Backpacking in Raccoon Creek

Looking for a great place for a short backpacking trip near Pittsburgh? Backpacking in Raccoon Creek is absolutely worth the visit!

Frankfort Mineral Springs, at the end of an 11 mile hiking day
As always, follow the principles of leave no trace when you're out exploring! Pack out all trash, leave wildlife alone, and generally leave it better than you found it - for more information visit the Leave No Trace Center.

Why Backpack in Raccoon Creek

There are many reasons to choose Raccoon Creek for a backpacking trip! I’ve listed all of the reasons I think it’s great below.

Convenient Location

Raccoon Creek is super close to Pittsburgh. On a Friday afternoon, we made it out to the park through the Squirrel Hill and Fort Pitt Tunnels via a stop at Sheetz in a little over an hour. Anyone located in the South Hills or even certain sections of the North Hills would be even closer! If you’re looking for a backpacking trip that you can take on a Friday after work, this is the one.

Beginner Friendly

I would highly recommend this park for a first backpacking trip. It’s close enough to a city that you don’t feel like you’re alone in the middle of the woods. The distance can be short enough that it does not feel overwhelming.

Multiple Route Options

While the main backpacking loop is the twenty-mile Raccoon Loop Backpacking Trail, there are enough shorter trails to change up the loop if needed. The loop we did was about 13 miles total. I’ve listed out some different itineraries in the Itinerary section below.

Don’t Have to Carry A Tent (Unless You Want To)

Like the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail in Laurel Ridge State Park and the Gerard Hiking Trail in Oil Creek, Raccoon Creek has Adirondack shelters for hikers to reserve. This means that backpackers don’t have to carry a tent! As much as I love my tent, it’s definitely nice to shed a couple of pounds out of my pack. If you’re a tent lover, Raccoon Creek also has tent camping spots.

Just two really cold people who were happy they didn’t have to carry a tent

Reservations Required

Hikers need permits to stay overnight in Raccoon Creek. Permits can be obtained through the PA Reserve America website. All hikers must pick up their permits outside the park office prior to starting their hike. You will receive your permit and a hang-tag for your car to designate overnight parking. Why is this a benefit? Because unlike first come, first serve camping, you’re guaranteed a spot if you plan far enough in advance!

Want to go backpacking but not sure what to pack? Check out my list of must-have backpacking gear!

Raccoon Creek Backpack Camping Areas

There are two camping areas for backpackers in Raccoon Creek, the Pioneer and Sioux campgrounds. Both of the campgrounds have both shelters and tent sites for backpackers.

On my trip to Raccoon Creek, we stayed in the Sioux campground in an Adirondack shelter. This campground has potable water, unlike the Pioneer campground. (Note: the Pioneer campground has water, it just needs to be filtered prior to drinking.) Depending on what direction you’re coming from, the Sioux shelters may seem a little hard to find – you will have to follow the signs from the tent sites to the shelter sites.

We stayed in shelter number 3. This was a good shelter, as it was relatively private and not close to other shelters. I’d recommend against shelter 1, as the hikers in shelter 2 will need to walk right by you to get to their shelter. But if you have a bigger group and need two shelters, grab 1 & 2! The shelters ring around a clearing that has benches, a food hang, and a fire pit that would be kind of fun if you had a larger group or wanted to make friends with other campers.

A little hard to see, but the clearing has a food hang!

The Sioux shelter also has a food hang. This nifty contraption helps keep your food out of shelters and away from critters. I highly recommend using the food hang. It’s common courtesy to your fellow campers to ensure food is properly secured – and it’s kind of a fun game to see how coordinated you are to get the bag on the pole (for the record I am terrible).

Love backpacking but not sure how to get started planning a trip? Check out my guide to planning a backpacking trip!

Raccoon Creek Backpacking Itineraries

There are multiple ways to backpack Raccoon Creek! Below are some sample itineraries that vary based on mileage per day and shelter location. My personal recommendation is to start at the Park Office parking lot. Since you’ll have to swing by there prior to parking to get your car hang tag for overnight parking, might as well just start there!

Before picking an itinerary, please assess your skills, gear, and conditions. Check with park rangers at the the location when assessing hike difficulty. Backpack at your own risk. 

Staying at Sioux Campground

Total Mileage: 13 miles (this was my itinerary!)

Day 1: Park at the Park office Parking lot – walk out of the parking lot to the left up the hill onto Route 18 to pick up the loop trail and then hike ~2 miles to Sioux shelter
Day 2: Hike ~11 miles from Sioux Shelter back to Park Office Parking lot on the loop trail

Note: this side of the loop does not go around the lake – that’s the other side of the loop

Total Mileage: 21 miles

Day 1: Park at Heritage Parking lot – hike ~5.2 miles to Sioux shelter
Day 2: Hike ~16 miles from Sioux Shelter back to Heritage Parking Lot

Note: don’t forget to stop at the park office to pick up your permit first!

Looking for another one night backpacking trip near Pittsburgh? Check out Quebec Run Wild Area in Forbes State Forest!

Staying at Pioneer Shelter

Total Mileage: 21 miles

Day 1: Park at Heritage Parking lot – hike ~7.5 miles to Pioneer shelter
Day 2: Hike ~13 miles from Pioneer Shelter back to Heritage Parking Lot

Total Mileage: 13 miles

Day 1: Park at the Park office Parking lot – hike counterclockwise on the northern portion of the loop ~4.5 miles to Pioneer shelter
Day 2: Hike ~8 miles from Pioneer Shelter back to Park Office Parking lot

Total Mileage: 21 miles

Day 1 Park at the Park Office – hike clockwise from the southern portion of the loop ~9 miles to the Pioneer Shelter
Day 2 Hike ~12 miles clockwise from Pioneer Shelter around the lake and back by the road to the park office

Lots of steam crossings in Raccoon Creek in the spring!
Love Raccoon Creek, but not ready to take on a backpacking adventure? For shorter hikes in the park, check out either the Wildflower Reserve or my guide to day hikes in Raccoon Creek!

FAQs about Backpacking in Raccoon Creek

Where do I park for an overnight stay in Raccoon Creek?

Overnight parking is only allowed in the Palomino, Heritage, and Park Office Parking lots. Palomino lot is closest to the Sioux and Pioneer campsites. The Park office parking lot is ~3 miles from the Sioux campsite and ~4.5 miles from the Pioneer campsite. The Heritage parking lot is 5 miles from the Sioux parking lot and ~7.5 miles from the Pioneer campground.

How do I reserve a permit for overnight backpacking?

All reservations must be done through the PA Reserve America site. Search “Raccoon Creek” and click “backpacking and river camping”. Choose your campsite and pay to reserve your spot!

Need more information about the difference between backpacking in a PA State Park or a PA State Forest? Check out my guide to backpacking in Pennsylvania State Parks and Forests!

Where is Raccoon Creek located?

Raccoon creek is located in Beaver County, near Hookstown. The park is 30 miles from downtown Pittsburgh.

What is the best time of year to backpack in Raccoon Creek?

I recommend visiting Raccoon Creek in April/May or September/October. While it’s a great trail anytime of year, the summer can be hot, humid, and buggy. I would not recommend visiting after a rain any time of year. Some of the trails are very muddy!

Love backpacking and looking for more places to backpack in the area? Check out my guide to the best backpacking in Western Pennsylvania!

Updated April 1, 2024

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