Earlier this month, J and I did our first group outing with the Rachel Carson trail Conservancy! We joined their annual Sock Drive and Hike in North Park area. Everyone donated socks and then carpooled to the Harmony Trail parking lot on Wexford-Bayne road. From there we all set off along the Rachel Carson trail back to the North Park Cabin. This trek ended up being 6.6 miles! I will say, this wasn’t my favorite hike, due to the number of times we went out of the woods, but it was still a nice change to hike with a big group! This will probably be our only “snowy” hike of the year since we’d had a very mild winter. We ended the day by visiting Necromancer Brewing off of McKnight Road in North Hills. I’ve been wanting to go here for a while and it did not disappoint! I love dark beer and I love that so much of their taplist was dedicated to the dark side. Keeping this post short but check out my Instagram for a fun video of the hike!
THE HIKE: Rachel Carson: Harmony to North Park Cabin
Length: 6.6 miles (point to point) Elevation Gain: 706 ft Difficulty: Moderate Time: 2.5 hours Trail use: Hiking, trail running, leashed pets, biking Parking: Large lot at either end H&H: 3/5
THE BEER: Necromancer brewery
Address: 2257 Babcock Blvd, Pittsburgh, PA 15237 Distance from Trail Head: 7.4 miles, 16 mins Website: https://necromancer.beer/ Food?: BYOF, Food Trucks Details: Dog friendly
McConnell’s Mill State Park is a perfect day trip from Pittsburgh! It’s only about an hour north of the city and is a great nature retreat. You can visit the popular old gristmill and covered bridge or follow the more secluded North Country Trail along the creek. On this visit, we started out with the easy Hell’s Hollow hike to see the beautiful waterfall and then did a nice out and back section of the Slippery Rock Gorge Trail. Afterward, we headed back toward town and stopped in the lovely town of Zelienople for dinner and a brew at Shubrew. We’ve been spoiled with such a mild winter and that means getting outside as much as we can!
THE HIKE: Hell’s Hollow & Slippery Rock Gorge Trail (NCT)
Length: 6.3 miles Elevation Gain: 720 ft Difficulty: Moderate Time: 2.5 hours Trail use: Hiking, trail running, leashed pets Parking: Large lot with port-a-potty H&H: 4/5
McConnells Mill State Park is located in Portersville, PA in Lawrence County and encompasses over 2,500 acres of land. It included the Slippery Rock Creek Gorge, a National Natural Landmark. The unique landscape around the gorge was formed by glacial runoff thousands of years ago, leaving behind boulders and beautiful waterfalls. This is one of those places that’s hard to believe is in Western Pennsylvania!
Hell’s Hollow is a particularly beautiful section of the state park. Despite its name, it’s an easy 0.5 mile, flat trail to view the waterfall. The area’s name actually comes from the nearby old lime kilns that locals thought looked like portals to hell in the nighttime. I highly recommend starting out by checking out Hell’s Hollow and then venturing onto the Slippery Rock Gorge Trail. There’s a lot of parking at the trailhead, although I imagine that this fills up quickly on a nice summer day! To get to Hell’s Hollow, bear to the right and follow the well-marked trail. It’s a simple in and out that follows along a babbling creek. You do have to come most of the way back before you get on the Slippery Rock Gorge trail.
The bulk of our hike was along the Slippery Rock Gorge trail which is also part of the North Country Scenic trail. If you have two cars, I think it would be awesome to leave one car at the main McConnell’s Mill parking lot so that you could do the whole 7.5 mile trek from Hell’s Hollow to the Gristmill. Unfortunately, we just weren’t up for a 15 miles round trip! This hike is definitely a moderate hike with a lot of ups and down and some rocky spots. We found it to be particularly challenging to walk in some of the muddy spots. The joys of winter hiking is that the sunny side of the hill is mushy and the shaded side is still icy! This is a hike that I would recommend crampons in during wintery weather and hiking poles if you’d like some extra balance.
If you have time, be sure to visit the main section of McConnell’s Mill as well! The Kildoo Trail is a particular favorite of mine and is just around 2 miles. Be sure to see the historic gristmill and the covered bridge, both of which were recently featured in the Netflix movie The Pale Blue Eye
THE BEER: ShuBrew
Address: 205 S Main St, Zelienople, PA 16063 Distance from Trail Head: 14.6 miles, 26 mins Website: http://shubrew.com/ Food?: Full Menu Details: Rooftop Seating, dog friendly outside
Shubrew has been a staple of Zelienople since it first opened in 2013. It offers a nice (delicious!) menu as well as a large list of house-made brews. And if beer isn’t your thing, they also offer a wide selection of cocktails and wine! Subrew has grown quite a bit since their early days 10 years ago. Now, they operate a brewing facility in nearby Harmony, which allows them to brew a lot more and save space in their taproom for more seating! The owners of ShuBrew also operate General Shu’s (located just across the street) which features fast-casual Chinese food as well as a selection of ShuBrew beers! The taproom also features a full menu with some nods to Chinese influenced food, as well as more traditional pub fare. We don’t usually eat out at breweries, but we made an exception for the pulled pork nachos and they were heavenly!
ShuBrew is definitely one of those places we will make a trip to visit and I know we’ll be back again soon! We’d like to visit again in warmer months to sit on the rooftop deck!
Other great spots in the area: The Harmony In (North Country Brewing), Union Brothers Brewing, Burgh’ers Brewery
New brewery alert! I also make a point of trying to visit new breweries, especially when it’s in an area that doesn’t really have many taprooms. So I was thrilled to hear about Big Sewickley Creek Brewery! As soon as they were ready to open, I made sure to find a nearby hike so we could go to their opening weekend. Thankfully Sewickley Heights Borough Park was very closeby! This is a new area of the region for me but I was pleasantly surprised by the trails in this park. There was a great mix of natural wooded trails, as well as wider gravel paths. Be aware that some of these are equestrian trails so remember that riders have the right of way and always make your presence known near horses! This is also a popular off-leash area, so if large dogs aren’t your jam this might not be the best place for you.
THE HIKE: Sewickley Heights Borough Park
Length: 3 miles Elevation Gain: 335 ft Difficulty: Easy Time: 1-1.5 hours Trail use: Hiking, unleashed pets, equestrian trails Parking: Park only in designated areas on side of road H&H: 4/5
As its name indicates, this park is located in Sewickley Heights Borough and is open to the public! It is funded mostly by generous donations from residents of the borough. Right next to this area is the Fern Hollow Conservation Area, owned and managed by the American Land Trust. This area is very popular with dog owners as the whole park is an off-leash area! So what does that mean for hikers? Well, be aware that an unknown dog might come running up to say hi! If that makes you a bit uncomfortable, you can always ask the owner to leash their pet but understand that they might not. To be honest, if you have a fear of big dogs, I would probably suggest checking out a different park. During our short walk, we probably had 4 or 5 large puppers come running up to us!
We really enjoyed this park because of the varied landscape and types of trails. We parked along Hallaway Road in the designated spots and started out our trek by meandering along the wooded trails. The trails were easy to follow but not always clear which one you were on. We saw very few blazes or signposts, but thankfully since the park isn’t too large we were able to just wander without fear of getting too lost. Most of the trails are multi-purpose but a few are hiker-only. After crossing back over Hallaway Road, we walked along the gravel road which was more open. There were a lot of trails back in this area that I didn’t even realize until looking at the map afterwards. There’s plenty of places to walk at Sewickley Heights, whether you’d like mostly flat gravel paths, or woodsy natural trails.
The park has a helpful website with maps and some rules and regulations about the park. As with most parks, you should stay on the path as much of the area is preserved for conservation. The park isn’t open to hunting at any time and groups larger than 10 should obtain a permit to visit. They also remind users that many trails are multi-purpose so know when to yield! Bikers yield to hikers and equestrians, dog walkers should lease their pets when approaching horses, hikers yield to equestrians and be aware of bikers.
Overall, I was so glad we took a chance on this borough park! The trails were much more woodsy than I expected and I was pleasantly surprised by how big the space was. Plus it was the perfect excuse to go check out Big Sewickley Creek Brewery!
THE BEER: Big Sewickley Creek Brewery
Address: 2030 Big Sewickley Creek Rd, Sewickley, PA 15143 Distance from Trail Head: 4.4 miles, 9 mins Website: https://sewickleybrewery.com/ Food?: Food Trucks or BYOF Details: Outdoor seating with firepits, dog friendly outside, H&H Rating: 5/5
New brewery!! I have been following the process of this brewery and I was thrilled to hear they were finally having a grand opening weekend. I have long hoped for a brewery in the Sewickley area as there are so many parks and trails around. Thankfully Big Sewickley Creek Brewery (BSCB) really knocked it out of the park. They have a decent sized taproom that was a great spot for watching the football game. Since J and I aren’t big sports fans (sorry Pittsburghers, please don’t hate us) we sat outside to get a feel for their outdoor space. Man was it nice! There’s plenty of seating on the covered patio with really unique chairs made from old barrels and large heaters to keep it toasty. The yard though was our favorite area. BSCB has made the perfect backyard hangout, complete with string lights, adirondack chairs, and firepits! No to mention the brewery’s namesake creek flowing behind the property. Honestly, I think this place was made with us in mind!
BSCB was started by two Pittsburgh brothers who retired from the medical field. Brewing beer had always been a hobby for them but as they neared retirement, they started to talk seriously about opening their dream taproom. They managed to get all the supplies ordered for the building before the pandemic put a halt in the plans. Thankfully, they were able to get construction moving and get landscapers to make the cozy backyard space. Since both of the brothers are dog owners, I’m happy to report that the taproom is VERY dog friendly! You might even find a treat for your furry friend behind the bar! During our visit, we were delighted to make the acquaintance of a little puppy on his first public outing! Also, a fun fact that I learned from the brewery’s feature in the Post-Gazette, owner Marc made all of the barrels for the outdoor seating after attending a welding training program! Is there anything these brothers can’t do?!
So let’s get to the product. Since the brewery is so new, they only had six taps flowing on their first weekend. That was perfect for us since I love being able to try everything on the taplist. Nothing like being haunted by the beer that got away! Not only was the beer crisp and delicious, I also really loved that everything was around 4% ABV. It seemed like everywhere has super boozy brews anymore and that’s just not my jam! I like to be able to sample a few before wanting to fall asleep. Bring back lower ABV beers! My favorite of the lineup was the Roasty Joe Amber. It just paired so perfectly with the campfire and was a great winter weather beer without being too heavy on the palette. But honestly all of the beers were very good and I know this won’t be the last time we visit!
Our final excursion during our New Years Weekend in Clarion was Beartown Rocks in Clear Creek State Park. I loved this hike because we had the trail almost completely to ourselves and I felt so at peace following the creek. The weather for us during this hike wasn’t the greatest for us, being a bit cold and rainy so this trail was a bit treacherous at times. We encountered a lot of mud and slippery spots. Is it really winter hiking if you don’t fall a few times? The tumbles were worth it though for the view at the Rocks. These were really incredible geological features that I highly encourage you to take the time to explore! After a chilly, muddy hike, the best way to warm up is with a brew at Mechanistic Brewing in downtown Clarion. I can’t imagine a better way to end a winter hike than with their Spruce Tip IPA!
THE HIKE: Beartown Rocks
Length: 4.1 miles Elevation Gain: 700ft Difficulty: Moderate Time: 1.5-2 hours Trail use: Hiking and leashed pets Parking: Large lot at trailhead with pit toilets H&H: 5/5
Clear Creek State Park is located in Jefferson County and encompasses just shy of 2,000 acres. Due to its proximity to Cook Forest, it’s a great addition to a weekend in the PA Wilds! The land that makes up Clear Creek was a key part of the lumber industry in the 1800s for Northwestern PA. Its access to the nearby Clarion River made it a prime area for logging. Eventually water power was replaced by steam power and logging tapered off in the area. The land was sold in 1919 to the state and within a decade it became a camping destination. Like many parks, Clear Creek benefited from FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps which planted trees, built facilities, and trails in the area. Several of the buildings from this era are still in use and are on the National Register of Historic Places. The state park abuts the Clear Creek State Forest in which the majority of this hike actually takes place.
Beartown Rocks can be accessed by car via Corbett Road. This is a dirt State Forest road that may not be maintained during the winter months so travelat your own risk! There are also trails around the area if you prefer to hike to Beartown Rocks. We parked at the Clear Creek State Park at the swimming beach lot off Route 949. The parking lot is really big and has pit toilets so it was an ideal place to start our hike! The Beartown Rocks trail begins across the street and is very clearly labeled. You’ll be following this same trail all the way to the Rocks! This is a moderately difficult hike as there are some small stream crossings (no wet feet!) and a few steep inclines. I thought it was the perfect end to our hiking weekend because we saw so many different types of forests from conifer-lined streams to rhododendron covered hills! This is another area that I would love to come back when the flowers are blooming.
The Rocks themselves are well-worth the heart-pumping final descent. These unique features just seem to rise up out of the ground completely unexpectedly. They are likely remnants of the last Ice Age, due to the speckles and pitting on their surface. There is a nice platform on the top of the largest rock that allows you to see out over the valley. It was hauntingly beautiful in winter especially since we hadn’t seen a soul the whole hike. There was a dense fog hanging over the treetops that was beautiful. I think this would be a lovely fall hike too! To get back to the parking lot, just retrace your steps but be careful! Some of those steep inclines were really slippery going back down! I will fully admit that I took a few tumbles. Thankfully not into this river this time (ahem, here’s looking at you, first day hike in 2021).
This was an excellent hike and a big shoutout to MyTrailsAreMany for suggesting it! I would have never found this one on my own and I’m so glad we went out of our way to check it out. Crossing off another PA State Park!
THE BEER: Mechanistic Brewing Co.
Address: 538 Liberty St, Clarion, PA 16214 Distance from Trail Head: 24 miles, 32 mins Website: https://www.mechanisticbrewing.com/ Food?: Food Trucks or BYOB Details: Outdoor seating, dog friendly outside
Mechanistic Brewing is another craft beer taproom in the heart of Clarion. It’s right off the main drag and boasts a super cool taproom and lounge. They don’t have an onsite kitchen, but often host food trucks in the warmer seasons and welcome BYOF. They have a huge outdoor patio space and welcome all to their taproom, families included! Their tagline is “Beer as a mechanism to bring people together”. Well I love that! We couldn’t have had a nicer time at this taproom. All of the staff were so nice and we had some great chats about the area and their beer. By far, the standout for favorite beer was their Little Full, Whole Lotta Sap IPA which was made with spruce tips. I was hesitant because I haven’t liked piney beers in the past but this one was so good! It smelled incredible and managed to balance the pine with a sweet hazy beer. It was delicious and honestly I couldn’t imagine a better beer to have after walking in the woods! I didn’t realize it until I was doing some research for the blog, but the two staff holding down the fort at the bar the day we visited were actually the owners, a husband and wife team! No wonder the place had such a lovely neighborhood vibe. If it wasn’t so far, I’d be back all the time!
Little Full, Whole Lotta Sap – Spruce Tip West Coast IPA – 6.1%
Another incredible hike in Cook Forest State Park is the Forest Cathedral. These trails meander through the old growth section of the woods which means you’ll see some enormous conifer trees! There’s a lot of interweaving trails here but we took the Longfellow loop for a nice 2 mile trek. The terrain is a bit bumpy at times and you can expect some areas of elevation. Also, if you’re hiking in the winter, you’re likely to encounter ice on these trails as the dense trees keep the sun from warming up the forest floor. Crampons are a must! This is a great trail to slow down and see what you can see.
THE HIKE: Forest Cathedral – Cook Forest State Park
Length: 1.9 miles Elevation Gain: 272 ft Difficulty: Moderate Time: 1 hour Trail use: Hiking, Leashed Pets Parking: Large lot at log cabin with pit toilets H&H: 5/5
Another of our hikes from our New Year’s trip to Cook Forest State Park was the Forest Cathedral area. This area is full of ancient conifers that stretch far into the sky. Even in winter, their green needles dapple the sunlight and create a soft, quiet underbrush. Some of these trees are the tallest in the eastern US! These trees make up what is called an “Old-growth Forest” and are some of the oldest trees in Pennsylvania. This area is so unique and of ecological significance that it is a National Natural Landmark.
There are several ways to get to the Forest Cathedral, with the most easily accessible starting at the Log Cabin learning center on Forest Road, just up the road from the Cook Forest Visitor Center. Although the cabin itself was closed for the season, there were bathrooms available and a large parking lot. From here, we hopped on the Longfellow trail which immediately led us into the dense forest. We were stunned by the majesty of the enormous trees and also humbled by the downed trunks. It can be a little intimidating to imagine the force wind and storms would have to have to take down one of these giants! The trail was quiet but with some inclines and bumpy terrain. We had a lovely time in the winter, but the icy trails can be dangerous! We followed the Longfellow trail until it reached the stream. At this point, another small trail leads up to Forest road where there are a few other parking spots. If you follow this trail, you will be on the North Country Scenic Trail. From here, we meandered along the easy and wide Tom’s Run trail which follows the stream. Under normal circumstances, you can follow this trail over the stream and it will lead back to the Log Cabin parking lot. However, they are currently replacing the footbridges so we had to bushwhack our way to the parking lot. Not my favorite thing to do but sometimes you have to be resourceful!
This trail was so beautiful in the icy winter but I would also love to see it during the height of rhododendron season. I think the juxtaposition of the towering hemlocks and white pines with the exuberant blooms would be beautiful! Overall, Forest Cathedral is a must-do hike in PA and I hope you get the chance to see it!
THE BEER: Lost in the Wilds Brewing
Address: 21964 PA-66, Shippenville, PA 16254 Distance from Trail Head: 15.3 miles, 23 mins Website: http://lostinthewildsbrewing.com/ Food?: BYOF, Food Trucks in summer Details: Outdoor seating, Dog friendly outside, Bike trail nearby
Lost in the Wilds is a fairly new brewery in Clarion county that has pretty much everything you’d want in a watering hole in the woods. They’ve got a bright sunny taproom with a wide selection of house-made beer and other local booze, a huge outdoor space that often hosts concerts and food trucks, and are located right on Route 66 Trail which is popular for walking, biking and even cross country skiing. I found this space to be so incredibly inviting and I loved that there were people from all walks of life in the taproom enjoying a brew. It definitely felt like a gathering place for the community!
Despite being pretty new, Lost in the Wilds has already garnered some big attention! They were featured in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette among a list of “Notable Restaurants and Breweries along Bike Trails” and Travel Mag gave them a nod on their list of “10 Must-Visit Pennsylvania Breweries”. It sounds like things are going to just keep getting better here!
With their large outdoor space, Lost in the Wilds is very family friendly and invites fuzzy friends on the patio and grounds only. Since they have no kitchen, you’re also welcome to bring food or order from a food truck. Check out their website for the list of trucks starting in April.
Just be aware that Lost in the Wilds is taking a January Break! They’ll be back open and doing their thing on January 26th.
Bear Fox – NEIPA – 7%
Cran Cherry Sour – Cranberry and Cherry Sour – 6.5%