Face the Frost: Go Daytripping on Winter Hikes in Pittsburgh

There’s a magical, snowy landscape right in your backyard.

photos by chuck beard


It’s true that the Inuit people, who thrive on frigid Baffin Island in northern Canada, have many words for “snow.” One that Pittsburghers should adopt is aqilokoq — “softly falling snow.” This is what we saw on a bitter February day after donning boots and layers of flannel and fleece to explore a few miles of Girty’s Run. Frozen in spots and gurgling in others, the narrow creek — a tributary of the Allegheny River — winds through Ross, Shaler and Millvale.

It’s named after young Simon Girty, whose family lived near the creek in the mid-18th century. Simon’s father was killed by the Seneca tribe, which had hunted along the creek for many generations. The tribe took in the boy and raised him as their own.

A winter hike along Girty’s Run makes for a fun day trip to the North Hills, but chances are good a similar trail runs within a couple miles of your neighborhood. Brave the chill and head outdoors for an Arctic adventure of your own.


Where to go

  • North Park
  • South Park
  • McConnells Mill State Park
  • Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy
  • Frick Park
  • Highland Park Trail
  • Three Rivers Heritage Trail


What you’ll need

  • Snowshoes, hiking boots and/or waterproof boots; it depends on where you go. After a heavy snowfall, snowshoes are a blast for a forest trek. If the ground is solid, wear insulated, calf-high boots. If you plan to slosh through Girty’s Run, which is quite shallow in places, take waterproof boots. And don’t forget the insulated socks and toe warmers.
  • Snacks. Protein bars and dried fruit hit the spot on a cold hike.
  • Bottled water. Hiking in low temps is strenuous work.
  • Layers of clothing. Plus gloves and earmuffs are mighty comfortable for sensitive fingers and ears.
  • Backpack. To carry your stuff.
  • Camera. To document your travels.
  • Cell phone. In case of emergency.


What to look for

  • Wildlife. Step quietly to see deer, rabbits, squirrels, birds and more in their natural habitat. 
  • Geocaches. Join the world’s largest treasure hunt at geocaching.com.
  • Fellow travelers. Hiking is more fun when you share the experience with friends.  

Related: 20 Great Biking & Hiking Trails in Western Pennsylvania

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