For Pittsburgh backpackers, most legit routes require a relatively long road trip, to the Laurel Highland Trail or paths in the Allegheny National Forest. The Raccoon Loop Backpacking Trail is a nearby exception.
The Raccoon Loop is a 19.5-mile route circling the entire park. It takes in all the terrain and sights the park has to offer. Those include ruins of a former resort, a 300-acre wildflower reserve, and a cabin that belonged to Pittsburgh political cartoonist Cy Hungerford. With 3,000 feet of elevation gain, much of it up short and steep inclines, the hike is plenty challenging. (The trails are well-marked but can become overgrown in the late summer. Double-check your routes with a park map before heading out, especially as some trail apps combine multiple trails.)
There are two camping areas (Pioneer and Sioux) set aside for backpackers. Both of them have five Adirondack Shelters and five tenting sites. The sites are near pit toilets and water pumps shared with nearby group campsites. Reserve sites on the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) website; the $6.50 for the site and $4 per person. Also, be sure to park in designated overnight spots.
Hikers will find multiple water pumps on the loop and at the Sioux campground, but they can be finicky. There are plenty of places to get creek water along the route, so check in at the park office before leaving the water filter in the car.
More Info: dcnr.pa.gov
If you park at the eastern end of the park, you can choose to have a shorter first day (counterclockwise) or a shorter second day (clockwise). Either direction will bring you within walking distance of the swimming area and beach at Raccoon Lake. Bring cash: The snack concession (open seasonally) sells ice cream.
From Pittsburgh, take the Parkway East to Route 22 to Route 18.
Where To Eat
If you head back to the city, take old Route 22 (Steubenville Pike) and make a stop at North Star Restaurant. There is plenty of tavern-style food on the menu, but the real attraction is the miniature golf course and outdoor tiki hut. (Restaurant is closed Sundays.)