Cross Country Skiing in the Laurel Highlands

The Laurel Highlands is one of the best places in Pennsylvania for cross country skiing! Check out my guide to cross country skiing in the area.

snowy trails in laurel highlands
A beautiful snowy day in Laurel Ridge State Park
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I used to hate winter. As someone whose main outdoor activities would stop because of weather, I would just wish the season away. However, that stopped when I discovered how awesome winter sports are. Cross country skiing is my favorite! The sport, also referred to as XC skiing, is an amazing way to get outside and experience the snow and luckily for me, it’s relatively easy for a beginner to pick up.

The Laurel Highlands, less than ninety minutes from downtown Pittsburgh, is one of the best areas in Pennsylvania for cross country skiing. This post will cover cross country skiing rentals, tips for beginners, and best places to cross country ski.

Read on for more information about cross country skiing in the Laurel Highlands!

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.

Cross Country Skiing at Laurel Ridge State Park

Most of my cross country skiing experience in the Laurel Highlands is at Laurel Ridge State Park. This state park has a specific cross country ski center that offers everything you would need for an outdoor adventure. Laurel Ridge offers rentals for a nominal fee, different levels of trail so you can work your way up in difficulty, and a wonderful ski concession area to warm up after skiing!

Skiing on the blue trails in Laurel Ridge State Park

The Laurel Ridge XC Ski Center is great for those who don’t have their own equipment. As someone who recently got into cross country skiing, I haven’t made the plunge into purchasing my own skiis yet. For the 2023-2024 ski season, rentals at Laurel Ridge cost $20.

All skiers at Laurel Ridge are required to have a trail permit. Daily permits cost $15, however, the park offers two options for frequent skiers. A season pass is $175 for unlimited visits during the season. Early season options (to be purchased in November) cost $125 for unlimited or $75 for a pack of six passes (saves $15!). I tend to buy the one off passes because, unfortunately, there’s no guarantee of snow in the area.

So excited about cross country skiing that I can’t keep my eyes open

One of my favorite things about the Laurel Ridge XC ski center is that it has restrooms and picnic tables. I highly recommend bringing lunch or something to eat in between skiing breaks or after skiing. Cross country skiing takes a lot of energy and burns a LOT of calories, so make sure you’re refueling. It’s nice to be able to sit down, take a break and get warm, and then head back out to the trails!

For a map of the XC ski trails at Laurel Ridge State Park, check out the PDF map here. Hills are clearly marked, which is helpful for beginners! I also recommend downloading the section of the park to AllTrails as once you’re out on trail, sometimes it’s hard to get your bearings.

Hannah from Hikes & Hops on her first adventure cross country skiing
Laurel Ridge State Park sound familiar? That's because it's home to the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail! For more information about this 70 mile backpacking trail, check out my post about my many backpacking adventures on this amazing trail!

Learning to Cross Country Ski

If you’re a total beginner to cross country skiing, starting with a lesson may be the best. The Pennsylvania Cross County Ski Association (PCCSA) offers free ski lessons on Sundays at the Laurel Ridge XC Ski Center. Lessons must be booked 24+ hours in advance and participants have to purchase a trail permit from the concession prior to the lesson. For more information, visit the PCCSA website.

Nemacolin also offers lessons for beginners or intermediate skiiers, however they are only open to overnight guests or members. For more information on XC ski lessons at Nemacolin, visit the resort website.

When I learned to cross country ski, I took a lesson through the Cleveland Metroparks (because I was living in Cleveland at the time). However, I’ve had friends learn through a combination of YouTube + trial and error. Downhill skiers will likely have an advantage over non-skiers, like me, but in my opinion, cross country skiing is relatively quick to pick up enough to go on beginner trails.

Looking for more winter activities in the area? Check out my list of Best Winter Activities Near Pittsburgh!

Laurel Highlands State Parks with Cross Country Ski Trails

The following state parks in the area have groomed cross country ski trails (for some of the parks, you will need to obtain your own cross country skis):

For more information about cross county skiing in State Parks and Forests, check out the PA DCNR website.

Love the Laurel Highlands? Check out this list of Best Hikes in the Laurel Highlands!

FAQs About Cross Country Skiing in the Laurel Highlands

How do I know if there is enough snow to cross country ski in the Laurel Highlands?

If you’re skiing in the Laurel Highlands, the PCCSA has a very helpful page that has a Laurel Ridge webcam, with a measuring stick to show how many inches of snow the XC Ski Center has. This page also has links to other webcams in the area if you want to XC ski elsewhere!

What should I pack for my first cross country skiing adventure?

Packing for cross country skiing is very similar to packing for hiking! Bring water, snacks or a meal, layers, sunscreen, and sunglasses. The winter sun can be deceivingly destructive to your skin!

(See below for more info on what to wear cross country skiing.)

What type of clothing should I wear cross country skiing?

Like hiking, wear clothes that are comfortable to move in and avoid cotton at all costs! Moisture-wicking fabrics are your friend. I like to wear a moisture-wicking material for my t-shirt and long sleeve, then layer a zip-up and/or jacket over top depending on the temperature. I also always wear a hat, neck warmer, and gloves. If you’re a beginner or if it’s actively snowing, I recommend waterproof layers, like snow or rain pants and a waterproof jacket because you will get wet when (not if!) you fall! I really like my Rab rain pants as they’re not too hot but are super waterproof.

You will get warmer than when downhill skiing so bring layers you can shed. I like to wear my daypack to put my layers in in case I take them off mid-run. It’s easy to shove a hat, a neck warmer, and mittens in my small pack if I get hot!

Where can I rent cross country ski equipment?

Pennsylvania Cross County Ski Association has a full list of places to rent gear from on their website.

Can I bring my dog cross country skiing?

Most areas don’t allow dogs on groomed cross country ski trails because dog paws can damage the trails, ruin classical tracks, and increase the rate of snow thaw. Check with your specific park to see if dogs are allowed.

Where can I find a list of other areas to cross country ski besides the Laurel Highlands?

The Pennsylvania Cross Country Ski Association has a full list of areas to ski, as well as information about whether you have to pay a permit, and if they have warming areas or rentals. This list includes rental places in Pittsburgh, if you want to get your rentals before you head out to the Laurel Highlands!

How do I get to Laurel Ridge State Park XC Ski Center?

To get to the ski center, put the following address in your GPS: 1101 Jim Mountain Road, Rockwood, PA 15557

Updated January 10, 2023

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