Located in the rural southeastern corner of Butler County, you’ll find one of the area’s best off-the-beaten-path hiking destinations, the Todd Nature Reserve.
The Todd Nature Reserve is owned by the Audobon Society of Western Pennsylvania and has been open to the public since 1942. It was donated to the society by W.E. Clyde Todd who was an avid bird watcher and the Curator of Birds at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
Over the years, it has grown to 324 acres in size and is a fantastic destination for birders as more than 180 different avian species have been spotted here over the years.
For hikers, the reserve features six miles of hiking trails, several beautiful bridges, and a small double waterfall, all of which make for a great time in the woods.
Wanting to check out the natural beauty here, I visited on a mid-October day to do a bit of hiking at the Todd Nature Reserve. I found an excellent hike of 1.25 miles that wasn’t overly difficult and allowed me to see many of the land’s highlights.
Getting to the Todd Nature Reserve
The Todd Nature Reserve is located in southeastern Butler County, approximately 30 minutes from Butler, PA, and 45 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh.
The preserve is located in a forested area that’s surrounded by acres of farmland just a short distance west of Route 28.
The parking area can be found along Kepple Road in Sarver, PA. It is located at the following coordinates: 40.733083, -79.702583. Note that this is slightly off where Google shows the preserve to be, but I grabbed these coordinates when I was visiting, so they should be spot on.
If you don’t want to use coordinates, you can use the following address, but note that while it will get you to the road and near the parking area, it is definitely not exact: 367 Kepple Rd, Sarver, PA 16055.
For the parking area, look for a narrow dirt road next to a large sign that says Todd Nature Reserve. The parking area is back a short dirt driveway that was in good enough condition for a regular car to pass without issue in October 2022.
[Click here for information on how to use the coordinates in this article to find your destination.]
Hiking at Todd Nature Reserve
There are six miles of hiking trails at the Todd Nature Reserve, and the parking area has a single obvious trailhead that provides access to all eight of the officially marked trails that can be found here.
The trails start adjacent to an information board, which has a map of the reserve. I recommend taking a photo of this before you start.
During my visit, I did a 1.2-mile loop that allowed me to hike past many of the reserve’s highlights and on the Loop Trail, the Ghost Pipe Trail, the Polypody Trail, and the Ravine Trail. If you are looking for a taste of the beauty here, this is definitely a great hike to follow.
From the parking area, I headed down the steps and then right onto the trail leading downhill and into the reserve.
At the bottom of the hill, you’ll see a beautiful wooden bridge and a cabin porch on the far side. I say cabin porch because the back of the structure is just composed of the exterior walls with no roof.
For my loop, I turned and headed over the bridge and climbed the steps to the cabin. The cabin area contains another sign board that offers a bit of history on the area if that’s something that intrigues you.
If there’s one confusing area at the Todd Nature Reserve, it’s finding the trail as you leave the cabin. Trails branch off in several different directions and there are no signs that I saw pointing you in any particular direction. Fortunately, the trails here are so short that even if you took the worst trail, you’d only be looking at a two-mile loop of the property.
That being said, when you leave the cabin head to your right (with your back to the creek) and continue to follow the stream you just crossed downstream.
At this point, you will be following the red-blazed Loop Trail, but you’ll want to keep your eye out for the white-blazed Ghost Pipe Trail coming in on your right.
The Ghost Pipe Trail is named for a unique plant that appears in this area of the forest in July, but there were no ghost pipes to be seen during my October visit. Still, this trail was quite beautiful.
Just make sure to stay to the right when the white blazes branch off in two different directions shortly after leaving the red trail. (If you head left at this split, you could add a loop to the reserve’s pond, which would probably add less than half a mile of total hiking).
After only a few minutes of hiking, the Ghost Pipe Trail will intersect with the orange-blazed Polypod Trail. Turn right on the Polypod Trail and you’ll soon be walking through a really cool area of giant boulders that are covered with moss and polypod ferns.
This was definitely one of my favorite spots during my hike, and I took a couple of minutes to enjoy the beauty of this part of the Todd Nature Reserve.
As you leave the rock outcropping and head downhill towards the red-blazed Loop Trail, there are spots where it gets a bit steep. However, it’s nothing that anyone who has reached this point shouldn’t be able to handle.
Once the Polypod Trail reaches the Loop Trail, you have several choices.
You could opt to simply turn right on the red trail and hike it back to the cabin and return to your car that way, but that would miss what, in my opinion, is the best part of the reserve: its small waterfall.
So, instead, turn either left or right on the Loop Trail, and look for one of the two very short connector trails that head down to the creek. At this point, you’ll be hiking on the purple-blazed Ravine Trail, which is, in my opinion, the most beautiful and interesting of the trails I hiked in the reserve.
This trail follows very closely to the stream and, if water levels are especially high, it’s possible that it could even be underwater, so make sure to use caution here. This trail is much more rugged than the others and you’ll have to do a bit of climbing around rocks and roots, but it is not overly difficult.
There is, however, one feature of Ravine Trail that is either good or bad depending on how you look at it: a wet stream crossing.
At this point, the stream is rather wide but typically quite shallow. That being said, unless water levels are especially low, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to cross here without getting your feet wet. And, if water levels are high, it might be a bad choice to cross at all.
Nevertheless, for me, this was a fun adventure and the cool water felt great after hiking through the humid forest.
Once across the stream, the Ravine Trail follows what appears to be an old road. If you follow this trail straight up the hill, you will likely miss the waterfall, so look for an obvious side trail that branches off the main trail to the right as it bends away from the creek. Because it sits just off the main trail, this waterfall is an easy spot to miss.
The waterfall in Todd Nature Reserve isn’t overly large. In fact, it’s probably less than 8-10 feet in total height, but with a series of small 1-2 foot drops.
What I really liked here, though was that the waterfall is located where the reserve’s two streams come together, and there were actually drops on both streams, which created a really fun and unique double waterfall. That being said, this can be a bit tricky to see, and I had to get my feet wet again to fully enjoy this spot.
Just note that the rocks here are a bit slippery, so use caution if you approach the water.
For those that hike with coordinates, the waterfall can be found here: 40.732583, -79.700200.
From the waterfall, it’s only about a quarter-mile hike back to your car, following the Ravine Trail uphill, past the bridge you initially crossed, and up the stairs to the parking area.
If you wanted to visit the waterfall without getting your feet wet, you could either go directly there from the parking area for a half-mile roundtrip hike, or do the loop as described, but return on the Loop Trail to the cabin, and then follow the Ravine Trail downstream to the waterfall.
However you decide to do it, though, Todd Nature Reserve is really quite a beautiful spot and a nice area for an easy hike through the woods. This is definitely a spot you want to check out if you are exploring the area north of Pittsburgh or are looking to stretch your legs while driving Route 28.
The Todd Nature Reserve is open to the public from dawn to dusk throughout the year.