Rachel Carson Trail
A 35-mile day-hiking trail just outside Pittsburgh, PA
The Rachel Carson Trail is a hiking trail north and east of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, spanning 35.7 miles (57.4 kilometers) between Harrison Hills County Park in the extreme northeast corner of Allegheny County, and North Park in the north-central area of the county. The trail is extremely varied, traversing several county parks, following power and gas lines, skirting suburban homes and farms, crossing creeks, meandering through woods and fields, and passing along the edge of steep bluffs. The terrain along the route ranges from paved roads to some areas that are quite primitive and rugged. Spurs lead into the mansion area at Hartwood Acres County Park in Indiana Township and the Rachel Carson Homestead in Springdale. Continuing urban development along the route of the trail brings disruption and requires rerouting from time to time. There are no camps or shelters along the way, meaning the trail is intended for day-hiking. The trail is relatively primitive and steep in places. Few bridges have been built, so many streams have to be crossed as-is.
At all times while hiking the Rachel Carson Trail, please:
- Be courteous to people living along the trail.
- Remember, you are generally on private property.
- Respect the land and its owners. If asked to leave, do so.
- Stay on the trail.
- Do not camp or build fires along the trail.
- Refrain from bringing dogs and bicycles on the trail.
- Keep off the trail with motorized vehicles.
- Carry out your own trash; help by picking up others’ litter.
- Recognize your limitations and your assumed risk. The Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy and the landowners want you to enjoy your hike; neither will take the responsibility for personal injury or losses while using the trail.
- An erosion-control reroute is now in place on the north slope of Murray Hill. High traffic on this steep hill has removed many of the plants and grasses, exposing the soil and accelerating erosion. The blazes will direct you into the woods, parallel to the gas line clearing, between Murray Hill Road and the crest of the hill. The slope has been seeded to encourage regrowth, so please follow the blazes. (25 Oct 2009)
- The trail has been rerouted around the "roller coaster" utility corridor in Springdale at landowner request, due to problems with hikers crossing their property:
- Westbound from Freeport Road, follow the utility corridor until you reach the chain link fence of the Springdale High athletic field and turn left (this is also the Rachel Carson Homestead spur trail). When you reach the road (Butler Street), bear right, then left on Marion Avenue. Follow it until it ends and enter the woods.
- Eastbound, after crossing Tawney Run Road, turn right before crossing the run and follow the old railbed. (May 2010)
- The trail has been rerouted around the perimeter of the horse farm in Harrison Township. Pay special attention to the blazing in this area to ensure you're following the new route. Please close all gates behind you, don't approach any horses, and don't pet any dogs, lest they follow you. (7 April 2009)
Presently the trail is in good shape; it's clear and well-blazed. Volunteer work crews address problem areas in the spring. If you encounter any difficulties with trail conditions, blazing, or landowners, please email the trail manager at email@example.com.
The Conservancy endeavors to keep the trail off paved roads as much as possible, and occasionally explores route changes to this end. About 27% of the trail, or 9.5 miles, is along roads. Most of these are lightly travelled, but some carry fast-moving traffic and have dangerous curves. Please use extreme caution at all times. Yield for traffic and never assume drivers can see you.
A printed guide to the Rachel Carson Trail is available for a nominal fee. The guide includes a section-by-section trail description, topographic maps, trail information, and general hiking tips. For ordering information, see the Merchandise page.
- Western trailhead
From Pittsburgh, take I279 North to the McKnight Road exit and travel 6.4 miles north. Take the North Park/Ingomar Rd. exit east and turn left at the third traffic light onto Babcock Blvd. The parking lot is on the left at the next intersection with Pearce Mill Road (aka Pierce Mill Road), and the Beaver Shelter is at the far end of the lot. The trailhead is in the woods across the causeway (map).
- Eastern trailhead
From Pittsburgh/northeast, take Route 28 to exit 16, turn east (right if exiting northbound) at the end of the ramp onto Millerstown Road and follow it to the T intersection with Freeport Road. There is a parking area on the left at this intersection for at least three cars (see Trail Alert above). The trailhead is directly across Freeport Road (map).
In 1950, the Baker Trail - a foot trail extending from the Highland Park Bridge in Pittsburgh to Cook Forest State Park (100 miles north) - was dedicated by the Pittsburgh Council of the American Youth Hostels. After several years, the 25 miles within Allegheny County were abandoned largely due to development. During the years 1972 to 1975, dedicated hikers scouted and rebuilt much of the former trail following the bluffs of the Allegheny River from Harrison Hills County Park to Springdale and then turned west past Hartwood Acres and on to North Park.
Because the trail passes close by the birthplace in Springdale of Rachel Carson, one of the early ecologists, the trail was dedicated in her name. The Rachel Carson Trail was completed in February 1975.
- See the February 1975 map of the trail here (187kB, PDF format). Note the absence of the Allegheny Valley Expressway.
- Read an October 1973 article about the Allegheny Expressway from the now-defunct Pittsburgh Press here (517kB, PDF format). The Allegheny Valley Expressway is today known as Route 28, and Freeport Road is old Route 28.
These are the volunteers who have adopted and committed to maintain a section of the trail:
|Western Terminus||Sample Rd||2.75||Bob Istone|
|Sample Rd||Route 8||1.55||Dave Syiek|
|Route 8||Middle Rd||2.08||Mark Eyerman|
|Middle Rd||Route 910||2.32||Tom Kalbaugh|
|Hampton (spur)||Hartwood Acres Park||1.07||N/A|
|Route 910||Emmerling Park||2.08||Tim Kirby|
|Emmerling Park||Rich Hill Rd||2.33||Tom & John Armstrong|
|Rich Hill Rd||Russellton Rd||1.23||Tom & John Armstrong|
|Russellton Rd||Butler Rd||2.55||Joe Kulbacki|
|Butler Rd||Riddle Run Rd||1.69||Dave McConahy & Carl Detzel|
|Springdale (spur)||Rachel Carson Homestead||0.43||N/A|
|Riddle Run Rd||Agan Park entrance||2.03||Dave McConahy|
|Agan Park entrance||Crawford Run Rd||2.00||Carl Detzel|
|Crawford Run Rd||Bailey Run Rd||1.85||Tim Leidig|
|Bailey Run Rd||Bull Creek Rd||2.68||Kate Fissell|
|Bull Creek Rd||Burtner Rd||2.19||Diane & Joe Kostka|
|Burtner Rd||Alter Rd||1.91||Dave McConahy & Carl Detzel|
|Alter Rd||Freeport Rd||1.37||Diane & Joe Kostka|
|Freeport Rd||Eastern Terminus||3.50||Diane & Joe Kostka|