By: Suni Lee
When I tell people that I am from Arizona, often the response I get is, “Why in the world would anyone from Arizona want to live in Pittsburgh?!”

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View from the San Francisco Peaks in Flagstaff, Arizona

My answer to that question is easy: I love Pittsburgh. I do, however, understand their confusion as both the wilderness areas and the winter weather in Arizona are truly beautiful. I would be lying if I said I don’t miss the rugged mountains and wide open spaces of my Arizona home. As for the weather – perhaps because I grew up on the fringes of the hot, arid, and dusty Sonoran Desert – I actually enjoy Pittsburgh weather.
In 2002, when I first came to Pittsburgh to go to graduate school, I was excited to discover that my concept of the city as an environmentally wrecked and ugly urban area was way wrong. I arrived by car from the airport, so my very first view of the city came as I passed out of the Fort Pitt Tunnel and crossed over the bridge. The scene was stunningly beautiful. Like other first-time visitors, I wanted to stop right on the bridge to take pictures.
After I got settled into my new home, I began exploring the area, looking for places to hike. It didn’t take me long to discover that Southwestern Pennsylvania has an incredible number of Federal, state, and local parks within easy driving distance of Pittsburgh, and nearly all of them have good hiking trails. Here are three of my favorites:

Raccoon Creek State Park

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Autumn Leaves on the Appaloosa Trail, Racoon Creek State Park

The thing I like best about Raccoon Creek State Park is its diversity of short and long hiking trails. Depending upon how much time I have or how far I want to hike, I can easily find a trail to fit my needs. The trails have always been very well marked, and when I go during the week I often feel as though I have the entire park to myself as I rarely meet other hikers. After I finish a hike, I sometimes like to drive down to the public beach at Raccoon Lake to sit in the sunshine and enjoy the serenity of the place. Of course, in the fall, the park is ablaze with color. It’s one of my favorite places to take photos.
For more information go to: Raccoon Creek State Park

Cook Forest State Park

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On the Joyce Kilmer Trail in Cook Forest State Park

The Cook Forest State Park is famous for its “old growth forests,” which are forests that have somehow managed to survive for more than 180 years without being logged, burned, or otherwise damaged by severe weather. I have often pondered what our forests looked like before settlers began altering the landscape, so when I learned that there are four old growth forest areas in Cook Forest State Park and some of the trees there are estimated to be 450 years old, I immediately wanted to go see them.
Cook Forest State Park is about a two-hour drive from Pittsburgh so a hiking trip could be done in a day.  But with so many hiking trails and forest areas to explore, you may want to plan a longer visit.
For more information go to:
Old Growth Forests at Cook Forest State Park (look for the tab on the right)
Hiking Trails in Cook Forest State Park

Beaver Creek State Park

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View of Little Beaver Creek in Beaver Creek State Park

I like Beaver Creek State Park, which is just over the border in Ohio, because a river runs through it. The river ecosystem changes through the four seasons, so I enjoy hiking in the park all year long. In fact, this is one of my favorite places to hike in the dead of summer because even on a hot day it’s generally cool along the river. Also, most of the hiking trails are relatively short, and a number of picnic areas are located at intervals along the river making the park a great place for family outings.
For more information go to: Beaver Creek State Park
I’ve lived in the Pittsburgh area on and off for 12 years now and while I will always miss Arizona,  I’ve come to realize that whether I live in Arizona or Pennsylvania – or anywhere else for that matter – beautiful places to hike lie just beyond my doorstep. All I have to do is venture outdoors to find them.