9 Top-Rated Day Trips from Pittsburgh, PA
Western Pennsylvania is a landscape of beautiful rolling hills and the mountains of the Appalachian Plateau, so it's not surprising that a number of natural attractions are found in its parks and wild lands. Winding country roads and miles of hiking and cycling trails lead to lakes, ponds, rushing streams, waterfalls, and scenic viewpoints, many of which can be easily reached from Pittsburgh.
This is one of the best places in the Mid-Atlantic area to view fall foliage. Historic sites span the centuries, from the French and Indian Wars to the 21st century, and five masterpieces of modernist architecture are open to tourists. And for kids, there's one of the nation's best-loved amusement park complexes.
Learn more about the best places to visit near the city with our list of the top day trips from Pittsburgh.
1. Ohiopyle State Park and Cucumber Falls
Less than two hours south of Pittsburgh, the mountainous Laurel Highlands region includes the state's highest elevation, Mount Davis, with a paved road to its 3,213-foot summit. Ohiopyle State Park surrounds the 14-mile-long Youghiogheny River Gorge, a legendary destination for white water kayaking and rafting. The Yough (pronounced Yawk, and the river yawk-i-gay-nee) is not just for experts, though: the Middle Yough is gentle enough for beginners and families with young children.
The 30-foot Cucumber Falls is another highlight of Ohiopyle State Park. One of the most photographed waterfalls in Pennsylvania, it is easy to reach via a short walking path. A smaller cascade over low ledges, Meadow Run forms a natural water slide, with gentle chutes kids can ride through.
Running through this terrain of rivers, lakes, and forested mountains is the Great Allegheny Passage, a 150-mile rail trail for hiking and biking that includes some of the region's finest vistas and never exceeds a gradient of two percent.
The park also offers camping, rock climbing lessons, a zipline, nature trails, and other activities, which you can learn about in the Laurel Highlands Falls Area Visitor Center.
2. Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater
Deep in the Bear Run Nature Reserve, 43 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, Fallingwater was designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935 and is recognized as a masterpiece of 20th-century architecture.
Designed to complement and become a part of the dramatic site above a waterfall, Fallingwater incorporates the falls both visually and with the sound of water throughout the house. Steps from the living room lead directly into the water below. Wright designed the furniture and decorations, which are still in the house today.
Not far from Fallingwater are four other Wright houses that are open to visitors. On a bluff above the Youghiogheny River Gorge, Kentuck Knob is a mountain home built in the 1950s, and the 1957 Duncan House, which was disassembled and moved from Illinois, is now available for overnight rentals. Close to Duncan House are the 1952 Mäntylä and the Balter House; you can visit all three on a single tour.
Address: 1491 Mill Run Road, Mill Run, Pennsylvania
Official site: http://fallingwater.org/
3. Laurel Caverns
The deepest cave in the northeastern United States and the largest in volume, Laurel Caverns is at the top of Chestnut Ridge, about 50 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. Its three miles of interconnected passages have ceilings as high as 50 feet, with most between 10 and 20, and average 12 feet in width, so they are comfortable to tour.
Three different tours are offered: a one-hour tour for families, a more rigorous two-hour tour of the upper caves, and a longer even more strenuous tour that takes you to the very bottom of the cave system.
Lauren Caverns are the largest natural bat hibernation area in the northeast, so to protect the bats the caves are closed in the winter during their hibernation season. Visitors are not allowed into the caves until the bats have left in the spring.
Address: 1065 Skyline Drive, Farmington, Pennsylvania
Official site: http://laurelcaverns.com
4. Hartwood Acres
An easy day trip from Pittsburg, the stone Tudor-style mansion is the focal point of a 629-acre park 10 miles from the city center. Built in 1929 as a private country estate, the house and stables are now open to the public, as are the extensive gardens.
The rest of the park offers free access to miles of hiking trails and bridle paths through the woods. Horseback riding is available, and an amphitheater hosts concerts and stage performances in the summer. On winter evenings, there are candlelight tours of the mansion.
Address: 200 Hartwood Acres, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
5. Idlewild & SoakZone
A popular day trip from Pittsburgh for families, the award-winning kids' park includes seven separate themed areas with two roller coasters, a Ferris wheel, whip ride, historic carousel, and a water park with 11 more attractions. Kids can get and stay wet in the hydro racers; the Pipeline Plunge; Wowabunga Family Wave Pool; or on Float Away Bay, a 200-yard tubing river.
Younger children love the Little Squirts pool and Captain Kidd's Adventure Galley with six water slides and plenty of spray and splash features. Nursery rhymes and fairy tales come to life at the Enchanted Castle, where would-be King Arthurs can try to pull the sword, Excalibur, from the stone.
Address: 2574 US-30, Ligonier, Pennsylvania
Official site: www.idlewild.com
6. Fort Necessity National Battlefield
Cited as the opening encounter of the French and Indian Wars, the Battle of Fort Necessity on July 3, 1754 wasn't one of George Washington's better moments. Although the war finally resulted in the British colonial army driving the French out of the northern colonies, the young Colonel Washington was forced to surrender here to the far stronger French forces who had established themselves at Fort Duquesne, in what is now Pittsburgh.
The simple palisaded wooden fort Washington's men built here has been replicated in the Great Meadow, and the visitor center offers talks, tours, and demonstrations of historic weapons in the summer.
Also part of the park, Mount Washington Tavern, built in 1827, was one of the inns for travelers on the National Road and displays artifacts from that era. Five miles of hiking trails are here, and another half-mile loop with interpretive signs is at Jumonville Glen, about seven miles from the battlefield where Washington had his first encounter with the French troops.
Address: 1 Washington Parkway, Farmington, Pennsylvania
Official site: https://www.nps.gov/fone
7. Johnstown Inclined Plane and Flood Memorial
Built following the disastrous Johnstown flood of 1889, the Inclined Plane connected the downtown area with the far higher Westmont, which was being developed into a residential neighborhood. But during later floods, in 1936 and 1977, it proved an invaluable escape route for people in the lower town and a means of getting help and supplies to the flooded area.
At the height of Johnstown's steel mill production, the lift carried as many as a million passengers annually. It is the world's steepest incline carrying a vehicle, supporting 30-foot cars capable of holding 30 passengers.
When South Fork Dam gave way on May 31, 1889, the 20 million tons of water it released devastated the city and took 2,209 lives. It also brought out the largest outpouring of public support to that date, with people from all over the world rallying to help the homeless survivors.
Rangers at the Johnstown Flood National Memorial lead guided van tours and hikes to sites connected with the flood, following the path of the flood waters.
Address: 206 Johns Street, Johnstown, Pennsylvania
Official site: http://www.inclinedplane.org/
8. Quecreek Mine Rescue Site Historical Landmark
A story with a happy ending captivated the world's attention in 2002, when nine miners were trapped 240 feet below the surface in a coal mine for 77 hours. The story of their five-day ordeal in cold and darkness, and the tireless work to rescue them when success seemed hopeless, is told at the site of the rescue.
The memorial site is a work in progress as funds are raised to create a permanent home here for memorabilia, first-hand accounts, equipment, and the rescue capsule that finally brought them to safety.
Near the shaft, which you can also see, is a seven-foot bronze statue of a coal miner. The site is often staffed by family members of the trapped miners and those who took part in the rescue.
Address: 151 Haupt Road, Somerset, Pennsylvania
Official site: www.quecreekrescue.org/
9. Mystic Mountain Skiing and Nemacolin Woodlands Golf
Set on 2,000 wooded acres in the Laurel Highlands, the four-season Nemacolin Woodlands Resort offers skiing and snow sports in the winter and two championship golf courses when the snow melts.
Mystic Mountain's seven downhill skiing and snowboarding slopes are served by a quad chair lift and a beginner tow and are all lit for night skiing. Along with a tubing park, winter sports include dog sledding with Alaskan huskies, sleigh rides, cross-country skiing, and snowshoe trails.
Address: 1001 Lafayette Drive, Farmington, Pennsylvania
More Related Articles on PlanetWare.com
Exploring Pittsburgh: While in the city, you'll want to see the tourist attractions in Pittsburgh, and you can find suggestions on hotels here with our pages on Where to Stay in Pittsburgh and Top-Rated Hotels in Pittsburgh.
Where to Go Next: If you enjoyed the trails and outdoor activities of the Laurel Highlands, you'll find more top-rated hiking trails in Pennsylvania, and other outdoor activities among the attractions in West Virginia, which borders the Pittsburgh region on the south and west.