Looking for a gorgeous gorge? Head to McConnells Mill State Park in western Pennsylvania, about 40 miles north of Pittsburgh. This park showcases the Slippery Rock Creek Gorge, a National Natural Landmark. I grew up less than an hour from McConnells Mill and hadn’t been there since I was a kid and looked forward to bringing my kids there, knowing that they would love playing on the giant boulders in the valley floor. And I brought my parents along because, in his younger days, my dad was the skydiving, mountain climbing, spelunking, white water rafting type and I knew he’d love to show off the rugged beauty of this park to his grandchildren.
An obvious place to start your visit is the mill itself. Here you can see my daughters with my mom.
The first mill was built here in 1852, but was destroyed by fire. It was rebuilt in 1868 and purchased by Thomas McConnell in 1875. McConnell wanted the latest and greatest technology and replaced the waterwheel with water turbines and the grinding stones with one of the first rolling mills in the country. It became a state park in 1957.
The park offers tours of the mill, but unfortunately we were there on the wrong day of the week. The mill is open on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with guided tours at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. You can get a glimpse of the dam in the picture above, but here’s a better view.
From the observation deck you can see that just upstream of the dam, the water was calm and like glass.
Downstream it becomes more rugged again.
Whitewater boating is permitted in the park, but boats are not available for rent within the park. The rapids range from Class II (Novice) to Class IV (Advanced), depending on the water level, so make sure you know what you’re doing if you want to go boating here.
Another interesting feature in the park is the covered bridge. It was built in 1874 and rehabilitated in 1998.
Near the covered bridge is the start of the Kildoo Trail, a 2-mile loop trail that goes down one side of Slippery Rock Creek and back on the other side. The first 400 yards on the east side of the creek is paved and is an easy hike.
Beyond that, this is a more difficult hike. My mom had just had her knee replaced and wasn’t up for the difficult part, so I hung out with her while my dad took the kids on the rest of the trail.
The scenery in the Slippery Rock Creek gorge is beautiful. There are lots of rocks to climb over and under.
If you are interested in learning more about the geology of this area, check out this guide booklet from the park bureau. Please be careful when hiking. Accidents have occurred in the park. The park also offers climbing and rappelling areas for serious climbers. Also, do not attempt to swim in the creek. If your kids want to swim, visit nearby Moraine State Park which has a lake with a swimming area.
The park has a total of 9 miles of trails. We didn’t visit the other areas of the park on this visit. I would really like to go back and hike the Hell’s Hollow trail to see the waterfall. Next time, we’ll be sure to go on a weekend, so that we can tour the mill too. Before we left, we enjoyed a picnic lunch in the Kildoo Picnic Area. It also has a playground for kids who do not get worn out enough on the trail.
Ready to Visit?
McConnells Mill State Park
2697 McConnells Mill Road
Portersville, PA 16051
Park is open sunrise to sunset, year round
Mill is open on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with guided tours at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
This attraction appears in my e-book, How to Visit All 50 States in 12 Trips.
If you like this, you might also be interested in Lost River Gorge and Boulder Caves in New Hampshire.