Photo: Michael D. McCumber

Showtime: See the Pittsburgh area’s best fall foliage on these four hikes.

There’s no better way to witness the season than on foot.

Technically, you can see fall colors from just about anywhere—out the car window, while sitting on the porch of a vacation rental—but truthfully, there’s no better way to witness the season than on foot. When the forests turn orange and yellow (peak is typically mid-October in western Pennsylvania), immerse yourself in the show by hiking beneath and through it. Whether you’re looking for an epic weekend or a short family hike, you’ll find the perfect outing on one of these four trails.

Pleasant Valley Park

With roughly seven miles of multi-use trail (Pleasent Valley Park), including a smattering of old farm roads, this unassuming little gem east of Pittsburgh packs an impressive visual punch. From open fields full of goldenrod and iron weed to hardwood forest of maple and oak to conifer stands, this former farmland has been, in many ways, returned to nature. For a mellow outing, follow the creek to the right at the bottom of Red Oak Trail. This well-trodden path crosses the little run a handful of times before meeting up with a disused farm road leading to White Oak Trail.

Wolf Rocks Loop Trail

Located in Laurel Summit State Park (part of the larger Forbes State Forest), this well-marked trail leads through second-growth hardwood forest, rhododendron, mountain laurel, and prehistoric looking ferns. The canopy fluctuates from open and airy to dense and tunnel-like, with rock gardens and the occasional mossy carpet underfoot. While you could do this hike as an out and back, sticking to the main artery of Wolf Rocks Trail, we suggest taking the Wolf Rocks Loop as it splits to the left. The 2.7-mile loop is spiced with even more rocks and moss. All of this is preamble to the main event: the overlook at the far end of the trail. A natural outcropping of sandstone boulders presents visitors with a 180-degree view of the neighboring ridgeline and valley.

Photo: Michael D. McCumber

Terrace Mountain Trail

This 25-mile long trail (Terrace Mountain Trail) runs the length of Raystown Lake along its eastern shore and is accessible at a number of spots along the route. At the height of leaf peeping season, the trail is blanketed with orange and yellow and you can expect to be showered with kaleidoscopic leaves as the breezes come in off the lake. This combination of water, trail, and color is intoxicating. Enjoy this multi-use trail as an out and back, thru-hike, overnight, or in segments—there’s no wrong answer.

Slippery Rock Gorge Trail

Find the 15-mile Slippery Rock Gorge Trail in McConnells Mill State Park, a picturesque refuge replete with grist mill and covered bridge. Part of the massive 4,700-mile North Country Trail, the Slippery Rock Gorge Trail traces Slippery Rock Creek for about 12 miles before heading north, away from the waterway. This out-and-back hike is considered difficult because of its punchy climbs and descents composed mostly of roots, rocks, and boulders. The terrain is great fun but should be taken seriously. Creekside boulders and sandy passages offer the occasional reprieve and excellent leaf peeping opportunities. Spread out on one of a hundred VW Beetle-sized boulders for lunch and get your fill of the natural wonder before deciding whether to continue on or turn back.

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.