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Venturing Outdoors in Western Pennsylvania

Michael Schiller
Executive Director
Venture Outdoors


One of Pittsburgh's best kept secrets is the incredible wealth and diversity of outdoor recreational amenities available in this region. It's a fact that just about every outdoor activity you could possibly want can be found within a 90-minute drive of downtown Pittsburgh. If it's hiking, biking, canoeing, kayaking, rock-climbing, whitewater rafting, caving, fishing, sailing or a host of other outdoor activities, western Pennsylvania provides some of the best all-around opportunities of anywhere in the country.

Pennsylvania has nearly achieved the vision of Dr. Maurice Goddard, the first Secretary of the state's Department of Environmental Resources, whose dream was to ensure that there would be a state park within 25 miles of every Pennsylvania citizen. What's more, Pennsylvania has built more miles of rails-to-trails (970) and has more miles under development (640) than any other state in the Union.

A couple of years ago, BIKE magazine named Pittsburgh as one of the top five cities for mountain biking in the country. This recognition was not only for the terrific trails - it was also for the convenience and ease of access to these trails. With our network of trails in Pittsburgh's four primary city parks, the 11 county parks and multiple state parks within an hour's drive, including the mountain bike meccas of Laurel Mountain and Blue Knob, enthusiasts have a mix of terrain to use year-round.

And with so many magnificent rivers, it's no wonder paddling and boating draw thousands of people annually. In fact, Pittsburgh is home to the second-highest number of registered pleasurecraft in the country.

Ohiopyle, located in the Laurel Highlands about an hour southeast of downtown Pittsburgh, is the birthplace of whitewater paddling in this region and it remains a thrilling location for adventure. But the Youghiogheny, Conemaugh, Kiskiminetas, Allegheny, Clarion, Beaver, French Creek, Chartiers Creek, Slippery Rock Creek, and even the Monongahela and Ohio Rivers provide countless miles of flat and whitewater navigable by canoe and kayak for everyone from the beginner to the expert, with plenty of outfitters and liveries to help manage the trip.

The popularity of paddling has grown to where Venture Outdoors now operates a kayak and canoe rental concession in downtown Pittsburgh - the first of its kind in this region - so that downtown office workers can get out on the river during their lunch hour. And yes, paddlers can go through the locks - it's great fun.

All those streams and rivers offer great and abundant fishing as well, from steelhead in the northwestern part of Pennsylvania to the thrill of a native brook trout in the Laurel Highlands to the 28 different species caught in 2003 from downtown's Point State Park. That includes three threatened or endangered species that are finding their way back again.

Don't forget all the glorious hiking. City and county parks provide ample opportunities to walk five miles or more on dirt trails and occasionally glimpse downtown's skyscrapers through the canopy of foliage. Quebec Run Natural Area in the Laurel Highlands, the old growth hemlock stands of Cooks Forest and the 70-mile end to end Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail, are just a few of the many state, county, and municipal parks that offer a wealth of beautiful places to walk.

If it's more adventure you crave, consider caving - we have several commercial caves, such as Laurel Caverns and Indian Caverns, and many other private caves located nearby. Or rock-climbing at McConnell's Mill State Park and nearby Coopers Rock State Park in West Virginia. Or the latest craze - geo-caching, which is kind of a high-tech treasure hunt. According to geocache.com, there are more than 1,100 geo-caches located within the city of Pittsburgh.

Winter has its own outdoor adventures. With several good snowy winters recently, the region has seen a surge in people out cross country skiing, downhill skiing, and even snowshoeing. All those summer hiking trails become great winter tracks - it's not unusual to have all the skis and snowshoes in a rental shop out on the trails. On your way to the trails, look up and you may see some ice-climbers on the frozen waterfalls overlooking the local highways. And SKI magazine has named Seven Springs Mountain Resort, located about an hour from Pittsburgh, as the #1 ski resort in the Mid-Atlantic Region.

And Western Pennsylvania's forests and countrysides continue to be among the best deer hunting grounds in the Eastern United States.

There really is more recreation within a short drive of downtown Pittsburgh than almost any other city in the country. Many people are just now discovering these local treasures, but for the variety and ease of access to so much outdoor recreation, it's hard to beat Western Pennsylvania.


Mike Schiller is the Founder and Executive Director of Venture Outdoors, a Pittsburgh-based non-profit organization with 1,300 members whose mission is to get people outdoors. Mike can be reached at [email protected] or 412-255-0564 x22.

 

 

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