The 11 Best Things to Do in McConnells Mill State Park for a Day of Free Adventures

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Slippery Rock Gorge was designated a National Natural Landmark, 930 acres, since 1974. With that designation, it has protected over 2,500 acres of beautifully scenic land. Now known as McConnells Mill State Park, the area houses plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventures and activities.

This list will provide you with plenty of ideas and suggestions to fill a day visiting with some of the best things to do in McConnells Mill State Park.

Table of Contents

Where is McConnells Mill State Park?
What to See on Your Visit
1. McConnells Mill and Dam
2. Covered Bridge
3. Hells Hollow Falls
4. Breakneck Falls
5. Alpha Falls
6. Kildoo Trail
7. Slippery Rock Gorge Trail
8. Grindstone Falls
9. Cleland Rock Overlook
10. Whitewater Kayaking
11. Rock Climbing
What Not to Do
1. Swim in Slippery Rock Creek
2. Climb on icy or slippery rock formations
3. Camp in the State Park
How Much Time Should You Plan to Visit?
Wrapping Up: Everything You Need to Know

Where is McConnells Mill State Park?

McConnells Mill can be found in western Pennsylvania.

The closest major city is Pittsburgh, just about 40 minutes or 40 miles to the south.

The park is easily accessed from I-79, just 5 minutes away.

If traveling in the east-west direction across Pennsylvania across I-80, the park can be accessed by a 20 minute or 17-mile detour down State Route 19 south.

What to See on Your Visit

1. McConnells Mill and Dam

McConnells Mill and Covered Bridge is one of the best places to visit and one of the most photographed locations in the park.

A visit to McConnells Mill State Park is not complete without a visit to the namesake mill. If historic buildings are up your alley, this one is not to be missed.

Though tours of the mill only run during the summer months from Memorial Day to Labor Day, wandering around the outside of the structure, snapping a few photographs, and taking in views of the man-made mill falls makes this stop worth adding to your itinerary.

Although manmade, the Mill Dam is a beautiful accompaniment to the surrounding landscape, bridge and mill.

2. Covered Bridge

One of the most photographed locations in the state park is the Covered Bridge

Situated right next to the mill, the covered bridge is included in many of the iconic photos of McConnells Mill. The bright red structure spans a distance of 96.5 feet over Slippery Rock Creek.

Originally built in 1874 and rehabilitated twice, it has been on the National Registrar of Historic Places since 1980. At the time of acceptance into the National Registrar, it was one of only four of its kind remaining in the state and the longest of the four.

The covered bridge can be planned as a quick stop for a few photos and a walk across on the way to some of the other sights in the park.

3. Hells Hollow Falls

scaled view of Hells Hollow Falls, the falls are of decent size

For an easy hike with a big payoff, begin at the parking area of the same name and follow the well-marked and easy to maneuver trail. The trail will cover about half of a mile of mostly flat terrain and cross along the creeks.

The end of the trail leads down a wooden staircase and literally ends with your feet in Hell Run at the base of the falls. The falls are most impressive as they are typically the largest by volume within this park.

Also, get a peek into the history of the area by taking a quick look at the Lime Kiln still located at the turn of the stairs down to the falls. Check out our complete guide to visiting Hells Hollow Falls here!

4. Breakneck Falls

You can see the bottom of the Breakneck Bridge, where some begin their hike to Breakneck Falls. We wouldn't recommend that.

Accessing Breakneck Falls doesn’t have to be quite as difficult as in the past when the falls really lived up to their name.

These falls are more hidden, but three tiers twist and turn for their own spectacular sight. Continue on from the Killdoo Trail or access this as a short, less than one-mile side trip from the North Country/Slippery Rock Gorge Trail.

These falls didn’t disappoint, especially since we were alone during our entire side trip, passing no other hikers on this out and back trail.

For more information on how to access the trail and conditions, check out our Breakneck Falls guide here.

5. Alpha Falls

Alpha Falls could be the first or last point of interest that you visit, as the parking area and short trail to the falls is located right along McConnells Mill Road.

The hike is short but includes quite a few stairs and uneven terrain, so shouldn’t be considered for those with difficulty navigating uneven terrain. The falls could also be accessed from any hike on the North Country Trail, especially if you are planning a long out and back trip through the park, as this would be your turnaround point.

Alpha Falls is definitely seasonal, sourced from a tiny trickle that dries up in the summer, but is worth the trip when flowing. This guide to Alpha Falls will tell you everything that you need to know.

6. Hike the Kildoo Trail

Hiking along the Kildoo trail will afford beautiful views of Slippery Rock Creek.

For the most bang for your buck… or your steps… include the Kildoo Trail in your hiking plans.

In addition to previously mentioned Breakneck and Alpha Falls, which can be accessed easily while hiking the Kildoo Trail, you will see Kildoo Falls, as well as several smaller unnamed falls along the trail.

Kildoo Falls can be seen under the Kildoo Bridge. You will know to look away from Slippery Rock Creek to see this waterfall when you cross a small wooden footbridge on the Kildoo Trail.

Kildoo Falls can be seen from the trail of the same name, and could be easily missed if you aren't looking for it!

Catch glimpses of the running river by turning your head in the opposite direction. The trail could be hiked out and back from the Covered Bridge for about 3 miles roundtrip.

For alternative options, continue hiking on the opposite side on a portion of the Slippery Rock Gorge Trail. If you only have a couple of hours to spend in this State Park, we’d recommend this hike as a top option.

7. …or the Slippery Rock Gorge Trail

Hiking on the Slippery Rock Gorge Trail from the Covered Bridge

To see the entirety of the park, hiking along the Slippery Rock Gorge Trail is a necessity.

This trail actually covers a small portion of the much, much longer North Country Scenic Trail spanning eight states through the Great Lakes region.

Much of the route runs along Slippery Rock Creek for beautiful views of the whitewater and rocky banks. Covering just over six miles, be prepared to get quite a workout in with this trail.

Some of the terrain that the Slippery Rock Gorge Trail crosses over is quite rocky.

The elevation changes are quite noticeable over this rocky terrain.

Hiking this trail could be a great exercise in preparing for a longer or more strenuous backpacking trip while catching a look at most of the sights in the park.

8. Grindstone Falls

Grindstone Falls is a beautiful off the beaten path waterfall in McConnells Mill State Park

For a more off-the-beaten path adventure, add Grindstone Falls to your list. You won’t find this one from any of the main trails or even on the park map.

You will, however, find a small parking area, large enough for 3-4 cars, near the intersection of Nye and Mountville Road. A short hike downhill will take you to a single-drop waterfall 8-10 feet tall.

The shallow pool at the bottom affords the opportunity to walk right up to the falling water. This waterfall is beautifully secluded and peaceful, recommended to visit for those with a little more adventure in their spirit.

9. Cleland Rock Overlook

Lower on the list of best things to do in McConnells Mill is visiting this Cleland Rock Overlook

Honestly, if there was one point of interest on the map that I’d skip, this would be it.

I’m sure it’s a beautiful sight in the fall when the foliage is peaking. You really do catch a glimpse of how significant the walls of the gorge are. When the banks are lined with reds and oranges, that’s the time to visit this spot.

Other than that, there isn’t a ton to see, and the opening for viewing isn’t very big.

I wouldn’t recommend planning more than 10-15 minutes for this spot if you’d like to catch the views. There aren’t any walking paths or other things to do here, either.

10. Get Adventurous by Whitewater Kayaking…

Some whitewater kayakers take a break on a calm portion of the creek after navigating a few rapids.

For those experienced in these adrenaline-pumping adventures, McConnells Mill State Park is a great place to drop in and go on a whitewater kayaking adventure.

Trips here are not publicly run and there are no guides, so you must be experienced and know how to navigate the creek. This trip would certainly not be for a group of beginners.

However, if you know someone or have the skills, this is a great place to explore on the water.

11. …or Rock Climbing

The park is also known for its two separate rock climbing areas, Rim Road and Breakneck Bridge.

This adventure also should only be attempted with or by experienced climbers. As of now, there aren’t any public tours or companies walking you through this activity.

Plenty of climbers with experience do get out and tackle the climbs, though.

The Breakneck Bridge climbing area is more rugged and dangerous, so be prepared and take extra caution here.

…And What Not To Do

1. Swim in Slippery Rock Creek

This is not your typical babbling brook. Slippery Rock Creek is a dangerous whitewater creek destination. Many have simply washed away in the rough waters.

The currents in this creek are not to be underestimated.

If swimming in the area is on your list of things to do, be sure to head over to nearby Moraine State Park. The two parks are only separated by 5-6 miles or about 10-15 minutes by car.

At Moraine, you will find two beaches covering 1,750 acres set aside for swimming on the large Lake Arthur.

2. Climb on icy or slippery rock formations

Again, heed the name.

In the winter and spring, the rocks are icy. Spring lasts much longer in the gorge than in the surrounding areas. You may find ice on some of the trails into June.

After the ice melts, rain and water can make rocks slippery as well. Take caution not to lose your footing and be swallowed by the creek.

Unfortunately, this park has claimed its fair share of visitors.

3. Camp in the State Park

Even though the North Country Trail runs through the park, which is popular with thru-hikers, there is no camping within its boundaries.

Nearby camping in State Parks can be found by continuing on to Moraine State Park.

Also, private campground options are available, including Cooper’s Lake Campground, just across route 422.

How Much Time Should You Plan to Visit McConnells Mill?

McConnells Mill is a day-use park, so there are no overnight options.

A full day could definitely be spent exploring the park, though. If planning a weekend to explore other nearby areas, various options can be found close by.

The Breakneck Campground, just up over the hill from the park but not actually in the park, is a more primitive camping option with tent sites and rustic cabins. There are no hook-ups, and it is only open during the summer months. Pets are welcomed at the campsites but must be leashed and accompanied at all times. Typically, the campground is frequented by those enjoying the kayaking and rock climbing options nearby.

Camping is also available in both nearby Moraine State Park and other private campgrounds. Hotel accommodations can be found by driving about 20 minutes in any direction.

Wrapping Up: Everything You Need to Know About the Best Things to do in McConnells Mill State Park

Just to wrap up, here are a few final notes on planning your visit to McConnells Mill.

The area is pet-friendly, and leashed dogs are welcomed on the trails. There were plenty of dogs accompanying their fur parents exploring the trails. You’ll both head home tired after a day spent exploring the park.

McConnells Mill is a beautiful spot to explore in western Pennsylvania. One that shouldn’t be missed! Spend the day taking in historic structures, stumbling on hidden waterfalls, and hiking beautiful trails.

Pack a picnic lunch so you don’t have to leave early! You’ll find plenty of great spots to stop and eat it.

For more western Pennsylvania waterfalls and outdoor adventures, head south to Ohiopyle State Park.

Which is your favorite spot to explore in McConnells Mill State Park? Something in this list or somewhere else? Leave it in the comments!