North Park and its 75-acre lake are the crown gems of suburban Northern Allegheny County. With 9 ball fields, 8 soccer fields, a football field, tennis and basketball courts, an ice skating rink, a swimming pool, horse show complex, and an 18-hole golf course, North Park rivals any pricey country club. Many hours of leisure can be spent fishing, canoeing, or kayaking around the lake.
At 3,075-acres, North Park is the largest park in Allegheny County.
The Demonstration Gardens showcase the park’s main entrance.
The 5-mile paved loop around North Park Lake attracts plenty of traffic from dog owners, walkers, joggers and cyclists.
I run several times a week in this park through winter, spring, summer and fall. Every season holds a different mood.
Spring and summer are green and lush. The park is humming with people yearning to connect with nature. This is the busiest time to visit.
Autumn brings a burst of breathtakingly beautiful color. The park loses some of its summer regulars, but gains new visitors.
Winter is a wonderland of enchanting solitude. Only the dedicated return. Cross-country skiing is a popular winter activity.
Runners flock to the park in early morning before the crowds arrive. Nothing is more gratifying than the awe derived from watching the sun peek through the fog.
If you drove past the lake today, you would be unaware of the devastating damage caused by the rise and development of surrounding suburban areas. Years of storm water runoff produced sediment deposits, which accumulated to the point that they began to choke out native fish and plants. Earlier this year, the US Army Corps of Engineers completed the North Park Lake Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Project. 104,000 cubic yards of sediment were removed from the lake.
Now that the lake has been restored, plans are in place to improve the trail around it.
If the lake loop loses its luster, there are several miles of wooded trails suitable for hiking. The only drawback to the trail system is that the trails are not well-marked. It is difficult for neophytes to access their difficulty levels.
Latodami Nature Center is one of the best kept secrets in the park! It’s surprising how many locals are unaware of it!
The barn, a remnant of an old dairy farm, dates back to 1914. Today the barn functions as an environmental education center. There are over a dozen hiking trails nearby.
The Nature Access Trail is also known as the Braille Trail for its accessibility to the visually impaired. A thick rubber rope functions as a hand rail and runs along the entire length of the trail.
Even though this trail is less than a half mile long, it’s one of the most popular paths in the park. Many Eagle Scout projects lie along the trail, including vernal ponds and bridges.
The Spur Trail lies beyond this fence and makes a nice addition to the Nature Access Trail. Spur Trail begins with a taxing uphill climb and is moderately difficult for the rest of the hike. This is a popular route with trail runners and mountain bikers.
Spur Trail leads to Crow’s Trail and follows the remnants of an old farm road as it winds uphill through a mature forest. Mature trees and soft ferns line the trail.
Wildflowers and mushrooms dot the path.
This trail serves as the final resting place for Arted, the beloved lobster.
At the end of Crow’s Trail lies Bluebird Trail, a beautiful open meadow that connects to other trails.
All meadow trails offer beautiful vistas, a variety of wildflowers, birds, butterflies and other small critters. The trails can be looped together for a long hike or savored individually. Although most are 1/2 mile or less, some are between 3/4 to a full mile.
Odds are in favor you will meet the deer and geese that populate the park.
I’ve given you a small peek of what this park has to offer. Although North Park is bursting with secret nooks and crannies, I always choose to save something for later. Even though I spend several hours a week here, it never becomes boring. Even when I follow the same trail, I see it differently each day. This park brings local residents peace and solitude while fulfilling their cravings for social contact. Even in brutal cold weather, it’s unlikely you’ll meet someone who doesn’t give you a small smile while passing by.