Wild in the 15238: Allegheny Land Trust's Sycamore Island

It's funny, you grow up in Pittsburgh wondering about the world outside of it, occasionally overlooking the wilderness at your doorstep in the process. At least I did. I can remember doodling rugged mountain skylines and fantasizing about the Rockies and the Alps as a kid. It took 10 years of wandering the West pursuing the real-life version of those sketches before I realized there's plenty of adventure back home. Whether it's the wilds of West Virginia's Gauley River National Recreation Area, the nearby New River Gorge or Pennsylvania's Laurel Highlands and Allegheny National Forest, there's no shortage of adventure right out the backdoor.

 Hiking around Sycamore Island late September.

Hiking around Sycamore Island late September.

It turns out you don't even have to go that far from the city to find your wilderness. Last week I had the chance to tag along on our kayak trip with the Allegheny Land Trust to Sycamore Island. Purchased by the Land Trust in 2008, the 14-acre island is just 9-miles upriver from Point State Park, near Aspinwall and Fox Chapel. Open to the public and only accessible by boat, the island is a sycamore sanctuary – mostly free of invasive species – that will have you feeling like you're much further up river in the national forest. Great for a day trip or even an overnight – the Land Trust has one designated campsite on the island available with a reservation. Once a “party island” with a bar and a pool, originally simply a dredge pile made to clear routes for barge traffic, the island is now fully reclaimed by nature with tall sycamores and other maple species – in no small part due to the efforts of dedicated volunteers maintaining the island and clearing it of invasives. The old pool is now an amphibian-friendly pond habitat. The barge once home to a bar for guests now has trees growing through it's rusted shell. The whole island has a trail that circumnavigates and intersects it, also courtesy of a strong volunteer effort.

While we may or may not consider a fall trip to the island, we encourage you to take the opportunity to explore it for yourself. The Land Trust's dispersed campsite is free to the public but requires a reservation. It's otherwise open to the public during the day. We accessed the island paddling upriver from the Aspinwall's public boat launch. Setting out from there makes for a roughly 3-mile paddle upriver to reach the island. At normal river flows, it's an easy enough paddle, but you'll want a kayak or canoe that tracks well for upriver travel. The island is also accessible from a boat launch in Verona, near the Steel City Rowing Club. For more information stop in the shop or reach or visit the Allegheny Land Trust Sycamore Island website.

Fall backpacking adventures in the backyard;

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Did you know that there are only five Pennsylvania State Parks open to overnight backpacking and all are within a two hour drive of Pittsburgh? True story. They're all great options for enjoying the changing leaves and impromptu fall camping. Laurel Ridge, Ohiopyle, Moraine, Oil Creek and Raccoon Creek State Park all offer trail accessible backpack camping with a variety of amenities from shelters to tent sites. Roughly an hour and a half from downtown Pittsburgh, Laurel Highlands and Ohiopyle both offer access to segments of the Laurel Highlands Trail system for adventures ranging from a few miles to up to 70, if you take on the full trail. Closer to Pittsburgh Moraine offers 13 miles of trail within the park, but also ties into the other 4,600 miles of the North Country National Scenic Trail connecting North Dakota to New York State. Fall might hit a week or two earlier in Oil Creek State Park outside of Oil City. For more information, check out the Department of Conservation and Natural Resourses State Park backpacking page.

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Rab: A lesser known outdoor workhorse

What's Rab? We've had the question a lot in the shop. And it's understandable, the British Brand founded by climber Rab Carrington isn't widely distributed in the U.S. Since it's a big part of our fall offerings, we thought we'd take a chance to introduce them. Originally geared toward climbers – much like Patagonia's early days – they've expanded to be on par with other big-name outdoor apparel brands. More widely known and distributed in Europe, we carry them because we believe in the quality product they put out, their unique designs, and plus the gear looks really cool.

“They're a great brand,” said 3 Rivers Outdoor co-founder Chris Kaminski, “ We carry them for a number of reasons” from innovative insulation techniques to responsibly sourced European down certified to the Responsible Down Standard (RDS) – an independent non-profit that certifies ethical practices and treatment of animals sourced for natural down. You'll find we carry everything from their sleekly designed fleece mid-layers to waterproof jackets fit for the coldest of winter temperatures. The company also offers a wide array of tents, sleeping bags and other gear not currently in-stock but available on special order.

Check out the video below for a little more background: