail, also named for the early ecologist born in nearby Springdale. The nearly 36-mile trail covers some of the land that was once part of the original Baker Trail, going from Harrison Hills County Park to North Park, and has terrain suitable for all experience levels from paved roads good for beginners to primitive areas well-suited for experienced hikers. The trail does not offer any campsites, however, so it’s best used as a day trip. And the really adventurous can take part in the annual Rachel Carson Trail Challenge, held this year on June 18. The challenge is a day-long endurance hike, lasting from sunrise to sunset.

Related: Best Dog-Friendly Hiking Trails Near Pittsburgh

Warrior Trail

Perhaps one of the most historic trails in the area, the Warrior Trail was originally a path used by Native Americans heading west to Ohio for supplies. The trail now spans 67 miles from Greensboro on the Monongahela River in Greene County to the Ohio River in West Virginia, with several overnight shelters situated along the trail for camping. You can also get a guide to go along with you by contacting the Warrior Trail Association.

Ohiopyle State Park
124 Main St.
Ohiopyle, PA 15470
(724) 329-8591

Ohiopyle is mostly known for its beautiful waterfalls, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have plenty to offer those looking to take a backpacking trip, including whitewater rafting, picnic spots, bike trails and more. For hikers, it offers multiple trails, including the 70-mile Laurel Highlands trail that leads to the Conemaugh Gorge near Johnstown — ranked among the best trails in both the state and country. The trail is also a significant part of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, a series of trails between the mouth of the Potomac River and the Allegheny Highlands. The Laurel Highlands Trail does offer overnight shelters, but they must be reserved in advance.

Related: Best Weekend Activities For Seniors In Pittsburgh

Janelle Sheetz is a 20-something closed-captioner by day, writer by night, just outside of Pittsburgh. She also regularly contributes to and, and her writing has also been featured on The Billfold and Neutrons Protons.