10 Pennsylvania State Parks to Check Out

By Alyssa Stacy | Fall Intern ’19


PA state parks contain hidden gems and exciting things to do. Spend an afternoon, a day, or a weekend at the park with family and friends and reconnect with nature! Whether that be through camping, hiking, bike riding, or white water rafting (…the list goes on!) there’s something that everyone can enjoy!

Here’s 10 State Parks and their proximity to Pittsburgh:

Photo of Point State Park from DCNR Flickr

Point State Park

Point State Park | In Pittsburgh

Point State Park is located at the tip of the golden triangle and features a beautiful fountain that is a staple to the park. What was once Fort Pitt during the French and Indian War is now an ideal place to spend the day sunbathing by the fountain, hanging out with friends, and exploring the 36.4-acre park.

Fun Fact: The fountain’s water doesn’t come from any of the three rivers, but a “fourth river” that is below ground!

It’s the perfect place in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh to take a walk, go bike riding, fishing, boating, and kayaking. There’s a beautiful view of the city, Heinz field, and the rivers surrounding it.

Photo of Raccoon Creek State Park from DCNR Flickr

Raccoon Creek State Park

Raccoon Creek State Park | 23 Miles

This 7,572-acre park with a 101-acre lake is a place you have to visit.

There’s over 42 miles of trails that can be hiked and explored. Not only is there a campground where you can rent a cabin and stay the night, but there’s also small game hunting, swimming, boating, fishing, biking, and horseback riding trails.

It doesn’t just stop there, in the winter you can also go skiing, ice skating, and snowmobiling!

There’s also enviromental education programs, the Wildflower Reserve, and the Frankfort Mineral Springs.

Photo of Keystone State Park from DCNR Flickr

Keystone State Park

Keystone State Park | 35 Miles

Derry, PA is home to this 1,200-acre park that many enjoy taking vacations and day trips to visit. Keystone State Park has miles of trails, camping, cabin rentals, and a lake. It is a quick drive from Pittsburgh and is close to the Laurel Highlands.

Go fishing for trout and carp on the lake, hike along the trails, or go swimming! There’s also hunting, sledding, and boating depending on the time of year.

Photo of McConnells Mill State Park from DCNR Flickr

McConnells Mill State Park

McConnells Mill State Park | 41 Miles

Located in Portersville, McConnells Mill is the home to a gristmill and a covered bridge, both built in the 1800s and open to the public.

This 2,546-acre park was created by glacial lake drainage, which made deep valleys, scenic waterfalls, and many hiking opportunities.

Be careful around the water, as the Slippery Rock Creek Gorge is a dangerous whitewater creek that will swiftly take you into the current. Swimming is not permitted, but if you’re an experienced whitewater rafter, you can take a six mile ride down the creek!

Hike along the trails and you might find yourself at Hell’s Hollow Falls, an easier trek to make to see a waterfall. This isn’t the only waterfall though, many of the trails will lead to other beautiful waterfalls—if this sounds like your kind of thing, sign up for our 8 mile Waterfall Hike on 11/16/19!

Photo of Laurel Ridge State Park from DCNR Flickr

Laurel Ridge State Park

Laurel Ridge State Park | 63 Miles

This 13,625-acre park spans multiple counties and features a 70 mile hiking trail. It stretches across the Laurel Mountain from the Youghiogheny River (near Ohiopyle) to the Conemaugh Gorge (near Johnstown).

The scenic views provide great photo-ops, and the forest is filled with lush green leaves and plants. During the late spring/summer months, different types of flowers bloom along the forest floor. Check out the variety of bird life and the black bears that call the forest their home.

It’s the perfect place for hiking, wildlife watching, skiing, and hunting.

Ohiopyle State Park | 68 Miles

Ohiopyle is known for it’s perfect location of white water rafting along the Youghiogheny River Gorge on the Laurel Ridge. Any experience level can take on the challenging and exciting rapids! Or, join an authorized concessionaire on a raft for a guided trip!

The rapids aren’t the only thing this park has going for it. It has 20,500 acres to explore via hiking, biking, fishing, rock climbing, camping, and hunting—and that’s just a few! A couple waterfalls are throughout the park too and can be reached through the trails!

There’s unique opportunities for wildlife watching, if you’re lucky you may be able to spot white-tailed deer, black bears, bobcats, river otters, and bald eagles!

Pymatuning State Park | 89 Miles

Pymatuning State Park holds a special place in my heart since I spent a good chunk of my childhood camping here. It’s a 16,892-acre park, and the reservoir is a whopping 17,088 acres.

There’s a couple campgrounds in Pymatuming, Jamestown and Linesville- both excellent places to stay for the weekend and have pet friendly options!

Go tubing, kayaking, or canoeing down the Shenango River. Rent a pontoon or go boating on the lake for an eventful day out!

There’s also trails to hike, fishing, and hunting.

Another cool place to visit? The spillway! Feed the carp (and ducks) that gather around the spillway, it’s an awesome sight to see them so close!

Photo of Cook Forest State Park from DCNR Flickr

Cook Forest State Park

Cook Forest State Park | 93 Miles

This 11,536-acre park in northwestern PA is bordered by the Clarion River. It’s a National Natural Landmark, and is often referred to as the “black forest” of PA.

There are 52 miles of trails in which you might be able to spot black bears, deer, turkey, river otters, and more. You can enjoy hiking these trails, as well as bike riding, hunting, fishing, and kayaking!

Check out the history behind the park, and see the scenic views along the river.

Photo of Presque Isle State Park from DCNR Flickr

Presque Isle State Park

Presque Isle State Park | 128 Miles

Pennsylvania’s only “seashore” is just north of Pittsburgh! The 3,200-acre park offers a sandy peninsula and a coastline that many vacation to. It is located in Erie, and is a favorite spot for many.

Fun Fact: The word “Presque” means “almost an island” in French. Several times, the park has been an island due to storm waves.

Go swimming in Lake Erie, or walk/bike/skate along the trail that circles the park! Hike along the trails, and you might see a few of the 339 (recorded) bird species that are seen at the park.

Kinzua Bridge State Park | 142 Miles

This park has a staple like no other: a 301 ft. high railroad bridge that was partially destroyed to a tornado in 2003. The destroyed pieces of the bridge lay on the Kinzua Gorge floor, but visitors can walk what remains of the bridge and overlook the gorge, and the area around it.

The visitor center features exhibits and history behind the area, wildlife, the bridge, and its fall. Hike amongst the ruins of the bridge to get a closer look, or bike along the Kinzua Bridge Scenic Byway!

Wildlife in the area includes black bears, deer, coyotes, porcupines, bobcats, and more. Hunting is permitted in season.

Check out the PA DCNR website for more information on state parks, forests, and conservation!

Picture from Marc's Pittsburgh to New Orleans Trip, Courtesy of Marc Oddo

Marc Oddo is heading to Europe this Summer for an incredible kayak adventure

By Elena Shahen, 2019 Summer Intern

Marc Oddo, a Pittsburgh Native, will be embarking overseas on June 5th  to the Danube River. This is where he and a friend plan to kayak almost 2,000 miles. This is his second big Kayaking adventure.

Marc’s first big trip happened a few years ago. He saved up enough money working at Kayak Pittsburgh to paddle from the North Shore Kayak Pittsburgh location, all the way to New Orleans.

He first fell in love with kayaking when a friend gave him a kayak and he used it as a mode of transportation to get back and forth from work every day. 

I’m chasing clarity and a calm mind, and I feel like I should at least learn to appreciate life before I die
- Marc Oddo

Marc is inspired to take long paddling trips with two simple things in mind; the first being that he is going to die one day, and the second is clarity. Marc explained how kayaking allows him the space to think without worries of the past, present, or future. The river can pull his worries away on its current.

I’m chasing clarity and a calm mind, and I feel like I should at least learn to appreciate life before I die,” said Marc. More specifically, Marc has an appreciation for being able to wash his clothes and hair in the river every morning.

Picture from Marc's Pittsburgh to New Orleans Trip, Courtesy of Marc Oddo

So Marc takes to the water again, but this time he’ll be passing through 11 or 12 different Eastern European Countries. His journey will  begin in the Black Hills of Germany and end down at the Black Sea of Romania. This trip will take 2 to 3 months, with Marc averaging about 25 to 35 miles of paddling per day.

This is not new to him, being that he had paddled between 45 to 70 miles a day on the Ohio and Mississippi. Marc says he plans on steadily moving down the river, but looks forward to stopping in the bigger cities to check out any National Forests, Monastery Breweries, or other beautiful attractions along the way.

One of Marc’s favorite kayaking memories was when he pulled an overnight paddle during a full moon. He was coming from Louisville and was passing Fort Knox when Marc and his friend thought they both saw a UFO.

The rest of the night was eery, foggy, and quiet. By the time the sun rose and he could see the mile markers, Marc realized they had paddled over 70 miles. After that he found an amazing camp spot on the side of a cliff, and had the best sleep of his life.  

Picture from Marc's Pittsburgh to New Orleans Trip, Courtesy of Marc Oddo

“I’m still wary of taking on more exotic rivers of the world, so this is kind of a kiddie hill for me. I’ll get to understand logistics of travel better and hopefully it will lead me to other amazing river adventures across the world,” said Marc.

For his Europe trip, Marc is preparing for anything that could happen, from bad weather to gypsy robberies,  or maybe even some aggressive wildlife. He has only packed the essentials, tarp, hammock, bug net, cooking supplies, and rain gear. As for clothing he is taking a more unconventional approach and plans on having one pair of zippable pants, water shoes, and one or two shirts. One shirt reppin Venture Outdoors 🙂

Marc feels that his first steps at Kayak Pittsburgh is what lead him to go out and take big adventures like this one. Not only does he credit Kayak Pittsburgh for helping him learn how to judge if a river is save to paddle, river navigation, kayaking techniques, and general safety, but how Kayak Pittsburgh taught him about being okay with being an amateur.  

Picture from Marc's Pittsburgh to New Orleans Trip, Courtesy of Marc Oddo

“Seeing people kayak for the 1st time and coming back with huge smiles on their faces made me feel like if they can do it for an hour out there, I can do or a few hours anywhere,” said Marc.

So what is next for Marc Oddo? He definitely wants to plan for another big river trip next spring or even travel to the Southern Hemisphere for a paddle in the winter. Marc tells us he has something exciting brewing up in Sicily in September and will update us more when he can talk about it.  

I know everyone here at Venture Outdoors and Kayak Pittsburgh look forward to seeing Marcs updates on this journey, and if you want to learn more about his last big trip you can check out his blog 

Marc Oddo

When we look back at how we are today and our successes, we tend to think of our hardships first. So I say bring it on, and hopefully there will at least be a cold beer waiting for me somewhere.”

-Marc Oddo

Hey! Feeling inspired from Marc's Story?

Want to learn how you can get on the river? Get your feet wet and become a member at Venture Outdoors!

By: Danielle Levsky, Communications and Media Coordinator
On Wednesday, September 30 from 11:30 AM – 1:30 PM, Venture Outdoors will be hosting a celebration to commemorate another year of fishing with our favorite weekly, lunchtime fishing group – TriAnglers! We’ll be having potluck style snacks, singer-songwriter performances from the Pittsburgh Songwriters Circle, an appearance by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s John Hayes and, of course, fishing!

To prepare for this upcoming celebration, today’s blog will feature interviews with TriAnglers, information on a new freshwater fishing class, and details on John Hayes’ Friday Fish Report in the Post-Gazette.

Ask The TriAnglers

Iris Bejgrowicz and Alex Keim spoke with TriAnglers Ella Lipchick, Chet and Jenn Strohman, and Tommy Lippert to learn about their experiences with fishing and the program.
Ella Lipchick:
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Penn Hills and I’m 58 years old.

TriAngler Ella Lipchick
TriAngler Ella Lipchick

How long have you been coming to TriAnglers? What do you enjoy most about the program?
I’ve been coming to TriAnglers since 2003. I’ve also been deep-sea fishing off Virginia Beach and fishing in the Chesapeake Bay area. TriAnglers is great because we get free rods and bait and there’s good companionship, especially with another Angler, Judy, who always brings jumbo shrimp for others to use.
Any memorable catches?
Down at the Point, I caught 5 different species in an hour. September 2, 2015 was also very memorable: I caught a 16-inch bass, a 19-inch catfish, and a 12-inch flathead cat.
What’s your favorite part about fishing?
I like the scenery: the water, buildings, and bridges. I like the entire ambiance and the thrill of catching a fish.
Chet and Jenn Strohman:
How long have you been coming to TriAnglers? What do you enjoy most about the program?
We’ve been coming to TriAnglers for about 10 years and are Venture Outdoors members. We come for the people. It’s memorable to see all that’s come back to the river over the years. Chet also likes it as his social outing time.
What’s your favorite part about fishing?
It’s tactile and religious.
Chet’s mother, Carol Tabas, has been a generous supporter of TriAnglers to make it more accessible for people with disabilities. She is our champion!
TriAngler Tommy Lippert
TriAngler Tommy Lippert

Tommy Lippert:
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Spring Garden and I’m 54.
How long have you been coming to TriAnglers? What do you enjoy most about the program?
I’ve been coming to TriAnglers since it began, so around 2004 or 2005. The program is great because I like fishing, being around people, showing off the big fish I catch, and teasing others with my catches.
Any memorable catches?
My memorable catches are the 38-inch carp I caught at the Point and the 30-inch catfish I caught at North Shore.
What’s your favorite part about fishing?
I’ve fished since I could hold a rod at 12 years old. I have fished on Lake Ontario and throughout Canada with my dad.

Basic Freshwater Fishing Classes

For those interested in bettering their freshwater fishing skills, TriAngler and Fishing Instructor Karen Gainey offers a Basic Freshwater Fishing class beginning Monday, October 5 and running through Monday, November 23 from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM at King’s Family Restaurant in Wexford for $95.00.
Topics will include finding fish, tackle and bait, and techniques for Pennsylvania game, lake trout, walleye, bass, pike, musky, stripers, and more.
Call Karen for details at 412-310-7523.

Friday Fish Report

Every Friday, John Hayes of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette publishes a District Fishing Report, that often features our own TriAnglers in it. In the September 4 edition of the Friday Fish Report, John Hayes reported on Venture Outdoors and Trianglers in his Allegheny River section:

“Fishing instructor Karen Gainey of Avalon showed how it’s done Wednesday when a 24-inch flathead took her minnow off the North Shore during the TriAnglers lunchtime fishing break. Minnows were the go-to bait during the Venture Outdoors program as Mike Kirshenbaum of Squirrel Hill released an 18-inch flathead and Ella Lipchik of Penn Hills caught a nice smallmouth.”

And that’s a wrap!

Stay tuned for a new blog next week on David Bennett, recipient of the Mt. Washington Community Development Corporation (MWCDC) Outstanding Volunteer Award.

By: Danielle Levsky, new Communications and Media Coordinator

The kayaks all lined up and ready to go at North Shore.
The kayaks all lined up and ready to go at Kayak Pittsburgh – North Shore.

My move to Pittsburgh has been an adventure. I was offered the Communications and Media Coordinator position at Venture Outdoors at the start of August, and soon as I accepted, the gears started turning (and have not stopped since).
This isn’t my first rodeo with Pittsburgh. I spent my undergraduate years studying English and French at the University of Pittsburgh, getting to know the ins and outs of the city’s neighborhoods and surrounding parks. Even after I returned to Chicago, I longed to come back to Pittsburgh, the east coast’s treasure trove of cityscape and natural wonder.
I arrived and moved into my Pittsburgh studio on Sunday, August 23, then went to my first day of work the next day. I was starting at an interesting time: Kayak Pittsburgh’s season was coming to a close and planning for the following year was in the works. Our staff retreat was held on my second and third days of work where I learned more about our organization and staff than most people experience when starting a new job. We reviewed our program and mission accomplishments, set goals and brainstormed ideas for the future, climbed trees in our Executive Director’s front yard, and participated in a variety of team building activities. It was remarkably refreshing to get to know the personalities and goals of each of my coworkers so quickly. Since I would have a hand in working with each of them as I created social media, newsletter, and website content, I had a great foundation to start communicating in the most effective manner possible. As someone with the word ‘communications’ in her title, I’d say that’s pretty extraordinary.
During my on-boarding experience, I had a chance to meet with staff members individually and see how I could help them out. Two of my favorite meetings took place in most untraditional workplace settings: the Allegheny River and North Park Lake. As I had never been on a Kayak Pittsburgh paddle, our Kayak Pittsburgh Manager Vanessa Bashur and her adorable Pomeranian Penny took me to both locations so I could get to know the unique experience each venue had to offer.
Alex Keim sets up our kayaks at Kayak Pittsburgh - North Shore. Check out that beautiful skyline in the distance.
Alex Keim sets up our kayaks at Kayak Pittsburgh – North Shore. Check out that beautiful skyline in the distance.

At North Shore, the attendants were friendly and helpful in showing first or fiftieth time customers the ropes: signing a liability waiver, getting them strapped into their PFDs, going over the basics of kayaking, and launching customers into the Allegheny. It had been my first time kayaking in a year so I was reasonably nervous to get back into it. Penny, on the other hand, is a seasoned kayaker and couldn’t wait to get into Vanessa’s boat. I climbed into the yellow kayak with my paddle, grinning at Alex Keim who was helping Vanessa and me get our kayaks off the launching pad. “You ready?” he asked me and I nodded, bracing myself as I was launched into the water. I immediately began rowing my paddle to the left and right to steady myself, finally relearning the trick to hold the paddle in the water to steady myself, Vanessa and I took off in the direction of Point State Park, talking about Kayak Pittsburgh’s history and goals. We watched out for “water traffic,” like touring boats and service boats, as we crossed the river. Penny contributed her two cents, barking to us about the other kayakers we passed by on the water. We stopped several times along the way to marvel at the Pittsburgh skyline, the fountain at Point State Park peeking out next to the Fort Duquesne Bridge.
From left to right: Macie Ellis, Princess Penny and Vanessa Bashur
From left to right: Macie Ellis, Princess Penny and Vanessa Bashur lounging on the lake at Kayak Pittsburgh – North Park.

Then, we headed over to our second location for a little change of scenery. Fourteen miles out of the city and into the winding roads of North Park led us to the boat house, where more friendly attendants talked to me about kayaks, canoes, rowboats, Stand Up Paddle Boarding, and adult bikes. This time, Penny and I were both ready to get in the water. Vanessa, Penny and I were joined by Kayak Pittsburgh Site Supervisor Macie Ellis. Though my view couldn’t be more different than the first paddle, the fresh smell of the trees, calmness of the park and serenity of the green landscape brought its own perks. We leisurely glided down the smooth waters of North Park Lake as Vanessa and Macie explained their days and roles at this Kayak Pittsburgh location. Penny was feeling a lot calmer too, only getting chatty when she saw birds fly over our heads.
Reflecting on my experience, it’s no doubt that Kayak Pittsburgh is one of Venture Outdoors’ most popular programs. With outstanding views and ease of service at both locations, my social media campaigns can almost write themselves.
Danielle Levsky (me) having a blasty blast at North Park
Danielle Levsky (yours truly) having a blasty blast at Kayak Pittsburgh – North Park.

Beginning after Labor Day, on Tuesday, September 8, Kayak Pittsburgh will have Fall hours in place, with the last boat out at 6 PM and concessions closing at 7 PM.
Join us out on the water soon!