Alpha Pass Trail, McConnell's Mill State Park, Portersville, PA - leading to Alpha Falls
McConnell's Mill State Park in Portersville, PA, hosts a number of interesting and historic sites, including a historic grist mill that provides demonstrations throughout the summer season, and a covered bridge that you can drive, ride or walk through. It also contains some of the most strenuous, but rewarding, hiking trails in western Pennsylvania.
The Point Parking lot at the intersection of McConnell's Mill Road and Johnson Road is only a short road walk (about 0.10 of a mile) from the Alpha Pass parking lot & trailhead. The Point lot is larger, and also boasts a public toilet at the end of the lot.
From the Alpha Pass Trailhead, you will descend steps, stairs, and steep trail down to the Slippery Rock Creek and Alpha Falls. From here, you can go off-trail (with some climbing and steep descent) to get to the creek's edge. It can be tricky during dry weather, and is dangerous when the trail is wet or icy (there is a reason it is called the "slippery rock" creek!). In addition, keep in mind that all those stairs you went down to get to the creek's edge, you will need to go back UP on the way back to your car!
The trail itself is marked by blue, rectangular blazes, since the Alpha Pass Trail is part of the North Country Trail, and follows the west bank of the creek. This section is rocky, full of tree roots, and contains steep ascents and descents on narrow trail as you hike parallel to the creek. The scenery is amazing, and in some areas, there are short connector trails that will take you down to the boulders along the creek's edge. There are also several areas where you will find old mill stones along the trail. This section of trail, though, is not for the faint hearted, and going off-trail can be extremely dangerous. Along the trail, you will also notice life preservers on posts - these are there for the rescue swimmers who are often called to pull out hikers or day visitors who are ill-prepared for the slippery conditions and who do not heed the "No Swimming" and "Stay on the Trail for Your Safety" signs.
Life Preserver along the Alpha Pass Trail
The distance marker at the Alpha Pass trailhead provides a distance of 0.4 miles to the Old Mill (as well as the covered bridge), where the Kildoo Trail picks up (also marked by blue blazes on the west bank of the creek); and 1.4 miles to Eckert Bridge, which is the crossover to where the Kildoo Trail loops back to the other side of the creek (marked by yellow, rectangular blazes on the east bank). When we hiked this in September, 2017, however, our tracker clocked the distance to Eckert Bridge as 2.4 miles, and provided the same distance along the Kildoo Trail from Eckert Bridge back to the Alpha Pass Trailhead. So...if you decide to hike this as a "loop" (Alpha Pass on the east bank to Kildoo Trail on the west bank to Eckert Bridge, and take Kildoo Trail on the east bank back to Alpha Pass Trail and the parking lot), be prepared for the hike to be longer in distance, and take much longer in time, than what the Park says, especially since the Alpha Pass Trail is a Class 3-4, difficult to challenging, trail, and Kildoo is only slightly easier.
Once on the Kildoo Trail on the east bank, the hiking does get slightly easier, although it is still extremely rocky and full of tree roots. However, the trail is wider, and there are many areas that lead to beach-type resting places along the creek. Take a few moments to sit on the boulders, watch the water, and listen to the rapids. The final section of the Kildoo Trail before you get to the Old Mill is part of the Trail of Geology interpretive trail, and is easier hiking. Once you get past the mill, however, you will pick back up on the Alpha Pass Trail to get back to the parking lot. The scenery along this trail is second to none in our area, and you won't regret taking the extra time to hike this beautiful trail.
Remember to take extra water and snacks, and wear sturdy footwear to hike this trail - unless you enjoy ankle injuries!
View from along the banks of Slippery Rock Creek
For more information on McConnell's Mill State Park, go to: http://www.dcnr.pa.gov/StateParks/FindAPark/McConnellsMillStatePark/Pages/default.aspx