Cook Forest Field Guide: Take a Hike and Happy Trails
With 50-plus miles of hiking and multi-use trails, Cook Forest State Park is a dream for fit backpackers and casual walkers alike. Some hikes are easy, but most would be rated as moderately strenuous with frequent elevation dips and rocky footing.
If your visit is short, concentrate on these eight Forest Cathedral Trails for the most spectacular views.
Joyce Kilmer Trail
Ancient hemlocks and large white pines provide cover for interesting rock formations on this trail, which runs from Cemetery Road to the Indian Trail.
Short but strenuous, the Rhododendron Trail provides easy access to Indian Cabins 6 and 7.
Longfellow is the most well-known trail in the park, with the trailhead at the Log Cabin Environmental Learning Classroom. Landmarks are the Memorial Fountain and the tallest known tree north of the Great Smoky Mountains — a white pine more than 185 feet tall.
Toms Run Trail
Traces of bracket dams can be seen along this flat trail, which connects the swinging bridge to the Log Cabin Environmental Learning Classroom. The dams were used to float logs downstream during the 1800s logging boom.
The swinging bridge links this trail with the popular Rhododendron Trail, meandering through a patch of birch trees.
Take this trail deep into the heart of the Forest Cathedral, passing the Children’s Fishing Pond along the way.
Red Eft Trail
Short and steep, the Red Eft Trail connects the Longfellow and Toms Run trails.
Ancient Forest Trail
This trail makes various loop options possible, cutting through the Longfellow Trail through the core of the Forest Cathedral. Look up to see the highest concentration of tall, old-growth white pines in Northeast America.
Other popular hiking trails in Cook Forest:
*Easy … **Moderate … ***Difficult
* Black Bear Trail (1.1 miles; look for black-bear claw marks on trees)
**Baker Trail (12 miles)
**Cook Trail (2 miles; look for a 1930s dynamite shack built by the Civilian Conservation Corps)
**Hemlock Trail (0.3 mile; look for 140-foot-tall hemlocks, some over 300 years old)
***River Trail (1.2 miles; look for the Clarion River and the fire tower)
Leave No Trace
While you’re enjoying nature, remember the Golden Rule: Leave No Trace.
The Center for Outdoor Ethics (int.org) offers these guidelines for keeping your footprint at a minimum:
- Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors
These multi-use hiking trails in Cook Forest are also open for mountain biking and horseback riding.
*Easy … **Moderate … ***Difficult
Hefren Run Trail (1.1 miles) offers biking opportunities in Cook Forest and connects to a 13-mile route along lightly traveled roads within the park.
Bridle Trail (1.1 miles) Discover this trail on foot or on horseback. It weaves through a 1930s CCC red-pine plantation.
Old Logging Road Trail (0.6 mile) Look for red and white pine orchards planted by the CCC in the 1930s while hiking or horeseback riding.
Equestrian Trail (1.5 miles) Look for white-tailed deer and hawks while hiking or horeseback riding.
Hefren Run Trail (1.1 miles) On this multi-use trail, see remnants of old bracket dams.
Find a horseback riding loop on Forest Drive, which connects to Old Logging Road and winds through pine plantations. You can find 24 miles of additional trails downstream of Gravel Lick Bridge. For horseback riding adventures:
814/856-2081 (Nov. 1-April 30), 814/226-5985 (other months)
Silver Stallion Stables
When hiking in Cook Forest State Park, keep your eyes peeled for trail signs, fallen branches, rock formations, photo ops and furry critters. But don’t forget to look up. As an old-growth forest, Cook Forest has been designated a National Natural Landmark because of its wealth of towering white pines and hemlocks, some more than 350 years old. The trees soar overhead and give a canopy effect to the ground far below, where sunlight can only filter through the thick foliage. For best viewing, follow the length of the Longfellow Trail (1.2 miles) from the Log Cabin Environmental Learning Center.
For a more strenuous challenge, the steep Indian Trail, (1 mile) is considered one of the Forest Cathedral’s most difficult. It passes a pond and wanders through white pines dating back to the 1700s.
Download a full list of Cook Forest trails at dcnr.pa.gov/stateparks/findapark/cookforeststatepark