Plan a day trip or an overnight stay to experience the great outdoors at any of these seven spots, all within a two-hour drive from Pittsburgh. Each area has the natural amenities to support a range of activities, including hiking, biking, boating, climbing, camping, and more! Many of the parks and campsites are open from April through December, or even year-round in some spots, so you can go on an adventure whenever it strikes your fancy.
Cheat Lake & Coopers Rock State Forest
We’re venturing over the Pennsylvania border for this one, but trust us, it’s worth it for the wild and wonderful views that you’ll get! Cheat Lake and the adjoining Coopers Rock State Forest are located just outside of Morgantown, West Virginia, about an hour and 40 minutes from Pittsburgh. Cheat Lake is a gorgeous reservoir that’s full of options for aquatic activities, such as kayaking, paddle boarding, and boating. Look for alcoves to pull off into with your group if you want to swim or just hang out on the lake; you may just come across some rope swings too. Head into the state forest for the hidden waterfalls, the stunning view from the main overlook, and the hiking trails, including the unique Rock City Trail. For camping, Coopers Rock has 25 sites with electric hookups and 25 primitive camp sites, all of which are pet-friendly and can be reserved in advance. Rumor has it that there are plenty of unofficial areas to camp that are only accessible by boat from Cheat Lake, but if you prefer something that’s on the grid, you could also try Chestnut Ridge Park or Sand Springs Campground for tent and RV sites.
McConnells Mill State Park
McConnells Mill State Park, which lies just north of Pittsburgh, has over 2,500 acres of spectacular scenery, including a National Natural Landmark called Slippery Rock Creek Gorge. Tour a 19th century gristmill and step back in time over the covered bridge, take in the sights of the Cleland Rock Overlook and the sounds of the rushing water at the Slippery Rock Creek, or hike 14 miles on the Slippery Rock Gorge Trail. If you have an adventurous spirit, McConnells Mill State Park is also a popular hangout for the rock climbing, bouldering, and whitewater kayaking crowds. Breakneck Campground offers both primitive and semi-primitive sites for tent campers, as well as huts, decks, and cabins for those who prefer to sleep with a layer of lumber between themselves and the ground. They also have fire pits and sand volleyball courts on site, plus recommendations for local attractions and activities on their website.
Moraine State Park & Lake Arthur
Moraine State Park and Lake Arthur are just a hop, skip, and jump away from McConnells Mill State Park, but they offer a variety of other activities and camping options. Boating, biking, and swimming abound here, with thousands of acres of state park and manmade lake available for your enjoyment. The subtle rolling hills and paved trails that weave through the park are perfect for biking and running, or you can find mountain bike trails in the woods if you prefer terrain that’s a bit more rugged. The park also has an excellent disc golf course that overlooks the water. You can rent boats from Crescent Bay Marine at Lake Arthur, including pontoons, tillers, kayaks, and canoes, or take a Nautical Nature Boat Tours with the Moraine Preservation Fund, so grab your friends for a chilled out day on the lake. Additionally, there are multiple public beaches with swimming and amenities. Moraine State Park has cabins and organized group tent sites for camping, or head to Bear Run Campground for both RV hookups and primitive sites (both car camping and secluded options are available).
Ohiopyle State Park
Ohiopyle State Park is one of the most popular outdoor getaways in Pennsylvania, with good reason. The Youghiogheny River Gorge that runs through the park offers some of the state’s best whitewater rafting and kayaking, and fishing spots are plentiful. Hike to Cucumber Falls or if you’re more of a risktaker, ride the park’s natural waterslides. Ohiopyle is part of the mountainous Laurel Highlands region, but the flat, wide trails that run through its woods adjacent to the water make for a peaceful biking experience (it’s also part of the long distance GAP bike trail). Stay in the State Park’s Kentuck Campground, which has just about everything imaginable in addition to standard tent camping, from walled-in tents to yurts to walk-in sites. Additionally, the Laurel Highlands website offers a list of 44 different campsites, including RV resorts and family campgrounds with in-ground pools, plus cabin and tent camping sites.
Laurel Hill State Park
Laurel Hill State Park isn’t far from Ohiopyle in the Laurel Highlands, but it offers its own set of outdoor activities and unique scenery. For the best photo ops, hike through the woods to the top of Jones Mill Dam or stand amongst the tall trees in the Hemlock Trail Natural Area. Laurel Hill State Park has a large garden where you can frolic in the flowers or watch the butterflies and the birds, and the beach is just a short walk away. You’ll enjoy the surrounding views of the three-covered hills from this lowkey lake, and activities include a fishing pier, a swimming area with a beach volleyball court, plus canoe, kayak, rowboat, hydrobike, stand up paddleboard, and paddleboat rentals. The neighboring Roaring Run Natural Area, a protected natural area, has eight hiking trails, a mountain stream, and infinite opportunities to observe the local wildlife. For a relaxing 14-mile rail trail ride, bike the nearby Indian Creek Valley Trail from Jones Mills to Indian Head and back. Seven Springs is also close by and has tons of outdoor activities, including its Downhill Mountain Bike Park, a paintball course, the Alpine Slide and Alpine Tower, skiing and snowboarding during the winter, plus restaurants, bars, and indoor amenities if the weather doesn’t hold up. For camping, stay at any of the 262 sites that are available year-round at Laurel Hill State Park, or check out privately owned sites in the area like Hickory Hollow Campground and Pioneer Park Campground.
Raccoon Creek State Park
For a laidback outdoor experience that’s under an hour’s drive from Pittsburgh, look no further than Raccoon Creek State Park! The focus of this wooded park is on nature and environmental conservation. Hike through 42 miles of trails, explore the colorful Wildflower Reserve, or attend an environmental education program. Take an easy mile-long hike to the Frankford Mineral Spring Falls and notice the ruins of an old 1800s and 1900s resort hotel along the way; the hotel was based around the mineral springs, which were thought to have healing powers at the time. To incorporate even more water into your outing, canoe, kayak, or row at Raccoon Lake, fish at the lake and nearby creeks, or lay out on the beach and get an ice cream cone. Modern cabins, tent camping, and organized group camping are all available for onsite camping options.
Pymatuning State Park & Reservoir
At 16,892 acres, Pymatuning State Park is one of the largest state parks in Pennsylvania, and the attached reservoir is actually the largest lake in the commonwealth. Picnicking, kayaking, boating, and swimming are some of the most popular activities here, with multiple beaches, boat rental shops, and ramps dotting the lakeshore. Pontoon boating may be the best way to see the Pymatuning with family and friends, and if you’re lucky enough that the clouds stay away, maybe you’ll catch one of the lake’s stellar sunsets. The park is also famous for its fish, so grab your gear and get down to the water, or stop by The Spillway to feed the carp, ducks, and geese. For more wildlife, eagle watch at the Wilson Boat Launch, or swing by the Pymatuning Deer Park. Pymatuning State Park has hundreds of campsites with full hookups for RVs, modern cabins, and rustic tent camping. Other private campgrounds surround the area, such as Crystal Springs Campground (a modern campground with amenities) or camping at the neighboring Conneaut Lake Park (tent, cabin, and RV sites).This content was provided by a local, independent contributor to Made in PGH, a lifestyle blog.