Nature

Oil Creek State Park

Western Pennsylvania has an abundance of extraordinary places to hike. A few of these, such as Oil Creek State Park in northern Venango County, provide substantial regional history along with a scenic landscape. This 7,300-acre forested park along the 12-mile stream valley of Oil Creek contains 52 miles of trails. Some are rugged routes of …

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Bennett Branch Forest

About two and a half hours northeast of Pittsburgh, almost to Benezette, Pa., there is a deeply forested property called Bennett Branch Forest. The 1,500-acre tract is owned by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and nearly surrounded by Moshannon State Forest. A visitor can hike Bennett Branch Forest on old logging roads and seldom see another …

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Elk Creek in Erie County

Unusual and beautiful places lie just off the beaten path in Erie County—sites that even those who frequently travel to Pennsylvania’s northwesternmost county may not know. Most visitors to Erie County are familiar with Presque Isle, the curved spit of land that juts into Lake Erie and harbors a wide range of unusual flora and …

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A Natural Playground

It’s a sunny summer Sunday afternoon and everybody’s out there. Pittsburghers in pairs and groups and alone, walking or running or being pushed along in strollers, with or without dogs of every size and breed—they lace the trails from Homewood Cemetery to Duck Hollow. An Ultimate Frisbee game electrifies the Fern Hollow playing field, while …

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Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail

Many of us from Pittsburgh regularly visit the Laurel Highlands to ski, hunt or fish. But to really get a feel for the forests and streams of the Laurel Highlands, a long hike can be a way to see more and to get a better sense of this exceptional place. One of the best hikes …

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Lost Turkey Trail

One of the more remote hiking trails in western Pennsylvania is the Lost Turkey Trail. The western end of this 26-mile trail is in Gallitzin State Forest in northeastern Somerset County. The trail then passes into Bedford and Cambria counties across State Game Lands 26, and ends in Blue Knob State Park. With one trailhead …

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Hardwood Trails, Bedford County

One of my favorite places to hike and explore is a property not far to the east of the Laurel Highlands. Driving east along the Pennsylvania Turnpike just past Somerset takes you across the eastern continental divide into the Chesapeake Bay watershed, where the Laurel Highlands give way to the Ridge and Valley area. This …

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Quebec Run Wild Area, Fayette County

One of the nicest hikes in western Pennsylvania is the Quebec Run portion of Forbes State Forest. Quebec Run is located in the southern Laurel Highlands on the eastern flank of Chestnut Ridge, in Fayette County, and is a property with beautiful streamside trails, rhododendron thickets, sandstone outcrops, eastern hemlock groves, and a mature dry …

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The Urban Bear

State bear biologist Mark Ternent pulls an oversized syringe from an arsenal of gear at the back of his truck, loads it with a strong sedative, and affixes it to a dart with hot-pink fletching. With spring three days away and the mountains around Johnstown energized with emerging life, Ternent and his Pennsylvania Game Commission …

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Sideling Hill

One of the wonderful qualities of western Pennsylvania is that it offers out-of-the-way locations with varied landscape and terrain. The unique characteristics of each place are often the result of geology. One of these places is Sideling Hill Creek in southern Bedford County. The pristine waters of Sideling Hill Creek flow through narrow valleys with …

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You’re in ‘Steelie Country’

When summer gives way to early fall and warm days yield to cool nights, an annual obsession begins to surface on Lake Erie streams. Steelhead and those enamored of the silvery salmonid (Oncorhynchus mykiss) migrate en masse to dozens of tributaries in Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York. Anglers wade knee-deep into the chilly, slate-blue water …

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White Rocks

One of the region’s most beautiful and diverse outdoor destinations is the Laurel Highlands. When people think of visiting the Laurel Highlands, they often focus on some of the best-known spots, such as Ohiopyle State Park, Fallingwater and Bear Run Nature Reserve, or the Ligonier Valley. But farther south are more remote parts of the …

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Raccoon Creek

In 1960, newspaper columnist max henrici recounted his first visit, 20 years prior, to Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve: “It was a revelation. My eyes were opened to a multitude of interesting things… It is not too much to say that my life was revolutionized by this experience….” Henrici became a great amateur botanist and author …

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The Wild Side

In his Westmoreland County office, Scott Tomlinson displays a photo of four men with camouflage-painted faces and a pile of dead deer in their blue pickup truck. As a state wildlife conservation officer, Tomlinson has apprehended dozens of poachers over the years, and the image has come to symbolize the bravado he has encountered again …

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Bear Run

Bear run, the stream that inspired Fallingwater, flows under the famous Frank Lloyd Wright house. In dramatic cascades, it drops in gradient 30 feet to provide the iconic waterfall view that we all know. But that familiar portion of the stream is just a part of Bear Run. More than five miles long, the stream …

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Along the River’s Edge

Thomas Lippert flicks his cigarette into the ashtray on his wooden kitchen table, its varnish worn away along the edge by years of wrists and elbows. Lippert starts each day here, waking early to supplement his nicotine with a quick breakfast. On the mustard-colored wall, a prominent image of Jesus watches over Lippert, who hasn’t …

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Wolf Creek Narrows

Near Slippery Rock, 45 minutes north of Pittsburgh, lies one of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy’s landscape gems: Wolf Creek Narrows. The property affords a hike with streamside views and, at times, beautiful wildflowers. Wolf Creek, the property’s centerpiece, begins to the north at Pine Swamp, which the conservancy acquired and protected, and flows down into …

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The Ligonier Valley

Located in the heart of the Laurel Highlands, the Ligonier Valley rests between the northern stretches of Chestnut Ridge and Laurel Ridge. Its pastoral scenic beauty includes productive farmland, historic farmhouses, and fields and woods crossed by the Loyalhanna, Indian and Tubmill creeks. The borough of Ligonier—site of a central battle of the French and …

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The Coast of Lake Erie

Pennsylvania’s Lake Erie coastline is a place of beauty, drama and hidden environmental treasures. The bluffs and beach along this shoreline and the nearby forested ravines and gorges, seasonal pools and interior tributaries, make a special destination for anyone intent on exploring Western Pennsylvania’s most interesting natural areas. The bluffs range from five to 90 …

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Rocks of Ages

The Laurel Highlands. The very name hints of a special place. Its boundaries lie in the eye of the beholder, but most agree that the Highlands are east and south of Pittsburgh in Somerset, Fayette and Westmoreland counties. Thousands of skiers, hunters, hikers and rafters enjoy this unique geography, but do they ever ponder how …

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Laurel Hill Creek

In Somerset County, the cold, clear waters of Laurel Hill Creek run through forests and farmland, state parks and backyards, joining the Casselman River and, just downstream, the Youghiogheny. This picturesque Laurel Highlands stream sustains native trout populations, the rare eastern hellbender salamander, and a way of life. Laurel Hill Creek draws locals and tourists …

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Fall Run Park

The verdancy of summer is best experienced in a narrow western Pennsylvania ravine. These places are particularly inviting after thundershowers wash the air crystal clear, polish the leaves to a glistening shine, and fill streams with roiling water. After the rain, the rising petrichor fills the valleys and tempts us to explore corridors winding under bowed …

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