RCT Training Hike #3 – Raccoon Creek State Park

Hookstown, PA

The training continues! This time, we ventured west of Pittsburgh to do a big loop in Raccoon Creek State Park. This is not only one of my favorite parks near home but honestly one of my favorites ever! It really has everything: waterfalls, a lake, wildflower preserve, backpacking shelters, campsite and more. If you haven’t been to Raccoon, you need to go ASAP. Especially since this is prime time for wildflowers!

THE HIKE: Raccoon Creek Loop – Heritage, Appaloosa, and Forest trails

Length: 12 miles
Elevation Gain: 1500 ft
Difficulty: Moderate
Time: 5 hours
Trail use: Hiking, leashed pets,
Parking: Lot at Park Office
H&H: 5/5

For this hike, we did a 12 mile loop starting at the Park Office and traveling along the Heritage, Appaloosa, and Forest trails. Almost immediately, we were able to stop and see Frankfort Mineral Springs Falls, one of the highlights of the park. From the park office, head along the Mineral Springs trail and in just 0.5 miles, you’ll be able to take the mossy steps down to the waterfall. It was so beautiful at this time of year, flowing strongly with the recent rain and spring trilliums along the overlook. With such a view, you might be tempted to think that these are the mineral springs. But actually, the springs can be found on the rock wall, where just a small stream of water shoots out of the rock face, splashing onto a stone. The high iron content of the water stains the rock red and the continual dripping has carved out a natural basin in the stone. What an incredible way to start out the hike! 

From there, we traveled along the Heritage Trail, enjoying the emerging spring greenery. There’s just something so thrilling about seeing new growth after the long months of muted winter browns and grays. Well, it’s thrilling until my allergies kick in! Despite how popular this park is, we encountered very few people on the trail which made it feel like we had the woods to ourselves. Since the area around Raccoon is so rural,  you really feel far out in nature on this one! 

At this point, our hike was going fairly normal with some muddy spots, lots of chit chatting and some snackage by mile 5. But then the craziest thing happened to us: we heard meowing! Confused, we started looking around only to find a tiny cat about ten feet up on a tree branch! Almost immediately, he made his way down and started meowing at us. He bounded right over to us and was so friendly but didn’t have a collar. Having never encountered this before, we weren’t quite sure what to do! Being 5 miles into a long hike, we didn’t have cell service and weren’t sure we could carry him back to the office. Funny enough though, he seemed pretty content to hike with us for a while. At times I scooped him up when he started weaving dangerously through my legs. At that point, we knew he had to be a lost cat because he was so friendly and was happy to ride in my arms for a while. Finally we were able to get cell service and call the main office. Yes, someone had been calling about a lost cat! We met the ranger at the nearest access road and he was able to take the cat (now known as Major) back to his mom. Betcha didn’t expect a heartwarming reunion story on this hike!

Hearts full, but also missing Major, we got back to our hike. The rest of the trek was far less eventful although we definitely sludged through a fair amount of mud and the rain had swollen some of the creek which made for damper crossings than we expected. I was very glad to have my trusty raincoat for this outing. When you’re hiking at Raccoon, also keep in mind that the trails have different uses, with some being hiking only while others allow mountain biking and horses. Forest and Heritage trails (the majority of this loop) are hiking only but Appaloosa is an equestrian multi-use trail! 

After we finished our main hike, despite being tired and fairly damp from a persistent drizzle, we couldn’t leave without visiting the wildflower preserve. This is one of my favorite spring hikes and I try to visit every year! My suggested route is about 3 miles and starts out on the Jennings trail, passing the log cabin, stays on the Jennings trail until it hits Meadow Trail. From there follow Meadow trail to see the giant sycamores and the bluebells along the creek. Then, you’ll meet back up with the Jennings Trail and this is where you’ll start to see LOTS of wildflowers. There are also some flags and signs letting you know the names of specific varieties. On this trip we saw Virginia bluebells, white and red trilliums, swamp lilies, jack-in-the-pulpit, spring beauties, and so many more. I highly suggest using iNaturalist to track your finds and to learn more about the types of plants you’re seeing! 

We didn’t end up doing any “hops” this time around, but if you’d like to make this a true Hike & Hop, head over to Coal Tipple Brewery in Burgettstown. I also wrote a post about it here. They often have food trucks or you can BYOF. If a restaurant is more your speed, I’ve heard good things about the Bavington Roadhouse. 

Only a few more training hikes until the big day! 

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