Pittsburgh’s Best Cross-Country Skiing

Where to make the best XC trail miles this winter.

Sitting just over 1,000 feet above sea level, Pittsburgh is not especially well-endowed with altitude; nor is it especially snowy in winter. That’s not to say that snow doesn’t grace the Steel City. It does, but topsy-turvy seasonal temps bring a freeze-thaw cycle that can reduce rock hard, snow-covered trails to impassable, muddy quagmires in the course of an afternoon.

Still, it’s not all bad news for those seeking the thrills (and occasional spills) of cross-country skiing. The Laurel Highlands of the Allegheny Mountains, just over an hour’s drive southeast of Pittsburgh, are a solid bet as the highest mountain region in Pennsylvania, providing a three-fold increase in altitude and a variety of trails for the Nordic pursuit. Because snowfall in southwestern PA can be so unpredictable, however, would-be winter adventurers should refer to the following information repositories before heading out:

Laurel Mountain

Possibly the best-known location for cross-country skiing in the region, Laurel Mountain offers nearly 20 miles of trails from beginner to advanced, up to a third of which are groomed and tracked (for skate and classic cross-country skiing, respectively). There is a warming hut opened during the season and staffed by volunteers on the weekend. An active ski patrol is also present on the weekends. Local Tip: Start with Loop Trail to Lippo’s Loop, a nice meandering tour with slight elevation loss/gain, before hitting some of the area’s more challenging terrain. (All the areas listed which are managed by the PA Dept of Conservation and Natural Resources are free to use.)

More Info: dcnr.pa.gov

Getting There: From state Route 30, turn right onto Laurel Summit Road. Park across from the warming hut. 

Eats: As you make your way down the mountain, be sure to stop in at The Pie Shoppe in Laughlintown, Pa., for a deli sandwich or pizza, and of course, pie for the road.

 

North Woods

Located south of the aforementioned Laurel Mountain, North Woods offers skiers over 8 miles of challenging groomed trails. A warming hut provides welcome respite in the valley between Mountain View and Schaffer Run trails. Local Tip: Warm up on Shaffer Run, going counterclockwise. For more challenging elevation changes, jump on Mountain View Trail.

More Info: dcnr.pa.gov

Getting There: From Donegal, take PA-31 south to Tunnel Road. There is a small gravel parking lot about a quarter-mile down Tunnel Road on the right. Trails run directly from the lot. 

Eats: Need a more caffeinated après-ski stop? The Silver Horse Coffee Shop in Donegal has you covered with specialty coffee or tea drinks. It also offers a small, rotating menu of edible goods from local bakers and area restaurants, from typical coffeehouse fare like biscotti and scones, to less predictable offerings from burritos and jerky to homemade potato chips and small-batch protein bars.

Roaring Run

For those seeking more of a backcountry experience, head to Roaring Run. Its exciting patchwork of trails, known well to summer adventurers, presents winter wanderers with a nice 6-mile network of ungroomed trail options. Start off with McKenna Trail and explore the possibilities from there.

More Info: dcnr.pa.gov 

Getting There: From Donegal, take PA-31 south to Fire Tower Road and look for a small lot immediately off to the right. McKenna Trail begins directly from the lot.

Eats: Whether you’re skiing North Woods or Roaring Run, be sure to stop at Sarnelli’s Market in Jones Mills for a deli sandwich and beverage of choice. They even have cigars, if you’re into that sort of thing.

 

Laurel Ridge 

If you’re new to the sport, have children, or like the idea of having ski- and snowshoe-rental facilities and concessions on site, Laurel Ridge is your spot. For a minimal trail fee ($15 for adults;  $10 for kids), you’ll have access to 18-plus miles of trails which are groomed for both skate and classic track-style skiing. Read more on the variety of dog-friendly XC-ski and snowshoe trails at Laurel Ridge.

More Info: riversportonline.com/laurelridge

Getting There: Take the PA Turnpike east to Exit 91. Go south toward PA-711 to PA-653, then drive 653 east into the park. 

Eats: Get your meat and potatoes fix at the Creekside Grill in Indian Head; ask about the special and you might luck into the wild mushroom ravioli. 

 

Moraine

Moraine State Park offers Pittsburgh skiers trail options within closer striking distance to the city, totaling 5.5 miles of groomed (not tracked) trails that are suitable for all skill levels. The one area listed outside the Laurel Highlands region, the park is located 30 minutes north of Pittsburgh along the southwest shore of Lake Authur, and keeps the choices simple with the Pleasant Valley and Sunken Garden trails as the extent to the park’s offerings.

More Info: dcnr.pa.gov

Getting There: Park in the visitor lot along Pleasant Valley Road and pick up Sunken Garden Trail directly out of the lot to the south.

Eats: Though an additional 20 minutes north of the park in Slippery Rock, North Country Brew Pub is a must for any adult adventurers wishing to shake off the cold. Start with their own hoppy draughts before tucking into some fine vittles, which include standard pub grub, veggie alternatives, salads and pasta. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.

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