It’s been a year! And we are all still searching for different pathways back to normalcy as 2021 looms just over the next hill. Thankfully there are abundant places that remain special that we can all count on for a boost. Places where we can get our feet back solidly on the ground, that make us feel peaceful, happy, and healthy – and provide opportunities to connect with nature and to witness her raw beauty.
While some of these hikes are easy, some require a bit of determination, but all are special destinations that can create better, abundant memories for all. And note that the order presented does not indicate any preference, as each spot is beautiful and memorable in its own right.
Being in the PA Wilds, we are all mindful of the need to continue to act responsibly in our current environment, which includes enjoying the grace of brilliant outdoor wonders. There’s never been a better time to grab your knapsack, hiking shoes, camera and binoculars and witness the beauty of the PA Wilds as we dive into autumn and the shifting of Mother Earth’s own biological clock. Be sure to check out park and destination websites as various amenities may be closed in observance of safe COVID-19 practices.
This pretty trail in Elk Country takes you through the woods where white pine, ash, beech, sugar and blue maple trees were once in abundance. In the spring of 1985 a tornado tore through and sculpted a path through the park, destroying over 200 acres. You can still see remnants of felled white pines as you move across the forest floor. After two-thirds of a mile on the Giants Trail, a trail marker shows a spur where you can continue up the hill to a beautiful vista point offering spectacular views of Parker Lake and Dam, including the surrounding “corduroy” ridges to the north, east and south.
(Photo: Parker Dam State Park by Ray Hunt)
The Kinzua Sky Walk in the Allegheny National Forest & Surrounds offers a breathtaking view of hundreds of acres of Kinzua Bridge State Park and the Kinzua Gorge. The Sky Walk was once a bridge that was created almost 140 years ago for transporting coal and lumber from North Central PA to other parts of the state for further processing. In 2003, a tornado tore through the Gorge, destroying a huge section of this over 2,000 foot-long, 300-foot-high structure in less than a minute. The rusted, twisted metal towers still lie on the ground as a reminder of the sheer power of nature. The steep and rocky Kinzua Creek Trail begins at the top of the Walkway and descends to the bottom of the Gorge, where the Kinzua Creek flows through.
(Photo: Kinzua Bridge State Park by Ray Hunt)
The North Country Trail/Baker Trail in the Cook Forest and the Ancients landscape of the PA Wilds follows the Clarion River but climbs sharply towards Fire Tower Road. The climb is steep and rocky, but the surrounding woods provide some beautiful views and great exercise. Please also remember this hike during spring and summer, as the endless Mountain Laurel and Rhododendron provide amazing and artistic cover for the sweeping forest floor. At the top of the climb, you’ll be greeted by the 91-year-old Cook Forest Fire Tower. You can climb the stairs almost to the top of the Tower for a wide range of views of Cook Forest, its hemlocks and pines. You’ll likely wonder what it was like for stewards of this beautiful landscape in decades past, to stare out over the countryside, searching for fires, storms and incoming fronts from all directions. Back on the ground, walking from the Fire Tower across to the Seneca Point overlook, you’ll be treated to equally stunning views of the Clarion River from a 1,600-foot elevation.
(Photo: Seneca Point overlook, Cook Forest State Park)
Tadler Run Trail is a popular, looped single-track trail in the Cook Forest and the Ancients landscape that runs through acres of beautiful northern hardwoods. During fall, you can access two marked, scenic overlooks, and the trail is easily findable at the end of the drive as you enter the Park and continue to the end at the campgrounds that abut the Clarion River. Like Cook Forest, consider a visit in spring and summer to bear witness to beautiful Rhododendrons and Mountain Laurel that are a pictorial signature of Central Pennsylvania. The Park and the Tadler Run Trail are less-trafficked than those in many other PA state parks, and the hike is moderate, and scenic.
(Photo: Clear Creek State Park by Ray Hunt)
While a .2-mile hike may offer very little in terms of technical hiking, the Hyner View State Park and Hyner View Overlook should not be missed. On the border of the Dark Skies and Elk Country landscapes, the Overlook rises nearly 2,000 feet with sweeping views the West Branch of the Susquehanna River. At the top of the Overlook there is a ramp used by daring hang-gliders who soar over the beautiful valley. When you come here bring your camera, your binoculars, and plan to spend a little time taking it all in.
Hyner Run State Park (North Bend, PA) is close by if you really want to give your hiking legs an extra stretch. The Long Fork Loop trail is 4.1 miles long, and is most popular from spring through the fall. Beautiful views of the Sproul Forest and the terrain’s steep mountains are a real gift.
(Photo: Hyner View State Park vista by Ray Hunt)
The Barbour Rock Trail is located on the western rim of the PA Grand Canyon. The trail is almost ¾ of a mile in from the marked trailhead, and offers a variety of striking vistas for viewing the Pine Creek Valley and the PA Grand Canyon. But the best views of the Canyon are found from the sandstone landmark of Barbour Rock, peering down almost 1,000 feet to the Pine Creek meandering below. The sheer vastness of the gorge is amazing, and the scenery in almost any direction is truly memorable, and some of the best in the state. Cameras and binoculars are a must!
(Photo: Pine Creek Gorge, Leonard Harrison State Park)
Tanbark Trail gets its name from the cultivation of the Forest’s hemlocks and their bark for use in curing leather during the tanning process, during the late 1800’s. Back in the day, Pennsylvania held the largest concentration of leather-tanning plants in the United States and was a thriving industry. The Tanbark Trail in the Allegheny National Forest and Surrounds is well-marked and offers some gorgeous hiking, while only moderately trafficked. Hikers will encounter old growth forest with huge boulders, rock outcroppings and plentiful scenic streams and creeks. Hiking here provides a real wilderness feel, while still being close to civilization.
(Photo: Tidioute sunrise by Leslie De Vore)
The Golden Eagle Trail is not for the faint of heart. The 9.2-mile loop trail is located in Lycoming County, and is situated in the heart of Pennsylvania Game Commission Land between the Dark Skies and the Pine Creek Valley and PA Grand Canyon. It’s a pretty strenuous outing but offers the rewards of beautiful scenery, a good cardio workout, and a memorable etching of the PA Wilds in many ways. Author Tom Thwaites in his book “50 Hikes of Central Pennsylvania” calls this the “the most beautiful day hike.” After hitting the trail and moving through the first mile, veer to the right to hit several vistas which are well-marked and won’t disappoint. Ascending and moving further to the summit at Raven’s Horn, more beautiful views present Pine Creek and Wolf Run, where the hike resumes a gradual, meandering cadence. Beautiful hemlocks are awe-inspiring throughout the 4.5-mile trek to the end of the loop.
(Photo: Tiadaghton Resource Management Center, Tiadaghton State Forest)
The Bucktail Path starts north in Sizerville State Park and meanders its way to the hamlet of Sinnemahoning in the south, all within the Dark Skies landscape of the PA Wilds. Bucktail Path can be traveled in “small bites” or in longer outings, appealing to fairly serious trekkers, and those in search of an “off-the-grid wilderness” experience. The beautiful forest displays an impressive array of northern hardwood tree species, as well as oak and hickory forest covering. This is a special place for those who want a real PA Wilds diversion and exposure to the PA countryside.
(Photo: Sinnemahoning Creek and nearby trails)
The beautiful Bald Eagle State Park grew from the name of the Indian Chief “Woapalanne” (wopo lonnie), which translated to “bald eagle” during the 1700’s, when “Munsee Lenni Lenape” would migrate south from New York down to the milder Carolinas as winter approached. Many Indian tribes followed seasonal migratory paths from the Northeast southward during the 18th and 19th centuries. The Hunter Run West Trail meanders through forested areas as well as various field habitats, displaying a vibrant population of wildlife and songbirds. Hikers will be treated to signs of roadside farming ditches and uncultivated land strips from farming over the past two hundred years. It’s a beautiful landscape along the I-80 Frontier of the PA Wilds which shows unique throwbacks to the region’s rich cultural history.
(Photo: Bird watching at the Bald Eagle Nature Inn, Bald Eagle State Park)
So, grab your hiking staff, knapsack, camera, binoculars and snacks. Make this Fall your time to discover the sheer beauty and vastness of the PA Wilds, and take a friend!
Ray Hunt is a freelance writer and avid outdoor enthusiast who enjoys fly fishing, mountain biking, hiking and other outdoor activities in the Wild. He is a member of the Diablo Fly Fishing Club, Trout Unlimited, and lives in Clearfield County and works in the media industry.
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