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 from nearby Beartown Rocks and Clear Creek State Park, 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
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.
If you are looking for an easier hike through the Forest Cathedral, try the unique Paved Trail which is often covered in green moss.
Cook Forest Fire Tower
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.
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.
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 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.
You can also hike along the river on the North Country Trail. Not only is this incredibly beautiful, but it’ll also give you the chance to see Henry Run Sawmill Dam Falls, the only waterfall 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 for other area attractions.