One of the reasons Western Pennsylvania is a great place to live is the wealth of opportunities for outdoor activities within an easy driving distance.
McConnells Mill State Park is only about an hour north of the Pine-Richland area and a great place to spend a day hiking, rock climbing, white-water rafting, having a picnic or just simply relaxing and enjoying nature.
The new ” by local author Anna Dubrovsky explains the geological history -- central to the park is a gorge created thousands of years ago by the draining of glacial lakes. The result is the home of the Slippery Rock Creek, large boulders and steep hillsides.
The 2,546-acre park has nine miles of hiking trails, two official climbing and rappelling areas and, of course, excellent -– and dangerous -- white-water rafting, according to Dubrovsky.
You will find park rangers staffing the 1800 gristmill that was the heart of the park in the olden days. Rangers offer guided tours of the mill Memorial Day through Labor Day.
During the McConnells Mill Heritage Festival on the last full weekend of September, you can see all sorts of demonstrations including the gristmill in action.
Take in the covered bridge as well, located adjacent to the gristmill parking area.
McConnells Mill trails offer varying levels of challenges for hikers. You can start at the Kildoo Picnic area at the top of the park and take a steep hike down to the gristmill and covered bridge. That is the best place to park unless you snag one of the coveted parking spots right next to the gristmill.
Hikers should use caution as we have been on the trails when they have been fairly muddy and slippery.
The trails are next to the wicked Slippery Rock Creek, so use caution when hiking with children as well. There are life rings located in strategic spots along the trails, but you don’t want to have to use them.
Local climbers enjoy the two climbing areas. My own sons have practiced on the “gentler” climbing area across from the mill. The other, Breakneck Bridge, is for more advanced and skilled climbers. Again, extreme caution is urged.
The rapids in the area are also a favorite for skilled kayakers, but swimming is to be avoided because of the danger of the rapid water. Several kayakers have lost their lives in this area over the years.
'The World's Coolest Toy Store'
While you are in the area, stop at one of my favorite places, Playthings Etc., billed as “The World’s Coolest Toy Store.” I have to agree with the billing.
Shaped as a stealth bomber, the store has amazing and fun toys. When you step inside, you feel like you are on another planet. There is everything from stocking stuffers and party favors to playhouses, riding toys and more.
Playthings, Etc. even offers “Toying with Science” field trips where various science toys are showcased that teach the principles of physics, biology, chemistry and magnetism.
Science can be fun? Yes!
The store is only a few miles from McConnells Mill.
McConnells Mill State Park is located at 2697 McConnells Mill Road in Portersville. Information: http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/parks/mcconnellsmill.aspx or 724-368-8091.
Playthings Etc. is located at 2483 William Flynn Highway [Route 8], Butler. Information: www.playthings-etc.com or 724-285-7529.
Day Tripper is a travel feature that Pine-Richland Patch publishes weekly about places that are within a day's drive.