Weekend Backpacker: Pittsburgh
Tucked away in a wrinkled, crinkled confusion of foothills and valleys where the western edge of the Allegheny Mountains meet the flatlands, the city of Pittsburgh sits at the confluence of three riversthe Allegheny and Monongahela merging to form the Ohio. Cloaked in a cape of green, Pittsburgh boasts an extraordinary number of trees for an urban area, thanks to its rugged topography. Blessed with a massive network of long-distance hiking trails, Pennsylvania offers fun getaways for the weekend backpacker, with plenty of variety available within a three-hour drive of metropolitan Pittsburgh. Grab your pack, head out on the highway, and savor western Pennsylvania's very best.
To kick-start your trip, pick up a copy of 50 Hikes in Western Pennsylvania, one in a series of three comprehensive books by the founder of Pennsylvania's Mid-State Trail, veteran trail maintainer Tom Thwaites. You'll find the smaller, lesser-known trail guides and topo maps at Eastern Mountain Sports locations in the suburban malls. You can also pick up local hiking guides at the comprehensive Pittsburgh Travel Center, located in the Pittsburgh AYH Hostel, open noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Visit them in Allentown at 830 East Warrington Avenue at the corner with Arlington; call (412) 431-4910 to verify hours and directions.
Stewards of much of the wilderness surrounding Pittsburgh, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy provides detailed descriptions of hikes on conservancy lands to its members. Get in touch with them via: Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, Box R, Mill Run, PA 15464, or phone (412) 288-2777.
Pittsburgh Hiking Clubs
New to the outdoors? Join the club-any club. You've got your pick in the Pittsburgh metro area, all with monthly meetings and fun programs:
The Allegheny Group of the Sierra Club has offered backpacking courses for more than a decade and runs about seventy outings a year, ranging from cross-country skiing to backpacking and rock climbing. Outings are open to non-members, but members receive The Sierran, detailing outing information and conservation news.
The Butler Outdoor Club focuses on education and camaraderie in the outdoors. Members participate in a variety of activities such as hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing. The club also sponsors a backpacking class through Butler County Community College and is responsible for maintaining the western Pennsylvania segment of the North Country Trail.
Members of the Explorer's Club of Pittsburgh don't just hike, they climb mountains, rappel into caves, and sail across the Atlantic. Founded in 1947, the club adopted the motto"Research, Education, and Adventure." The group runs many formal courses, including map and compass, backpacking, rock climbing, rafting, and mountaineering.
Hostelling International, Pittsburgh Chapter (AYH), offers a wide range of outdoor group activities to members, from hiking and backpacking to cycling, rafting, rock climbing, and sailing; members also maintain the Baker Trail and the Rachel Carson Trail.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication