Hiker’s Guide to the Rachel Carson Trail

If you’re looking for a challenging day hike that can be tackled in sections, the Rachel Carson Trail is for you!

A beautiful morning on the RCT section in North Park
As always, follow the principles of leave no trace when you're exploring the wonderful trails of Pennsylvania!

About the Rachel Carson Trail

The Rachel Carson Trail (RCT) is a hiking trail north and east of Pittsburgh that covers over 45 miles between Harrison Hills Park and North Park. Because the trail passes close by the birthplace of ecologist Rachel Carson, the trail was dedicated in her name. The RCT was completed in February 1975.

The trail is intended for day hiking as there are no camps or shelters along the route. The trail is relatively primitive with few bridges, so be prepared for wet feet! Because the trail traverses some private land, the terrain can be extremely steep at times. The trail also follows the road in sections, so be sure to do your research before heading out for a hike on this trail!

Keep reading for tips about planning a hike on the Carson!

Section Hiking the Carson

Navigating the Rachel Carson Trail

The trail is marked by two inch by four inch yellow blazes. A single blaze means continue straight, a double blaze denotes a turn and a triple blaze means the end of the trail.

If you have not seen a blaze in two hundred meters, you are not on the trail. I have learned this the hard way! Keep your eyes peeled for blazes and if you haven’t seen one recently, you probably need to backtrack.

Two blazes, with the top one offset to the right, means the trail turns to the right here

Rachel Carson Trail Map

I cannot recommend purchasing the Rachel Carson Trail Conservancy Guide enough. You may think that AllTrails is enough for this hike, but the route changes enough that the latest version of the book is truly the only way to have up to date information. This guide contains 22 full color maps, a full elevation profile, and markings for all of the parking areas. I can tell you from experience that this booklet has saved me a lot of navigational hassle and is a great tool for planning your hikes.

Prepping for a Rachel Carson Section Hike

In addition to the RCT Guide, a great tool for planning your hike is the Rachel Carson Conservancy Website. This page has an interactive tool with all of the trailheads (with parking lots) and a tool to determine distance between them. Remember, if you’re doing an out and back – double the mileage listed in the tool!

The map is super easy to use! Clicking on any of the map pins will provide the coordinates for the trail head for use in Google Maps. I’ve also listed them all out below in the FAQs for your convenience.

For most up to date information on trailheads, trail conditions, and parking, visit the Rachel Carson Conservancy Website.

Even Tom has fun on the RCT!

Rachel Carson Trail Challenge and Preparation

If you’re looking for more in depth information about the RCTC, check out my post about completing the Homestead Challenge or the “half challenge” of the Rachel Carson Trail [Coming soon!]

Looking for tips on what gear to use for your day hikes on the RCTC? Check out this list of Ten Essentials for Day Hiking!

FAQs about the Rachel Carson Trail

How long is the Rachel Carson Trail?

The trail is 45.7 miles long.

Where does the Rachel Carson Trail Challenge take place?

There are two options for the RCTC. The full challenge takes place between North Park and Harrison Hills. It is approximately 36 miles long. The Homestead Challenge is half of that, at approximately 18 miles long and is named because it is close to the Rachel Carson Homestead. Each year, the direction the challenge travels reverses. In 2023, the challenge will go from Harrison Hills to North Park.

When does the Rachel Carson Trail Challenge take place?

The challenge takes place on the weekend closest to the summer solstice to allow for the longest stretch of daylight to complete the hike.

Where is the Rachel Carson Homestead?

The Rachel Carson Homestead is located in Springdale right along the trail. The address is 613 Marion Ave, Springdale, PA 15144. For more information, visit the homestead website.

What parks does the Rachel Carson Trail go through?

The trail goes through North Park, Agan Park, Emmerling Park, and Harrison Hills (all of which are worth exploring on their own!)

Views of the Allegheny from the RCT in Harrison Hills Park

Can I camp along the Rachel Carson Trail?

No. The trail is intended for day hiking as there are no camps or shelters along the route.

List of Rachel Carson Trailheads with Coordinates (From West to East)

  • Pittsburgh North Regional Chamber (Western Terminus) – 40.61557,-80.06056
  • Brooker Drive – 40.61593,-80.05197
  • McKinney Soccer Complex – 40.61763,-80.04752
  • Ice Rink – 40.61666,-80.02441
  • Beaver Shelter – 40.59937,-79.99641
  • Harmar Shelter – 40.58752,-79.99033
  • Sample Road – 40.57805,-79.96941
  • Topnick Road – 40.58716,-79.94147
  • Emmerling Park – 40.58218,-79.86166
  • Log Cabin Road – 40.57445,-79.81985
  • Agan Park – 40.55999,-79.78181
  • Tawney Run Road – 40.55770,-79.80343
  • Springdale High School – 40.54670,-79.78013
  • Crawford Run Road – 40.58217,-79.77914
  • Bull Creek – 40.61542,-79.75863
  • Saxonburg Road – 40.65498,-79.72692
  • Ox Roast Shelter – 40.65066,-79.69476
  • Buckeye Shelter – 40.65214,-79.70272
  • Eastern Terminus – 40.66532,-79.70382

How long did it take you to hike the entire RCT?

I split the trail up into small sections had to do many as out and back hikes. That meant that I covered many miles but not new trail miles. I completed the entire trail from eastern to western terminus over a series of 11 hikes between the end of March and mid-June.

Are there any challenges for the RCT outside of THE challenge?

Yes! There is a 100 mile quest. If you complete 100 miles total on any of the Conservancy Trails (RCT, Baker Trail or Harmony Trail) in 365 days, you can earn a cool patch. Sign up here to start working towards earning your patch. (However, the quest starts the day you sign up so time your signup accordingly!) As of August, I have thirteen miles left!

Have you hiked the RCT? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below!

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