Moraine State Park is an incredibly beautiful spot north of Pittsburgh that is a mecca for outdoor recreation. And, if you’re looking for a hike in the park, one of the best options is the Sunken Garden Trail.
Moraine State Park surrounds Lake Arthur with the main areas for visitors being found along both the northern and southern shores. The Sunken Garden Trail is located on the southern sides of the lake.
This fantastic state park in Butler County, PA is over 16,000 acres in size and was created in 1970 when Lake Arthur, one of the largest man-made lakes in PA, was created.
The park is named after the glacial moraines that were formed over the park’s land during the last ice age. Also of note in the area’s history is that a young George Washington likely stayed within the park’s boundaries twice during his 1753 mission to the French Fort LeBoeuf in present-day Erie County.
Today, the park is most well known for its boating and fishing opportunities, but this is also a stunningly beautiful park that hikers won’t want to miss.
The trailhead for the Sunken Garden Trail can be found in the Pleasant Valley section of the park. This trail features three different loop options for hikers offering trails of varying lengths, ranging from two miles to 3.5 miles.
All three trails are considered easy hiking, though there are a few small rises along each of the options. While I haven’t hiked the 3.5-mile loop myself, it is said that his loop is the most challenging of the three.
It’s also worth noting that sections of the Sunken Garden Trail can be overgrown at times, so bug spray is highly recommended when hiking this trail. Also, if it has rained recently, the portion of the trail along Lake Arthur can be very muddy. In fact, the first time I tried to hike this trail, I had to turn around after about a half-mile because the trail was too muddy.
That being said, if you do hike this trail on a muddy day, it’s possible to do a loop that avoids the trail right along the lake.
Hiking the Sunken Garden Trail
To hike the Sunken Garden Trail in Moraine State Park, park in the large parking lot near the Pleasant Valley Boat Ramp. This parking area can be found at the following coordinates: 40.941270, -80.092911.
As the trailhead is at the part of this lot furthest from the lake (near a small bathroom building on a small hill) park at the first part of this lot you come to.
The Sunken Garden Trail starts on the southwestern side of the parking area, and you should see the sign for it on your right as you are pulling into the parking lot.
If you can’t find it for some reason, the coordinates for the trailhead are 40.941266, -80.093248.
For the first tenth of a mile, the Sunken Garden Trail passes through a dense forest. This part of the trail can sometimes be a bit muddy, as can other parts of the trail, so make sure to wear good shoes for this hike.
Soon, the trail opens up a bit (stay left at the split) and follows along the marshes at the edge of the lake. This is one of the most beautiful spots along the trail, and it’s worth taking a few minutes to appreciate the beauty of this marshy area and look for the unique plants and animals that inhabit it.
Continuing on, the trail soon comes to another split. For the 1.9-mile loop that I’m describing in this piece, you’ll want to head to the left. When you finish the loop, you will come out at this trail on the right. However, if you wish to avoid the potentially muddy areas along the lakeshore and do a longer hike, you could head right instead.
After heading to the left, the trail quickly comes into view of a small cove on Lake Arthur. The views from this portion of the trail are quite spectacular. Make sure to keep your eye out for wildlife in the marshes. I saw a doe and two fawns playing near the water from here.
For the next half-mile, the Sunken Garden Trail follows the shoreline of Lake Arthur. There are several spots along here where you can get nice views of the lake and look to be popular fishing spots.
Across the cove, you’ll see the Pleasant Valley Boat Ramp and the Pleasant Valley Beach, which is a nice spot for a refreshing dip after hiking.
The trail here alternates between forest and field. The areas with grass are often overgrown and can be very muddy if there has been recent rain. While the terrain is level, the trail surface in this area makes this the most difficult portion of the Sunken Garden Trail.
After a half-mile, the Sunken Garden Trail turns to the right and climbs a small hill before looping back around and heading back towards the parking area.
This part of the trail is almost entirely forested, though the trail surface is sometimes more grass than dirt. When I hiked the trail, I found a few muddy spots on this portion of the trail, as well, so make sure to watch your footing as you go.
While this portion of the trail is pretty much a standard woodland, there are a few bridges and small views of the lake which keep the hike interesting.
About halfway along the loop, the Sunken Garden Trail has a split. Continue straight to stay on the 1.9-mile loop or head to the left for a longer hike on the trail system here.
Just before the trail returns to the end of the loop at the marshy area, there is a neat teepee made of sticks that has been created just off the trail. I’m not sure who made it or if it’s always there, but it’s a neat spot to check out if it’s there when you visit.
Beyond the teepee, the trail returns back to the second split. Follow the trail straight through the marsh to return to your vehicle.
Overall, the Sunken Garden Trail in Moraine State Park is a beautiful hike. While it’s far from the most unique or difficult hike in the region (those you’ll find at nearby McConnells Mill State Park), it’s a great trail for those wanting to explore the beauty of Butler County or those looking for a nice hike while traveling through the area on I-79.
So, the next time your find yourself in or near Moraine State Park, make sure to hike this great trail.