Fitness: Five Great Trails to Run in the Fall in Pittsburgh
Don’t resign yourself to the gym treadmills just yet – fall is one of the best times of the year to get outside and pound the pavement, surrounded by falling leaves and the possibility of grabbing a hot latte on the way home.
photos by sarah shearer
Hopefully this won’t shock you, but Pittsburgh isn’t the greenest, most sprawling place in Pennsylvania. I didn’t leave rural Lancaster County to attend the University of Pittsburgh because of its endless back roads and wide-open spaces to run free (like in my dreams). But as a runner, I can say that Pittsburgh has surprised me with its variety of trails and neighborhoods that keep this activity an exciting part of my life.
From the first time I wandered into Schenley Park in November of my freshman year to last spring, when I trained for my first half-marathon on the trails along South Side, running has been my favorite way to learn the neighborhoods and explore the hidden places of this city I now call home. Running in the fall — which has finally arrived in full force — is my favorite time to get outside. The air is crisp and easier to breathe, and the burnt-orange leaves provide a welcome change in scenery. Here are five of my favorite spots to enjoy the outdoors before we descend into the cold, food-laden winter holidays.
Somehow, I lived my first three years of college without once visiting this park. Thankfully I decided to venture there earlier this year and it has become my favorite running spot. You can play it safe and take the wide, dirt path descending into the depths of Frick, but choose the narrow “roller coaster” trail for an experience that, aside from putting one foot in front of the other, is nothing like going for a traditional run. This narrow trail winds through the heavily-wooded patches, so be sure to keep an eye out in front of you for any gnarly tree roots or logs in the path. It’s equipped for mountain bikers, too, complete with a few small ramps on the trail.
Three Rivers Heritage Trail
Running this 24-mile trail from start to finish is like taking a whirlwind tour through Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods. There seems to be a piece of this trail running through most spots within view of the three rivers, including Lawrenceville, North Side and the Strip District. This is a trail with many hats. Take the stretch of tree-lined trail from Washington Island along the Allegheny to Downtown for city skyline views from a unique perspective. Or, start on the river’s opposite bank for a run that will take you through Lawrenceville and the Strip District. I’m planning to learn this trail well as I train for my first marathon in May — the lengthy paths are ideal for longer training runs.
South Side Riverfront Trail
This trail is for when you’re tired of running in the woods, but still want to get in some time outdoors. It runs along the Allegheny River on the edge of South Side, offering an in-between environment of equal parts river views and neighborhood happenings. Protip: start this run in Oakland and enter South Side over the Hot Metal Bridge, where you can catch a clear view of Downtown. Extra points if you can manage not to take a detour through the beer garden at Hofbrauhaus (but if you do, it’s OK. We won’t tell anyone).
Of the Pittsburgh neighborhoods I’ve visited during my time in this city, this one easily wins the most-runnable award. It’s quiet – compared to noisy and hectic Oakland and Downtown — and Shadyside is a refuge of old, charming homes peppered with trees (possibly) older than your family history on Ancestry.com. Because it’s mostly residential, there’s little traffic on the streets, so it’s a safe place to do some road running, though I’d hesitate to venture out at night – dim lighting can make it hard to see the sometimes-uneven sidewalks.
I still remember the first time I saw the Cathedral of Learning peeping out from the winter tree limbs in Schenley Park. I wandered much further than I had realized in the more than 400-acre park, revealing the potential to run and get lost — a feature I now love about it, but that also dissuades me from running there at night. Schenley Park is the ideal daytime location – the wide path running the perimeter of Panther Hollow is a slow and steady uphill workout, or navigate the bumps, flower patches and turns of the narrow path in the park’s canyon.