PA Wilds Day 5: Exploring Cook Forest & the Ancients
Travel time: ~2.5 hours
Cook Forest State Park is only about 20 minutes from Clarion, conveniently located along the I-80 Frontier of the Pennsylvania Wilds. This beautiful park is nestled in the old growth forests of Clarion, Forest and Jefferson counties.
We arrived mid-morning. First things first, we got our Passport stamped. (Cook Forest also provides stamps for nearby Clear Creek State Park.) Then we headed out for some fun hiking trails – and we wanted to be sure to get into the old growth section of the park.
We found the Indian Trail and started up the hillside.
On the steep incline at the beginning of the trail I kept losing my breath and taking breaks to collect myself, but eventually the path leveled off before connecting to a number of other trails and providing an easy descent back to the park office.
Along the path we saw all kinds of trees, many with carvings in them outlining the initials of those who’d hiked the trail long before we had. And who really knows exactly how long before those hikers had been there, as some of the trees in these woods are 300-400 years old, and still growing.
Many trees had fallen over the years, and I learned of a recent microburst that felled a number of the park’s tallest trees just in the week prior to our arrival.
Once we made it back to the park office we searched the park map for our next mini-adventure.
Did we want to canoe or tube the Clarion River, which flows adjacent to the park office and is the second of the region’s two National Wild & Scenic Rivers, or did we want to continue hiking the old growth forests?
We decided to keep hiking.
To the Seneca Trail we went. Up, up and up.
We saw on the map that this trail would take us to a scenic overlook and a fire tower. As we crested the mountain, we saw bathrooms and vehicles – suddenly realizing folks can drive up to the vista. But there wasn’t anyone around.
We found the overlook and, while trees kept us from seeing the river below, we could see the mountains in the distance and the valley ahead. After enjoying the view, we decided we wanted an even higher perspective, so we found the fire tower and climbed that too. The view was spectacular. Large boulders in front of it made for a nice resting area to enjoy a packed lunch before preparing to descend the mountain.
Once we made it back to the car, we were pretty well-drained – but hadn’t finished exploring. Instead of packing up – it was only mid-afternoon after all – we decided to go check out Clear Creek State Park, only 15 minutes away.
Along the drive there are several roadside shops and interesting activities – from deer farms to mini-golf, to small adventure parks, restaurants and more.
Once at Clear Creek, we checked out the small beach swimming area. The water was cold so it didn’t take us long to move on.
We soon found ourselves at the playground area, where there is an old Frisbee golf course set up. Although we’re not avid Frisbee players, we often have one in our trunk – and this trip was no exception. We grabbed the Frisbee and had fun trying to find the posts and play the game. (Note: Be sure to find all the posts ahead of time!)
As the evening came to a close, the forecast showed rain storms lasting over the next several days, and we decided to head back home, filled with new memories and ideas about what to do the next time we return.
If one thing is for certain about this trip, we learned there is always more to explore in the Pennsylvania Wilds.
[This is the fifth article in a five-part series, entitled “5 Days, 5 Distinct PA Wilds Experiences,” written by PA Wilds Center Outreach Specialist LaKeshia Knarr. Read more about the series here.]