For my birthday I had a typically strange request. I wanted to visit Gravity Hill in western Pennsylvania. We filled the tank and took off on our unusual day trip.
You may be wondering. What is a gravity hill?
I’ll tell you. When you stop on a gravity hill and put your car in neutral, the inexplicable happens: your car slowly and creepily rolls uphill, supernaturally defying physics and the laws of gravity.
Or, maybe it isn’t so supernatural. Maybe it is just an optical illusion caused by the fact that the horizon is obscured or curved. Debunkers of the gravity hill magic explain that when we can’t see a true horizon, we have a really hard time judging the slope of a surface. Objects in the landscape, like trees, which we assume are perpendicular, may actually be leaning, and this conspires to trick our eyes. It appears that the slope we’re looking at goes up when it really goes down.
Or, maybe it is ghost children pushing your car up the hill, like they push stopped cars over the railroad tracks in my favorite San Antonio ghost story. Supposedly, if you put baby powder over the back of your car, you can catch the fingerprints of these little helpful ghosts. This legend made it into movie form in 2006 as well – check out Fingerprints. Low-budget. Not horrible! (There’s a ringing endorsement). One plus: it does have Lou Diamond Phillips in it.
Anyway. I digress.
Also called magnetic hills or mystery spots, you can find gravity hills all over the country.
Our destination: Gravity Hill in North Park. This is in the Wexford area north of Pittsburgh.
North Park is huge! At over 3,000 acres it is the largest in Allegheny County. “This park has everything,” we riffed off The Blues Brothers as we cruised the chilly roads. Massive lake. Golf course. Trails. Nature Center. Skating rink. Abandoned water tower (cool).
But Gravity Hill! Most awesome of all.
North Park’s Gravity Hill is in the middle section of the park at the intersection of Kummer and McKinney roads. Here’s a park map showing those roads.
Stop at the stop sign at the intersection. Put your car in neutral. Take your foot off the brake. Your car will almost immediately start rolling backwards, seemingly uphill. Be careful, because it speeds up quickly! Of course, make sure there’s no traffic coming – you’re on a public road, after all. We visited on a raw March day and there was zero traffic. So, my husband and I both tried it out. O.k., multiple times. It was really fun!
Clearly, the photos show the hill behind the stop sign. The hill that your car rolls up. In hindsight, video may have helped, here.
After enjoying the magic and mystery of Gravity Hill, we took a short (it was really cold) hike around the Latodami Nature Center.
Then we went to check out the old North Park Water Tower. Built in 1937, the tower is 101.6 feet tall. It has an observation deck that was renovated in 2010 for the movie I Am Number Four. But it is closed to us regular fans of abandoned things – and has been since the ‘70s. Posted warnings plaster the base of the tower and the stairs are chained and padlocked closed. Disappointing. But still neat to see.
If you’re in the area, definitely take a side trip to visit Gravity Hill. If you have a few hours, North Park is simply beautiful and filled with things to do. Take a picnic, and make a day of it. You won’t be disappointed.