Recently I did part one of a blog post about my visit to Cook Forest State Park area in Pennsylvania. That post was dedicated to The Gateway Lodge, where we stayed during our visit. Please check this site for that if you missed it. Today I am going to focus on the actual park and the activities we did while in the area.
Pennsylvania is filled with lots of picturesque mountains, forests, and these are showcased in our state parks. Cook Forest stands out uniquely from some of the other parks the state has to offer. The park offers some ancient trees, that are some of the tallest in the Northeastern USA; over 160 feet tall. The area called the Forest Cathedral is a registered National Natural Landmark, where you can find trees that are over 150 years old. Staring up at the skyline and taking in the scenery, makes hiking a must while visiting the park.
There are a variety of trails in the forest you can take. A lot of them intersect so you their are options of taking a smaller stroll through the woods or spending hours among the tree giants. I recommend stopping by the state park visitor's center to grab a trail map before beginning your journey. There are also several trail options you can take fright from the visitor's center. We used that as a base to check out the nearby swinging bridge, which was a short easy hike from the parking lot. After this visit we visited three other trails which I will list below.
Picture of the swinging bridge.
Paved Trail or Emerald Path
This the shortest and easiest trail we hiked. Its a loop trail that is is mostly paved, and only a quarter mile long. The draw to this path is that depending on the time of year and weather, moss overtakes the trail and makes it a stunning shade of green. When we were there, part of the trail had some green moss starting to cover the trail but it wasn't completely covered; as you can see from my picture below. You can do a Google search for, "Emerald Path Cook Forest" and find some pictures of what it looks like in its glory. To access this trail, turn down the road that takes you to the Cook Forest Sawmill for the Performing Arts. Take the first dirt road on your left and carefully follow it up the hill. Where it ends is a parking spot with signs for the paved trail. I rank this trail super easy as its short and flat. Its worth a stop on your itinerary for sure.
Longfellow and Ancient Forest Trails
This is the two trails we used to go through the ancient forest and see some of the oldest trees the park has to offer. We parked off Forest Road. Driving along this road, this parking lot is easy to find. Right near a small bridge with signs everywhere. Starting from the parking lot we took the Longfellow trail and followed it past the Memorial Fountain. We followed the trail until we saw the signs for the ancient forest trail and we followed that trail as that took us through the forest cathedral. It eventually connected back to the Longfellow trail in a different part and created a sort of big loop for us. This hike was a nicer hike of a mile or so and we could have extended but didn't due to time of day and the rainy weather. The trail was nicely marked and not very difficult. I would give it like a 4-5 if rating in a scale of 1-10 (1 being easy and 10 difficult). There are some hills and roots you have to carefully step over, but otherwise its not a difficult trail
First photo is of the memorial fountain near the where the trail started.
Fire Tower and River Trail
The last hiking we did was on Saturday morning of our stay (the hikes before we both did Friday afternoon when we got into town). If you look on Google Maps or a map of the park you will notice a Fire Tower. The tower is not in use but open that you can still hike up to the top. The fire tower sits near Fire Tower Road. This road is a dirt road but there is a large parking lot near the fire tower. We parked there and then followed the signs towards the fire tower. There is also a nearby lookout point called Seneca Point. After visiting both, we started to follow the river trail, which also had signs.
The River Trail takes you from the top of the mountain top the bottom, eventually meeting up with the Clarion River. We picked this trail because if you follow this trail long enough you can see the only waterfall in the Cook Forest area, Henry Run Sawmill Dam. To find this waterfall, keep following the river trail. You will eventually notice a good size island in the middle of the river. About the time you reach the end of the island you will come across the waterfall. The waterfall is over a stone damn that is made when a smaller creek dumps into the river. Its not very tall but still a beautiful setting. From what I understand the waterfall may not be as prevalent during the summer or dry times of the year. Luckily there had been plenty of rain when we visited and were able to catch this picture.
I really liked this trail and would probably rate it somewhere around a 7 in difficulty. I wasn't a super steep descent or ascent on the return trip, but your still going up and down a hill. There are some areas that the path was more narrow, and you have to navigate over things like rocks and tree roots constantly. I took my hiking pools on this trek. Only because I can be a klutz and prone to tripping. So even though the rocks and stuff weren't huge, they were enough of a nuisance that I was grateful for the extra support.
Other Outdoor Activities
There are lost of other outdoor activities offered in the area. I seen signs for things such as horseback riding. It appears that , canoeing, floating, or kayaking down the Clarion River in the summer is very popular also. We were their in early May. It was cooler and rainy. Most of the places where you can rent things for these activities were not available yet. Though it would have been nice to do some of these things; the time of year we visited, along with the weather, meant very few visitors. We hardly came across anyone else when were were hiking. Which was nice to feel like we had part of the forest to ourselves.
Shops and Entertainment
The area has some a few little shops and places in the area you can explore. We didn't do a lot of them as again limited options when we were there. Two of them stood out in my mind. The first is MacBeth's Cabins and Country Store. MacBeth's was located along the main road in Cook Forest and seemed to have a little bit of everything. There was a general store that had food you could purchase to eat as well as supplies for doing your own cooking or what you may need for camping. There was a souvenir area with a large and nice selection of Cook Forest t-shirts and other memorabilia. Also connected to the building is Cook Forest Wines. A winery shop with a good variety of wines. We had a lovely tasting and walked away with 3 bottles. Finally they appear to have a nice outdoor area where you can eat and enjoy wine or food during the nicer times of the year.
Next we visited The Farmer's Inn. This was a short drive out of the main Cook Forest area but this property had a lot to offer. There was an onsite restaurant, though we did not eat there. We noticed a zoo but didn't pay to go through it. We did however feed some goats and that was a lot of fun. There was also things like a driving range, mini golf, and ice cream. There was a decent sized bulk goods store there that sold lots of items at a very reasonable price. Overall the place had a lot to offer that you could easily spend a few hours, and also a good place for those with kids.
I want to note as well we did pass several other businesses in the area that did not appear open that seemed to offer activities. Some looked run down as if they were closed for years. Others it was hard to say if they were closed due to time of year, COVID, or permanently.
Finally, we did take a few hours and drive into the nearby town of Clarion. My husband went to college there so it was fun to check it out. We parked in the downtown area. We had lunch at Clarion River Brewing Company where we tried a pretty good flight of beer with some appetizers (pictured below). We then walked around the town a little bit. There wasn't a ton there in way of shops to explore. However, we did go to a candy store called Dan Smiths and got some good chocolate and candies to take home. I also went in a clothing store (I think it was FLCrooks) and found a pretty, soft, comfy sweatshirt on clearance to take home.
Our flight partially drank from Clarion River Brewing Company. appetizers were a buffalo chicken dip and a pretzel with beer cheese.
As I said in my post about the Gateway Lodge, the whole Cook Forest area feels nostalgic, like stepping back in time. It has a traditional camp feeling to the area that makes you feel like you are having the same experience that your parents and even grandparents may have had when they were young. The trees that are over a hundred years old, sort of whisper to you as you walk among them. Maybe its cause the park was pretty empty when we were there, but it felt like we had nice tranquil moments to connect with nature.
While the Clarion River is there to explore, it doesn't have any sort of lake area like you may find at other start parks. Didn't bother me as I prefer hiking over swimming. Plus the whole setting feels different than other state parks. If you like getting outside , I do recommend checking out this area. I do hope to go back some day and think a trip during the autumn season next time.
Tell me about your adventures to the area to those who have been!