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!

Table of Contents
- About the Rachel Carson Trail
- Planning a Hike on the Rachel Carson Trail
- Prepping for a Rachel Carson Trail Hike
- FAQs
A beautiful morning on the RCT section in North Park

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!

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.

Planning a Hike on the RCT

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 on advice for completing the Rachel Carson Trail Challenge! I completed the Homestead Challenge or the “half challenge” and tackled the full 37+ miles in 2023.

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

How long is the Rachel Carson Trail?

The trail is 45.7 miles long.

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.

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.

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

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

Updated February 4, 2024

2 thoughts on “Hiker’s Guide to the Rachel Carson Trail”

  1. I follow you on Instagram but just found your site. Awesome information! I’m taking my time reading through your posts and gathering information for some spring hikes.

    I also embraced hiking during COVID. I grew up in the northwest corner of Allegheny county on 110 acres and did so much exploring as a child but didn’t find the time as an adult until there was nothing else to do when everything was locked down.

    My daughter did the Rachel Carson Challenge twice and the second time in 2022 took my then 16 year old son along. She liked it the first time but hated it the second since heading east seemed significantly harder with the elevation changes at the end.

    Thanks again for your great content!

    Reply
    • Thank you so much for your kind words! I thought the Rachel Carson Challenge was so hard I’m not sure I would attempt it again 🙂 kudos to your daughter!
      I’m so glad you returned to hiking! I spent my summers exploring my grandparents’ woods and I think that hiking is a way to return to that for me as well.
      Please let me know if there’s any information I could help you with as you’re exploring our wonderful state!

      Reply

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