Login | April 21, 2019

Cook State Forest getaway

Pete’s World

Published: January 8, 2018

From time to time my girlfriend and I have opted to enjoy the beginning of the New Year at some woebegone setting several hours away from home. And I think more than anything, we just wanted to take a break from all of the crowds and the hubbub we experienced through the two-holiday month of December.

Those little beginning-of-the-year, one-tank trips have taken us down through the rural backroads of Southern Ohio, out across the Allegheny foothills of Pennsylvania, and up into the mountains of West Virginia. They’re all places that aren’t quite off the grid system, yet they’re definitely several big steps closer to a world of solitude.

With that being said, let me toss out a destination that’s sure to garner great winter-time memories. I’m talking about 8,500-acre Cook Forest State Park and 3,136 acre Clarion River Lands, all of which reside in wonderful northwestern Pennsylvania, a mere two-hour trip from Northeastern Ohio.

Known for its majestic swaths of old growth woodlands, Cook Forest State Park contains vast strands of towering white pines and hemlocks, one of which exists as a National Natural Landmark - the Forest Cathedral.

The Forest Cathedral grove is one of the largest stands of primeval eastern white pine and eastern hemlock in Pennsylvania. Some of its trees are over 300 years old, many exceeding three feet in diameter and 200 feet in height. And due to the quality of this piece of ancient forestland, National Geographic Traveler magazine selected Cook Forest State Park as one of its top-50 state parks in the nation.

A good portion of this area still remains as pristine as it was back in the early 1700s during the days of William Penn, when it was known as "The Black Forest" or "Penn's Woods.” Matter of fact, Cecil B. DeMille used Cook Forest as the backdrop for his 1946 film “The Unconquered” starring Gary Cooper, this because it still resembles the Western Frontier of what was once Colonial America.

With over 47 miles of hiking trails existing in the park itself, and an additional 24 miles of multi-use trails and eight miles of hiking trails located within the Clarion River Lands, there’s plenty of tracks to explore. And with nearly all of these trails being well marked, you’ll have no trouble negotiating this massive chunk of territory.

The longest of the park’s hiking specific trails is 4.1 miles. In addition to that, there are oodles of other trails that run about one to two miles in length. Eight of the park’s trails run through the approximately 332 acres of land that makes up the famous Forest Cathedral, the most popular of which is the Longfellow Trail.

For those who happen to be into longer, multi-hour tracks, no worries, as there are two long-distance hiking trails that pass through the park, the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT) and the Baker Trail, both of which follow the same 12-mile path. This path of convergence also passes by the Forest Cathedral, in addition to going past a couple of the park’s other scenic destinations, Fire Tower/Seneca Point, and the Clarion River.

If hiking isn’t your thing, that’s okay, because off-road cyclists have mountain biking access to all the one-way dirt roads within the park, and road cyclists can sample a large volume of the state and local paved roadways that lie just outside the park’s boundaries.

In times of good snow cover, you can participate in either solo or guided snowshoe and cross-country ski excursions. There are three designated cross-country ski/snowshoe trails within the park, in addition to an alpine equipment rental facility.

The park also has a lighted ice skating pond (skate rental is available) which has its own parking area, shelter, and fire ring. What’s more, ten acres of sledding slopes are situated just behind the skating pond.

To get to Cook State Forest, take I-80 east to PA 66 at Exit 60. Proceed north on Rt 66 to PA 36, and then take PA 36 south to the park.

Now the park does not offer winter accommodations, but, lodging options abound around the park. For a full list of cabins and hotels in the Cook Forest vicinity go to the website: http://www.cookforest.com/businessdirectory/lodging.cfm