National Parks near Pittsburgh and Southwestern Pennsylvania You Need to Explore This Summer

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Discover these amazing National Parks near Pittsburgh and within Southwestern Pennsylvania! All of these parks are within a two-hour drive of Pittsburgh, making them awesome day trips from the city!

There are over 400 nationally designated historic, cultural, and natural areas in the National Park Service system. While there are a number of famous National Parks in Pennsylvania, like Independence Hall in Philadelphia, southwestern Pennsylvania and the Pittsburgh region are also home to many important historical places and National Parks and historic sites.

This guide includes the best National Parks near Pittsburgh and within the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania. These National Parks and historic sites tell the story of life in this region throughout the centuries! Read on to learn more about all the National Parks near Pittsburgh!

National Parks Near Pittsburgh and the Laurel Highlands

Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area – Pittsburgh, PA

Carrie Furance

Pittsburgh is called the Steel City for good reason. The city was once the top producer of steel in the world! Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area includes historic sites and museums within an 8 county region and the Pittsburgh Industrial District. At these sites, you can learn about the region’s industrial history. Rivers of Steel brings this history to life through educational programs, tours, and revitalization initiatives! The Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area is a very unique National Park in Pennsylvania because you can tour retired industrial complexes like the Carrie Furnace in Homestead.

Places to explore

Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail – Pittsburgh, PA

Spanning 16 states and 4,900 miles, the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail begins in the great city of Pittsburgh! This is part of a new section of the trail that chronicles the first leg of Lewis and Clark’s expedition west. This expedition, known as the Corps of Discovery, surveyed the land of the Louisiana Purchase and beyond. Meriwether Lewis first came to western Pennsylvania as a militiaman during the Whiskey Rebellion. The keelboat used as the expedition’s main vessel was built in Pittsburgh.

Places to explore

Looking to go beyond Pennsylvania? Check out the National Park Service’s state-by-state guide for the Lewis and Clark Trail!

Flight 93 National Memorial – Shanksville, PA

On September 11, 2001, while New York City and Washington, D.C. were under attack, 40 passengers and crew aboard United Airlines Flight 93 heroically stopped hijackers from flying the plane into its intended target, the United States Capitol Building.

The plane went down in a field near the town of Shanksville, PA, and first responders from the area rushed to the scene. What was “a common field one day” became a “field of honor forever.” Flight 93 National Memorial, part of the National Park Service, is a peaceful, respectful tribute to the lives lost.

Places to Explore

  • Learn about the events of September 11 and stories of passengers, crew members, and recovery teams at exhibits in the Visitor Center.
  • Get a panoramic view of the site from an overlook near the Visitor Center.
  • Walkthrough the Memorial Grove of 40 trees in honor of passengers and crew members.
  • Honor the passengers and crew members at the Wall of Names and Memorial Plaza, located at the lower portion of the park.
  • Hear park rangers and volunteers speak at programs throughout the day.
  • Walk trails around the site to enjoy plants and wildlife that thrive thanks to the environmental restoration efforts of this former strip mine.

The Visitor Center, located in the upper portion of the memorial, includes exhibits, a front desk, and a gift shop. The exhibits feature artifacts and visuals where you can learn about the events of September 11 along with the human stories of passengers, crew members, and recovery teams.

From the Visitor Center, you can stop at an overlook that gives you a panoramic view of the memorial or walk trails to the lower portion of the memorial. The longer, semicircular trail goes through the Memorial Grove of 40 trees representing Flight 93’s passengers and crew. The shorter trail, beginning near the restrooms of the Visitor Center, gives some nice views of the Visitor Center’s minimalist architecture. Both trails lead you to the lower portion of the memorial where the Wall of Names and Memorial Plaza are located.

Friendship Hill National Historic Site – Point Marion, PA

Tucked in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania near the West Virginia border is Friendship Hill National Historic Site. It is best known as the home of Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury under Thomas Jefferson and James Madison who spearheaded funding for the Louisiana Territory and the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

The centerpiece of the park is the house, which is designated a National Historic Landmark due to its association with Albert Gallatin. The house spans three centuries of history and owners, with rooms built between 1789 and 1903. The park also includes 675 acres of beautiful land with trails, forests, meadows, and an overlook of the river.

Places to Explore

  • Take a self-guided tour of the historic house, which includes an informative movie about Albert Gallatin and the property’s history.
  • Attend a guided program led by Park Rangers.
  • Hike ten miles of trails to enjoy native plants, wildlife, and historic sites, such as a small cemetery.
  • Attend FestiFall, an annual fall festival that celebrates the life of Albert Gallatin and the American Revolution period through historical demonstrations, reenactments, craft vendors, food, and music.

Fort Necessity National Battlefield – Farmington, PA

The first full-fledged battle of the French and Indian War, known as the Seven Years War internationally, began at Fort Necessity in Fayette County. The battle was a response to a bloody ambush on French Canadian and Native American forces by British and colonial forces under a young George Washington at Jumonville Glen. Predicting retaliation, Washington’s troops began constructing a fort out of “necessity” in an area called the Great Meadows. The French, Canadian, and Native Americans attacked Fort Necessity on July 3, 1754, forcing George Washington into the only surrender of his military career.

Washington’s defeat at Fort Necessity strengthened his leadership abilities. Later British successes during the French and Indian War secured western Pennsylvania for the British and paved the way for the American Revolution.

Places to explore

  • See exhibits and an educational short film in the Visitors Center. If you’re bringing children with you, they will love the history-themed playground behind the Visitors Center!
  • Walk the battlefield and stop by numerous interpretive signs that explain what happened on different parts of the land.
  • Explore the hiking trails around For Necessity.
  • Visit the reconstructed Fort Necessity, built on the original site of the fort and surrounded by remaining earthworks.
  • Stop by the final resting place of British General Edward Braddock, who attempted to capture Fort Duquesne in modern-day Pittsburgh during the French and Indian War.
  • Tour the Mount Washington Tavern, which operated as a stagecoach stop from 1828 to 1855, and is now a museum focusing on the National Road.

Johnstown Flood National Memorial – Johnstown, PA

On May 31, 1889, 20 million tons of water broke from the South Fork dam and rushed to the city of Johnstown, PA, where over 2,200 lives were lost, the largest loss of civilian life in the United States at the time. The Johnstown Flood made headlines around the country, garnered the first disaster relief efforts from the Red Cross, and heightened tensions between working-class people and the wealthy industrialists they felt were responsible for the dam’s failure.

Places to explore

  • See the Lake View Visitors Center, run by the National Park Service.
  • Explore the history of the great flood at the Johnstown Flood Museum.
  • Visit the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club Clubhouse, part of the country club that owned the South Fork Dam and Conemaugh Lake that caused the 1889 flood. Since the clubhouse needs renovations, it is only accessible through tours led by park rangers or bus groups. Please call (814) 886-6170 or visit the park website for more information.
  • Learn about local ethnic and industrial history at the Johnstown Heritage Discovery Center, located in a former brewery.
  • Tour the Wagner-Ritter House, a survivor of the 1889 flood and home to three generations of working-class families.
  • Ride the steepest incline plane in the world, built in 1890 to carry workers to a new suburb safe from floods.

Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site – Gallitzin, PA

From 1834 and 1854, the Allegheny Portage Railroad was the first railroad through the Allegheny Mountains. As a portage railroad, it moved barges and riverboats on inclined planes to canals on either side of the mountains, connecting Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. At this historic site, discover the history of innovative transportation methods that revolutionized industry, business, and travel in Pennsylvania.

Places to explore

  • Stop by the Summit Level Visitor Center to view a 20 minute film, explore exhibits, and interact with Park staff and volunteers.
  • Tour the Lemon House, a tavern that served passengers along the railroad resorted to its 1840s appearance.
  • See exhibits, a historic engine, and other artifacts at Engine House No. 6.
  • Find the unique skewed arch, part of a stone bridge that was modified to accommodate a bend in a turnpike road.
  • Drive out to Staple Bend Tunnel in Mineral Point, among the first railroad tunnels of its kind, built in 1833.
  • Hike trails to enjoy the beautiful scenery and find points of interest related to the railroad.

Which of these National Parks near Pittsburgh would you like to visit?

The Pittsburgh area and southwestern Pennsylvania are blessed to have so many awesome National Parks.

If you’re looking to explore more National Parks in Pennsylvania consider visiting:

  • Valley Forge National Historical Park
  • Gettysburg National Military Park and Battlefield
  • Independence National Historical Park
  • Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site

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