Fall Colors in the Midwest

When we decided to move to Pittsburgh, I was really looking forward to experiencing fall in the Midwest again: the vibrant leaves in reds, yellows, oranges; the chilly mornings and crisp afternoons; snuggling up under blankets.  (side discussion: Pittsburgh is Midwest or East Coast? I call it Midwest – we are less than an hour from Ohio and West Virginia – but people in Pittsburgh seem undecided; there are arguments for each side.)

Now, I don’t know if this fall is typical of Pittsburgh or not but it’s been exceptionally great fall weather this season. There have been some rainy days, some gray days, but many of the days have brought bright blue skies, warm afternoons and chilly evenings. It’s felt like quintessential fall and I definitely dig it.

Fall in the Midwest // lynnepetre.comOf course, when I went out the other weekend to hike and look at fall colors, it was not one of those blue skied days; a cold front was rolling in so it was gray and a little drizzly. But even still, the leaves popped and looked so beautiful.

Fall in the Midwest // lynnepetre.com Fall in the Midwest // lynnepetre.com

Fall in the Midwest // lynnepetre.com

This is certainly not to say fall in Denver was anything to gripe about – I loved it! But Denver has a very different fall in my experience. It’s not usually the slow decline from summer to winter…it’s a long summer that bleeds into a warm (sometimes hot!) fall that quickly jumps straight into frigid winter temps and then bounces around between warm and cold for a number of weeks before settling on winter.

And Denver just doesn’t have the same ratio of deciduous tress as the Midwest so there are far fewer opportunities to see the beautiful reds and oranges of fall. (Though, in the mountains, Aspen trees turn the mountain-sides a glittering gold that is absolutely stunning. #tradeoffs). Even compared to Cincinnati leaves, Pittsburgh colors trump. +1 for Western Pennsylvania!
Fall in the Midwest // lynnepetre.com

We may not stay in Pittsburgh forever but I am certainly glad we’ll be here for at least 2 years of fall weather.

Pittsburgh Hike: McConnell’s Mill State Park

Trip Report: McConnell's Mill, PA // lgsmash.comSince moving to Pittsburgh, I’ve been slow to explore much outside the city. With weekend visitors, school commitments, travel and settling in, it’s been hard to get out and check out our surroundings. And frankly, despite having a super long list of things I want to be sure to do, it felt intimidating to know where to start. (note to self: just START.) 

Living in Denver, I hit the trails at least once a week either by trail running, camping, hiking or climbing and, a couple of weeks ago, I realized just how much the lack of nature was affecting me and did something about it. Of course, the forecast called for rain all day long but I loaded up a small day pack and hit the road for McConnell’s Mill State Park, fingers crossed for a break in the drops.

As luck would have it, the rain eased into a light drizzle as I pulled into the parking lot and had completely dissipated as I locked up my Subaru to explore.

I’d done only a little bit of research before my trip; I knew the gristmill was a short hike from the parking lot and I knew there was climbing somewhere in the park. My goal was to find both.

Trip Report: McConnell's Mill, PA // lgsmash.com

A short hike from Johnson Road/McConnell’s Mill Road parking lot, the trail to the mill is a packed dirt trail with rock obstacles throughout and full of lush greenery alongside. It was really beautiful and hard to believe the colors around me. I forgot just HOW green the midwest is!

The hike is maybe 1/2 mile from the parking lot and is marked with a blue reflector. It’s a well worth path and easy to follow along the river.
Trip Report: McConnell's Mill, PA // lgsmash.com Because it was a rainy afternoon, I enjoyed a very quiet day on the trail and inside the mill. I poked around inside and around, snapping photos and reading the plaques inside before deciding to continue further up the trail. (Note: there is also a parking lot right at the mill so visitors who don’t want to or can’t hike are still able to visit the mill!)

Trip Report: McConnell's Mill, PA // lgsmash.com

I ventured up another 1/2 mile southwest on the trail, past the Kildoo Bridge and falls; the trail follows the river the majority of the length of the park and, while there were no kayakers while I was hiking, I know it’s an option and I plan to come back and kayak along the trail I hiked.

Trip Report: McConnell's Mill, PA // lgsmash.com
Kildoo Bridge

Trip Report: McConnell's Mill, PA // lgsmash.com

I turned around and headed back towards the mill as darker clouds started rolling in above. I made it back to the parking just as the sky opened up and dropped big fat raindrops on my car, satisfied in my short afternoon jaunt in a Pennsylvania state park. While I didn’t see the climbing spots I’d hoped to scope out, I know exactly where to find them for the next trip out to McConnell’s Mill.

Trip Report: McConnell's Mill, PA // lgsmash.com

I drove back to Pittsburgh with a full heart; I’d found a small piece of what I’ve been missing so much in Pennsylvania. Trails and dirt; places to play outside. And over the coming weeks with no weekend plans, I’m penciling in a lot more park adventures to find beautiful vistas to view the fall colors. I can’t wait to see miles of reds, oranges and yellow; fall in the midwest can’t be beat.


Only 45 minutes away from Pittsburgh, this state park is an excellent choice for hiking, backpacking, camping and climbing. Hikes are available for outdoor enthusiasts of all levels of ability. The park is 2,500 acres and is situated next to a sister state park, Moraine State Park, that looks to have a beach(!).