Located deep in the isolated forests of Potter County, Pennsylvania, you’ll find the beautiful Ole Bull State Park.
Ole Bull State Park is only 132 acres in size and features only a few miles of hiking trails. However, for those that love the beauty of Penn’s woods, this is a fantastic park to go hiking in.
The park is named for Ole Borneman Bull, a famous 19th-century Norwegian violinist. He was so impressed with America during his tours that he purchased land in north-central PA in 1852 to build a colony for Norwegian settlers called New Norway.
Bull and other settlers came to the land and began to start a life in Potter County, but abandoned the land after only a year when life proved too hard in the Pennsylvania frontier.
Today, little remains of this settlement, but you can still hike to the overlook where Ole Bull began to build his home and explore the land they intended to call home.
Interestingly, a Norwegian folk song was written in the mid-1800s about one of the communities on the settlement, Oleanna. The song was translated into English and performed by artist Pete Seeger in the 1950s. Interestingly, Seeger’s uncle is the namesake of the Alan Seeger Natural Area in Huntingdon County.
While there are only 4-5 miles of hiking trails in Ole Bull State Park (depending on whether the park’s map or the park’s website is correct), there is a great loop you can do here to learn about the history of the area and to see its beauty.
The Daugherty Loop Trail starts adjacent to the Ole Bull Monument on the northern side of Kettle Creek. This side of the park is where one of the park’s two campgrounds is located.
If you aren’t camping in Ole Bull State Park, you’ll want to park near the park office and walk across one of the bridges to start your hike. This will add about two-tenths of a mile to your total hike.
This loop trail is roughly two miles long from the monument. I’ve also added the Castle Vista Trail to this hike which adds another quarter mile or so.
The trail begins along a gravel road near the monument. It starts off relatively flat but soon gets a bit steep as it follows this old road uphill.
Shortly after the trail starts to head uphill, the Daugherty Loop Trail heads off to the right away from the road. However, I recommend continuing up the hill to see Castle Vista before coming back to this spot.
The trail to this scenic overlook continues to head uphill, gaining a couple of hundred feet of elevation in a relatively short distance. This short and steep section is the hardest part of this entire hike.
Near the top of the hill, the Castle Vista Trail heads off to the left while the road continues as a snowmobile trail to the right.
The trail gets a bit more narrow before leveling out at the top of the hill.
At the top of the hill, you’ll find the ruins of Ole Bull’s home, Nordjenskald. All that is left is the foundation, which is adjacent to a sign that details the history of the area.
From this spot, there is a nice view of Potter County. While trees block much of the view, you can still see a lot from here, which makes the short hike worthwhile.
To continue on the hike, go back the way you came and head down the hill to where to Daugherty Vista Trail breaks off from the gravel road.
This first third of this trail follows along with the Susquehannock Trail System, an 85-mile trail that passes through Potter County and Clinton County. Because of this, you’ll actually see two trail markers on all the of the trees during this portion of the hike. Make sure to follow the yellow blazes.
What I loved most about hiking on the Daugherty Loop Trail was the incredible forest that it passed through. Hiking it late in the afternoon, the trail felt almost mystical and foreboding. It’s not hard to see why this area garnered the nickname the Black Forest of Pennsylvania.
It’s worth noting that most of the Daugherty Loop Trail is rather narrow. In places, it’s even a bit overgrown, but it’s very easy to follow and well-marked.
The first portion of the hike also follows slightly above Ole Bull Run, which provides a lot of beauty and a nice sound when it’s flowing well.
After about six-tenths of a mile, the Daugherty Loop Trail breaks from the Susquehannock Trail and heads downhill slightly towards a bridge over the stream. This is a nice spot to take a break before continuing on.
After the bridge, the trail continues slightly uphill along the hillside.
Upon reaching this section, I was shocked to realize that the Daugherty Loop Trail is listed on the park’s map as “Easiest hiking.”
It’s true that there’s little elevation gain along the trail. However, the narrow trail, grade of the trail, and the steep hillside here made walking a bit difficult. I usually don’t have trouble with my ankles, but they were definitely getting a workout trying to walk on this sloped trail.
I was glad I didn’t have my young children with me as this would have proven to be a quite difficult challenge for them to stay on the trail in places. That being said, most experienced hikers should have no real issues with the trail, just adjust your expectations a bit from the difficulty stated by the park.
However, despite the tricky footing along the middle third of the hike, this is a beautiful forest and was a pleasant hike.
Eventually, the trail begins to get a bit wider with more secure footing. Other than one short section that’s a bit steep, the rest of the hike is quite easy.
Soon, the trail comes to a large wooden staircase that descends to another section of the trail. After this spot, the trail is quite wide and flat for the rest of the hike.
Once beyond the staircase, the trail is located only a short distance behind the campground on the north side of Kettle Creek. The trail heads down to the end of the campground before doubling back on itself and ending back near the Ole Bull Monument.
Overall, the Daugherty Loop Trail is a great hike that offers a nice introduction to the Black Forest of Pennsylvania and is one of the best hikes near Cherry Springs State Park. Add in a short diversion along the Castle Vista Trail to the Ole Bull’s home site and vista, and you have a great hike that’s worth checking out if you’re exploring Potter County and nearby sites like Cherry Springs State Park and Austin Dam.
Getting to the Hiking Trails in Ole Bull State Park
Ole Bull State Park is located in Potter County, Pennsylvania along Route 144. The closest community is Cross Fork.
The trailhead for this hike in Ole Bull State Forest can be found on the north side of Kettle Creek at the following coordinates: 41.538901, -77.717434.
Unless you are staying at the campground on this side of the stream, you’ll need to park on the opposite side of Kettle Creek and use one of the bridges to access the hiking trail.
The closest parking lot to the trailhead for visitors can be found at the following coordinates: 41.538276, -77.714462.
[Click here for information on how to use the coordinates in this article to find your destination.]