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2.02.2020

McConnells Mill State Park: A Sightseeing Guide

One of the most magical places to go on a day with a little bit of snowfall is McConnells Mill State Park. The natural beauty and historic structures of this state park are even more beautiful with some fresh snow, although this place is beautiful in any time of the year. The geology of Slippery Rock Creek Gorge is beautiful, with giant boulders and rock outcrops spread throughout. Hemlock, Mountain Laurel, and Rhododendrons dominate the walls of the gorge. 

Early industry brought use of of the hydropower provided by Slippery Rock Creek with construction of a mill in 1852. The current structure was built in 1868. Thomas McConnell purchased the mill in 1875 and created the rolling mill apparatus that enabled milling of corn, oats, and buckwheat. McConnell fought in both the Mexican War and the Civil War for the American Union Army. The mill closed in 1928 due to sagging profits and technological advancements that rendered their mill antiquated and unable to compete. Thanks to conservation efforts by the last private owner of the mill, Thomas Hartman, and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, the gorge was preserved as a Pennsylvania State Park in October of 1957. This is not the end of the conservation story for the state park though, for strip mining and quarrying has remained a major threat with pollution and encroachment into the natural area. 
A new 252 acre strip mine, is being proposed immediately adjacent to the park, adding to the already existing encroachment eating away at  the edges of the park and Slippery Rock gorge. 

Now back to the fun stuff...
The often overlooked scenic overlook of Cleland Rock is not to be missed. It is one of the only spots within the state park that you will need to drive to. For the rest of the major scenic spots in the park, the ideal (and quickest) method of checking them out is by way of hiking, since there are no roads directly through the gorge and multiple bridges no longer allow vehicular traffic. 
Coordinates: 40.926843, -80.185476


Heading down into the gorge towards the Covered Bridge and Mill. This is the most famous spot to check out at the state park, for its mill and covered bridge are both beautiful and historic. For photographers, this is a tremendous place to take some time to try out new angles for photography.
The recent restoration project on the bridge has it looking absolutely radiant.
There are so many different ways to frame shots down at the mill and bridge complex. It is one of the most stunning places to sightsee in the state. 

Brit and CeCe having a blast with the fresh snowfall.
McConnells Mill Covered Bridge is one of only a few covered bridges built in the state with the Howe Truss. It has stood the test of time in Slippery Rock Gorge since 1874.
On this particular visit, the creek was absolutely roaring. It looked like it does after a major summer downpour.
The drive up and out of the gorge on the east side is nothing short of incredible. You drive next to, under, and through boulders and rock formations that are bigger than houses. When you get to the top of the gorge, my recommendation is to park at the Alpha Falls trailhead, which is near the Northern end of the park. From here, I recommend hiking down the entire gorge to the Hells Hollow Trailhead, and then come back. Throughout the hike, you will have some slight elevation change as you head back down in the gorge. 
Breakneck Falls
You will see multiple small waterfalls, including Alpha Falls (also known as Spillway Falls), Kildoo Falls, and Breakneck Falls, and groves of hemlocks, rhododendrons, and mountain laurel. About 1.5 miles from the trailhead, you will end up back at the mill and covered bridge. From here you can continue down the gorge and pass Breakneck and Kildoo Falls, which are pretty as an addition to the surroundings, but not particularly breathtaking. Breakneck and Kildoo are not worth going near at the top. You get better views from the bottom, which is how you should access them, from along the Gorge Trail. Do not attempt to get to them from the top. Frequent deaths and injuries happen here.
Grindstone Falls is located across the creek from the main trail through the gorge, and is not particularly worth taking a detour to hike up to from the gorge. The easiest way to see it is to hop in the car and pull of to the side of Mountville Road near Nye Road and go down the gorge to this small waterfall which cannot be more than 8-10 feet tall. 
The gem of the waterfalls at McConnells Mill State Park is Hells Hollow Falls. The water of the creek flows through a rock chute and into a multi-tiered waterfall that is about 15-20 feet tall in each of its two tiers. This waterfall is at the furthest end of the state park that you can reach through hiking. There is also a parking lot located near the falls, with a short hike if you do not wish to hike the whole gorge. There are also remnants of an old Lime Kiln right near the falls. This end of the gorge can also serve as a decent trailhead if you plan on hiking through the entire state park. 
Hells Hollow Falls Coordinates:
40.929168, -80.231333

Parking Lot Coordinates:
40.931402, -80.240087

If you are hiking the gorge, remember that since the state park is narrow and largely sticks to the Slippery Rock Creek Gorge, the most of the trails are not loops, so plan to hike back the same way you came in, or arrange for a shuttle. 11.2 miles of trails traverse the park. 

Trail information per the DCNR:
Alpha Pass Trail

1.5-mile, blue blazes, more difficult hiking

This trail is at the northern end of McConnells Mill State Park and is part of the North Country National Scenic Trail. This trail begins at the Alpha Pass scenic vista and follows the east bank of Slippery Rock Creek. There is an exit to the Point Parking Area or the trail follows the creek to the Old Mill.

Hells Hollow Trail

0.5-mile, easiest hiking

This trail begins at the Hells Hollow parking lot and follows and twice crosses Hell Run on its way to a limekiln and Hells Hollow Falls. Although the main trail is smooth and level, the section by the waterfall can be slippery.

Kildoo Trail

3-mile loop, more diffult hiking

Kildoo Trail is south of the Old Mill and begins at either end of the covered bridge. On the eastern bank of the creek the trail begins with a 400-yard paved section which leads to rocky terrain on the remaining section to Eckert Bridge.

Hikers then cross Slippery Rock Creek and continue on the west bank upstream to the covered bridge. The western section of the trail has blue blazes and is part of the North Country National Scenic Trail.

Slippery Rock Gorge Trail

6.2 miles, blue blazes, more difficult hiking

Part of the North Country National Scenic Trail, Slippery Rock Gorge Trail begins jointly with Hells Hollow Trail at the Hells Hollow parking lot. The Gorge Trail splits off just before the second footbridge.

The first two miles of the trail follows the upper Hell Run Valley. The rest of the trail follows the Slippery Rock Creek Gorge north for just over four miles to Eckert Bridge.

At about the 3.5-mile point, the trail descends into the deepest part of the gorge. This broad alluvial flood plain is known as Walnut Flats.

The trail then becomes more difficult, traversing very steep terrain. At the five-mile point, the trail crosses uplands then drops back down to creek level and follows along the creek bank to Eckert Bridge.

Hikers should allow a minimum of six hours to hike to Eckert Bridge and back. This is not a loop trail. If you only plan a one-way trip, please set up a shuttle.


McConnells Mill State Park is just beautiful and easily my favorite place for a quick jaunt into the woods in the Pittsburgh area. Located just about an hour north of the city, it is an excellent place for a quick getaway into nature. Nearby Moraine State Park is lots of fun to explore, with a nice lake, beach, and more. We highly recommend checking out the area.

For more information about the state park, check out its website at https://www.dcnr.pa.gov/StateParks/FindAPark/McConnellsMillStatePark/Pages/default.aspx

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