Pittsburgh, PA: Raccoon Creek State Park

This 10-miler treks through babbling creeks, along an unending series of up-and-down slopes, and under the cover of white pine and hemlock forest.
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This 10-miler treks through babbling creeks, along an unending series of up-and-down slopes, and under the cover of white pine and hemlock forest.

This 10-mile day hike kicks off following Nichol Road south to pick up the Heron Trail as it snakes into the trees along a roller-coaster elevation profile. After dropping down to Upper Lake and its neighboring wetlands, the trail meanders north and joins up with Nichol Road again for a brief stretch before darting back into the trees just 0.3 mile later. From here, follow the Forest Trail is it traverses manageable mounds and descends contour lines along a steep ravine before crossing several creeks under the cover of a dense white pine forest. Turn around at the final creek crossing, or wander south to Raccoon Lake, following the Lake Trail as it returns west to rejoin the Forest Trail on the return trip. -Mapped by Mike Ciccone

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 16.1

Waypoints

RAC001

Location: 40.5225906, -80.4405441

Trailhead parking: This lot is marked incorrectly on the park's trailmap, so check at the ranger station on Route 18 when you enter the park. From here, turn right on Nichol Road to start hiking south-southeast.

RAC002

Location: 40.5164871, -80.4367828

Continue along Nichol Road. Pass a conspicuous totem pole.

RAC003

Location: 40.5162697, -80.4377365

Go right on the Heron Trail, a 4-foot wide path that veers sharply right a short ways up the trail. Just beyond this point, signs designate this area as a non-hunting zone.

RAC004

Location: 40.5159035, -80.4410095

Continue straight on trail, passing a sign for a camp. An arrow on the sign mistakenly marks the Heron Trail (where there is no trail).

RAC005

Location: 40.5133896, -80.442215

The trail descends steeply toward a lake/wetlands area. Near the bottom of this descent, the trail crosses a bridge and passes a pile of sticks that looks like the remnants of a shed.

RAC006

Location: 40.5113106, -80.4410171

Go right on the Wetlands Trail, a level path paralleling Upper Lake to the left.

RAC007

Location: 40.5182037, -80.4465713

Follow the trail as it takes a hard right into the woods, heading uphill. Along this stretch, the trail is peppered with large tree stumps that stick up a few inches above the ground (these stumps help hikers traverse boggy sections of the trail). Heading north-northwest, the trail crosses over a small creek twice (on bridges) before intersecting again with Nichols Road.

RAC008

Location: 40.5217552, -80.4478073

Turn left on Nichol Road at the end of the Wetlands Trail. In 0.3 mile up the road, the Forest Trail heads into the woods on the right side of the road. During hunting season, keep an eye out for hunters in treestands to the right.

RAC009

Location: 40.5260887, -80.4507217

Turn right off the road onto the Forest Trail. Here, a sign designates the trail for hikers only and lists distances for the Forest Trail (6.2 miles) and the Raccoon Creek Loop (19.5 miles). As the trail heads east, it heads steeply up a pair of hills which seem as if they sit on top of one another.

RAC010

Location: 40.5254021, -80.4469681

The trail descends a steep, 10-foot drop to a wood bridge with handrails on both sides. The bridge can be very slippery (as it crosses over a small creek). After crossing, the trial heads back uphill. Between here and Waypoint 11, the trail intersects Nichol Road twice (continue straight across the road at these junctions).

RAC011

Location: 40.5240631, -80.4404831

The trail appears to go straight ahead, but actually turns sharply to the left before jogging south.

RAC012

Location: 40.515686, -80.4311371

The trail continues straight and level several hundred feet above a creek. In 0.3 mile, it starts descending toward the creek and car traffic from Route 18 can be heard. Small landslides that may be partially blocking the trail on this stretch.

RAC013

Location: 40.5087013, -80.42453

Cross over a rather wide creek (8-10 feet wide) on a wood bridge (handrail on the left side). Shortly after the crossing, two boards suspended a foot above the ground assist in crossing a boggy area.

RAC014

Location: 40.5053635, -80.423172

The trail intersects with Route 18 (which splits the western and eastern sections of Raccoon Creek State Park). Go right on Route 18 for about 100 feet and then turn left, crossing (with caution) to continue on the Forest Trail. Here, the trail continues slowly uphill through a mix of white pine and hemlock trees. More stumps along the way aid in crossing the boggy areas.

RAC015

Location: 40.5044708, -80.4228744

At the Lake Trail intersection, continue on the Forest Trail as it heads east uphill. There is no sign for the Forest Trail heading in this direction, but you will see it marked on the backside of the post for the return trip. Just atop this hill, the trail enters a dense white pine forest.

RAC016

Location: 40.5057983, -80.4149628

The trail makes a sharp left turn, following contour lines to the north. From here, there are some good views of neighboring hills and valleys.

RAC017

Location: 40.5088844, -80.4160461

Follow the trail as it makes a sharp hairpin to the right and begins switchbacking down a steep hill.

RAC018

Location: 40.5093536, -80.4152756

At the base of the hill, the trail meets the creek. Turn left and follow the creek north for roughly 70 feet to where it cuts off the trail. This is the most confusing interchange of the hike as the trail crosses over two creeks, but is not well-marked on the other side. After crossing both creeks, go right, but then make a quick left to continue uphill on the Forest Trail (which is marked with a sign).

RAC019

Location: 40.5096893, -80.4069443

The trail makes a sharp turn to the left and heads downhill to a creek in the next valley.

RAC020

Location: 40.5103149, -80.4069824

At the creek, turn around and retrace your steps back toward Waypoint 21. Extend your trip: Cross the creek and continue on to Raccoon Lake via the Forest Trail or the Lake Trail.

RAC021

Location: 40.5230827, -80.4395294

Turn left off the trail. Head southwest through the woods to reach the parking lot.

Wetlands

Location: 40.5120047, -80.4424953

A wetland section off of Upper Lake. ©Mike Ciccone

Totem Pole

Location: 40.516605, -80.437088

©Mike Ciccone

Upper Lake

Location: 40.5113358, -80.4412293

©Mike Ciccone

Creek Crossing

Location: 40.5084808, -80.4244065

Looking back on a creek crossing. ©Mike Ciccone