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5 Fantastic Reasons to Visit Cook Forest State Park in Pennsylvania

5 Fantastic Reasons to Visit Cook Forest State Park

Every once in a while, I visit somewhere in Pennsylvania with no expectations and am blown away by what I find. My visit to Cook Forest State Park was one of those times.

Located in the Pennsylvania Wilds along the borders of Clarion, Forest, and Jefferson Counties, Cook Forest State Park is off the beaten path for many travelers. However, those that make it up to this lightly visited corner of the state are greeted by one of the most beautiful state parks in Pennsylvania.

Driving into the park along the Clarion River, I was astonished by the area’s beauty. Even though much of the park had yet to fully bloom, the beauty of Cook Forest State Park was unmistakable. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I fell in love with the park before I even got out of sight of the welcome sign.

Unfortunately, I only had a few short hours to enjoy the beauty of Cook Forest State Park, as I had to continue my travels through the Pennsylvania Wilds. However, in that short time, I was able to get a really good feel for the park, and came up with five great reasons to visit Cook Forest State Park again in the future.

The Forest Cathedral

Hiking in the Forest Cathedral in Cook Forest State Park

Hiking through the Forest Cathedral gives you a chance to see some of the tallest trees in the Eastern United States.

At one point in time, the majestic forests of Pennsylvania were chopped down to near extinction. However, in a few select places around the state, the old trees were saved from the logger’s saw and remain a testament to the majestic woods that once covered Penn’s Woods.

Today, Cook Forest State Park is home to an area known as the Forest Cathedral Natural Area. This National Natural Landmark is home to some of the oldest trees east of the Rockies. The size of the trees in the Forest Cathedral rival many of the great forests of the western US and are quite an impressive site to see.

The Forest Cathedral is crisscrossed by 6.5 miles of trails, but the most popular is the Longfellow Trail. This 1.2 mile trail passes by some of the largest trees in the park, as well as an area damaged in a 1956 tornado. Seeing the majesty of such large trees, as well as how quickly they can be brought down, is really a testament to the power of nature.

While this isn’t the most beautiful hike I’ve ever done, it’s impossible to not be impressed with the size of the trees in the Forest Cathedral Natural Area.

Cook Forest Fire Tower

Things to do in Cook Forest - Fire Tower

The imposing Cook Forest Fire Tower offers a great view from the top.

Built in 1929, the Cook Forest Fire Tower rises 87.5 feet above the hilltop to provide a commanding view of the valley below. While the tower was built to provide a lookout for firefighters, it has been used solely as a viewing point since the mid-1960s.

Climbing the 108 steps to the top of the tower gives you a great feel for the area around the tower, though I was disappointed to discover at the top that the observation area is only open on occasion.

The fire tower is still the original structure, meaning that it can be a bit rickety, swaying with even the slightest breeze. Because of this, and the open nature of the metal construction, it takes a bit of nerve to climb to the top. However, those that do are rewarded with a great view.

Seneca Point

Seneca Point in Cook Forest State Park, Pennsylvania.

The beautiful view from Seneca Point in Cook Forest State Park.

Just a few hundred yards from the Cook Forest Fire Tower is Seneca Point. This rocky outcropping overlooks the Clarion River Valley below and provides quite an expansive view that is in many ways just as good, if not better, than the view from the top of the fire tower. Even better, Seneca Point also has the advantage of not having to climb over 100 rickety steps to see the view.

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    While standing on Seneca Point, make sure to look at the rocky ground below you. On this land, native tribes once ground grains and seeds. If you look closely, you can still see indentions made by their stone tools.

    The Clarion River

    The Clarion River in Cook Forest State Park in Pennsylvania

    The Clarion River meanders its way through Cook Forest State Park.

    The Clarion River runs through Cook Forest State Park and has to be one of the most scenic sections of river in the entire state. The river is popular with fishermen, as well as for people looking to canoe, kayak, or raft down the river.

    Unfortunately, my short visit didn’t have time for a canoe trip, but I did see several people out enjoying the river even on a rather brisk spring day, and it looked like a great place for a peaceful ride down the river.

    I can’t wait to visit Cook Forest State Park in the future and take a ride down the Clarion River.

    Hiking Trails

    Hiking in Cook Forest State Park in the Pennsylvania Wilds

    A beautiful hiking trail in Cook Forest State Park.

    Every state park in Pennsylvania is crisscrossed with hiking trails, and Cook Forest State Park is no exception. In addition to the 6.5 miles of hiking trails in the Forest Cathedral, Cook Forest State Park is home to over 20 more miles of trails.

    Some of the trails are long-distance trails, the furthest traveling 140 miles from Pittsburgh to the Allegheny National Forest, while some are short trails for those looking for a short hike in Cook Forest State Park.

    No matter which trail you choose, however, you’ll be passing through some of the most pristine landscape in Pennsylvania.

    Have you ever visited Cook Forest State Park? What’s your favorite thing to see or do there? Let us know in the comment section below.

    See map below for other area attractions.

    AUTHOR - Jim Cheney

    Jim Cheney is the creator of UncoveringPA.com. Based in the state capital of Harrisburg, Jim frequently travels around Pennsylvania and has visited all 67 counties in the state. Jim has also traveled to more than 30 different countries around the world.

    24 Comments

    • Kelli

      You definitely need to make a trip to Cook Forest in the fall. I guarantee that it will be the most beautiful hike you’ll ever take. My first trip to Cook Forest was a camping trip with my family when I was 4 years old. 40 years later, we are still camping there — we now own a camp in the area and it is my absolute favorite place in the world! I’m content to just sit and watch the leaves change colors in the fall, but our many activities over the years have been hiking the many trails, canoeing and fishing along the river, and hunting in the surrounding areas. I will say that since the DCNR has taken over the state parks, Ridge Camp has gone woefully downhill, but that seems to be the case with all of PA’s state parks. I suggest to anyone who is interested, do some research into the history of Cook Forest. The history of the area stretches back to pre-revolutionary war times and the stories are fascinating. Sometimes there are programs offered through the state park that highlight the history of the area. Definitely worth looking into, and you won’t find a better area for a family-friendly vacation. Thank you for covering Cook Forest — you definitely need to schedule a longer stay!

      • Jim Cheney

        I could tell in my short visit that Cook Forest State Park was special. It’s definitely on my list of places to spend more time as I really would like to explore more of the park and surrounding area.

    • Jason Gibson

      Cook Forest is a gem of a State Park, no doubt. It’s an awesome place to visit and offers great hiking. However, this beautiful state park has much more potential to attract visitors to the area. Adding simple amenities like a Disc Golf course and 10-20 miles of dedicated singletrack Mountain Bike trails would increase it’s destnation value immensely. Not to mention introducing more of the local population to healthy recreation choices and bringing more revenue to area businesses.
      I would be very interested in volunteering in any effort towards either of these.

    • Kim Henry

      What was your hurry? Maybe I interpreted your message incorrectly, but it sounded like you had better things to do and just gave the area a quick once-over. Cook Forest is a treasure!

      • Jim Cheney

        I wouldn’t say that I had better things to do, Kim, but when I’m traveling as a writer, I often have to pack my days pretty full. A typical 12-14 hour day can have me stopping at 5-8 different places throughout the area that I’m visiting. So, a few hours relaxing in a state park is actually a luxury. I can’t wait to visit again, though, when I do have more time to explore Cook Forest State Park.

    • Veronica

      I was fortunate to be raised near Cook Forest and love that you have found this hidden gem. In the shadow of Cook Forrest is a much smaller State Park that rivals, if not surpasses, it’s beauty—be sure to check out Clear Creek State Park and Bear Town Rocks the next time you are in the area. It is about 8 miles off of Rt 36 going North from Brookville. Safe Travels!

      • Jim Cheney

        I actually did have the chance to check out Beartown Rocks in Clear Creek State Park just before visiting Cook Forest. It really is a special place. Hopefully, I’ll have a chance to write about the rocks on the site. Next time I’m in the area, I’d love to explore even more of that park as well.

    • Cheryl McMurray

      In 1968, I was a 10 year old child living in the N.J. suburbs, 15 miles from NY city. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but my 2 younger brothers and I had the good fortune of being moved from there, to COOK FOREST. My family purchased a business formally owned by Tom and Ruth Cook, that consists of 19 log cabins, a cafe, a gift shop and a canoe livery. Its been 46 years since that happened, my husband and I bought the business when my dad died in 1991. I never take for granted the wonder of this place called COOK FOREST, and that I have had the chance to grow up here, raise my family here, and make my living here!!

    • Paula Blacksmith

      We have a family camp right outside of Cook Forest in Vowinkel. We have done all of the above except for the Cathedral. Where exactly do you start the trail?
      The fire tower and Seneca Point are two of our favorite spots. We are so fortunate to have this around us.

      • Jim Cheney

        The Forest Cathedral Trails start from near next to the Memorial Fountain (which is marked on the park map). It’s a short distance up Forest Road from the Cook Forest State Park office.

    • Marsha Somich

      My husband started coming here as a little boy and he and I and our sons came a couple of times a year and stayed at MacBeth’s Cabins. We bought a brand new log cabin 24 years ago for a vacation home and dreamed of moving here full time.
      8 years ago, our dream came true and we love living here in the middle of nature with all the beauty it provides.

    • Jules Matthews

      I recently purchased a lodge in this area and if possible plan on spending the rest of my life here.I feel that I’m extremely lucky to be able to live in an area that will remain unspoilt by over development,mining,over timbering,etc.and is just plain beautiful.About the DCNR we now have a new governor,maybe with a bit of a push ,some changes for the better can be made.I think that if we could possibly get the game commission to get an elk herd started right in this area it would be great.

    • Janet Greenman

      I have pictures of myself in the River Cabins when I was a baby. (50 some yrs. ago) so my family has been staying there a long time. We still rent the cabins occasionally even after the kids have left home. It is my favorite place. We have gone to other states, parks, etc. and we are so lucky to have Cook Forest. It truly shows how it was when created. A peaceful place.

      • Lynne Temple

        My family has been going to Cook Forest and Clear Creek for about the same time (myself 45 years). We stopped for a couple years after my Grandpa passed away (just too hard with all the memories). We started back going annually, my parents, three sisters and spouses, my five kiddos and all nieces/nephews rent Indian Cabins. So many amazing family memories up in those mountains!!

    • Betty Minnis

      I have had the pleasure of visiting every year as a child ! Cooks Forest was formally owned by my Aunt & Uncle before they sold! It is a beautiful place with many activities to enjoy! Everyone should visit if they have a chance!!!

    • Deb Wynkoop-Boden

      As I was reading these messages, memories of the forest come back to me. The smell of the woods, the beauty of the forest and river. When I was a kid I knew every inch of Cook Forest. My dad was a park ranger there. I got to live in the Log Cabin Inn when I was a kid and my family ran the concession and souvenir shop. I think we were probably the only family to have that opportunity to live in the forest except for the park superintendent’s family. My favorite time of the day when I lived there was dusk because the park closed down and we were the only ones there and it was so peaceful. I used to help my dad find people that got lost in the woods. I am so sorry I do not live in the area anymore but my roots are there. My dad used to say that there is no prettier place on earth than Cook Forest. After my dad retired, he went to businesses in the area and collected money to clean up an old swimming hole and turn it into a kiddies fishing pond. Daddy said that he used to watch kids and handicap people sit looking down at the river and not being able to fish because they couldn’t get down to the river. He thought that was so unfair. The pond is stocked every year from funds that are donated. When my dad died Maryann Lavery took over gathering the funds. I make a quilt every year to donate and anyone who donates $25 or more has a chance of winning the quilt. I do that to keep my dad’s memory alive and his dream of kids and handicap being able to fish, if anyone here knew my dad and has a story about him, please let me know. He was one of the best woodsman there ever was. Knew more about the forest and and also that made it their home than anyone ever has. So nice to see this write up on Cook Forest. Do come back sometime so you can explore further.

      • pj eck

        deb, your father was the best ranger…along with eddie fulmer that this park has ever had. 🙂 i started coming up here when i was 11 or 12, harassing and being harassed by those 2 men every time i’d walk to the river from my familys camp on cemetery road. oh what fun we had. those were the 2 greatest me. to talk to your father, and learn about the park was so enlightening. he told me so much history.
        i married a man that used to work for the park during the summer. all these years later, he speaks nothing but respect and many fond memories of your father, and eddie too. 🙂

        jack wynkoop was truly one of the last honest and true woodsmen there was.
        it was a privledge to know him, and his memory will carry on for a long time to those that knew him.

        • Erica Smerker

          Its funny you guys are naming these past rangers/ workers. My dad (Denny Smerker) and my grandpa ( Ron Beary) both worked there the same time as Jack and Eddie…great memories!

      • Tracey Schaaf

        Was your dad Jack??

    • Katie

      Cook Forest is my most favorite place. My family has a cabin up there and I stop at seneca point, the fire tower & the forest cathedral every time I’m there. It’s truly a little piece of heaven. Canoeing & kayaking on the Clarion is definitely a family favorite !

    • Nancy

      I grew up camping in Sigel and remember going to Trumans Store and getting Jiffy Popcorn and Slim Jims to eat with my siblings while we watched Chilly Billy in our cabin. (Yes, this was years and years ago.)

      My husband and I and out sons love camping in Clear Creek State Park. The smell of the pines as you enter the park is probably my favorite thing. We do a lot of canoeing, kayaking and tubing down the Clarion River. We also spend time at Bear Rocks across the street and visit Farmers Inn up the road.

    • Dave Andrews

      I grew up in Cook Forest with a cabin and canoe business. I lived on Cemetery Rd, which my family still has a house. We sold the cabins and canoes but still visit once or twice a year. I never fully appreciated the true nature value, serenity, and amazing place this is until I left. Spending over 23 years there it got old and remote. Which, remote is something that I looked for after living in Manhattan for a few years. It definitely has more than 5 reasons to love C4S, but it will always be home to me.

      http://cupcakesncrunches.com/cook-forest-trip/

      http://cupcakesncrunches.com/this-one-is-for-gram/

      http://cupcakesncrunches.com/twas-the-day-before-christmas/

    • Jesse R.

      My father built our camp in Sigel the summer my mom was pregnant with me; 1972. 44 years later I can say that that area is truly magical. Bear town Rocks, Clear Creek, canoeing the Clarion, Hemlock Island, Truman’s Store and now Blackbird Distillery make that area one of the best kept secrets around!!!!

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