The Great Outdoors: Abundant Hiking and Mountain Biking Opportunities

trail-cook-forestBoating, swimming, tubing, and fishing all are great ways to spend the summer and beat the heat, but hiking and mountain biking are also activities that rank high on my list.

For those of us who have grown up and lived in this area, it’s hard to believe how many user-friendly trails there are now that weren’t here 20 or 30 years ago.

The many trails of Cooks Forest State Park are where my family and I walked in my youth, and my appreciation for them and what lives there has only grown since then.

More than a dozen trails totaling 30 miles provide virtually something for everyone. The longest is three miles, and most are about a half mile.

Longfellow Trail, 1.2 miles, is one of the most famous. About 60,000 hike it every year and for good reason. It is in the famed Forest Cathedral. Many of the trees in this area have been standing for more than 300 years, and some of the hemlocks are more than 400 years old.

It begins at the Log Cabin Inn Environmental Learning Center, passes the Memorial Fountain, goes through a large wind-damaged area, then emerges into some of the tallest and largest eastern white pine in the Northeastern United States, within the Forest Cathedral, and terminates at Forest Road.

One white pine is the tallest in the Northeastern United States at 183 feet. Many of the pines reach 150 feet in height. The Forest Cathedral Natural Area has been designated as a registered National Natural Landmark through the National Park Service.

For those looking for a workout, the Seneca Trail, not quite a mile in length, is the choice. The beagle and I did this one in February on a bitterly cold day, but it was still pretty neat.

It begins at the Route 36 bridge over the Clarion River and ends in the Fire Tower/Seneca Point Area. This trail offers an excellent overlook view of the Clarion River as you pass through old growth forest and 1976 tornado downed logs.

Many towering hemlocks and white pines still remain. Some hemlocks here are more than 145 feet high. As you start up the trail from Route 36, there is a side trail that goes off to your left.

This trail used to be lit by natural gas lights that led you to a sulfur spring known as the old Mineral Spring. One hemlock here has been documented as the tallest found in the entire Northeastern United States!

The River Trail, 1.7 miles long, is another good one.

This steep trail starts at the Fire Tower and ends on Fire Tower Road. It may be steep, but it is one of the most beautiful trails to hike in early summer when the mountain laurel and great rhododendron are in bloom. It also has a long flat section that runs parallel to the Clarion River. Keep your eyes open for soft-shelled turtles, coyotes, bobcats, and black bears.

The Tobecco Trail is one I am looking forward to trying. It’s eight miles long and runs along the Wild and Scenic Clarion River. It links the state parks at Clear Creek and Cook Forest. There are also scenic overlooks and vistas.

The Clarion Little Toby Trail is a rail-trail, a former railroad line, that can be walked and biked. Even families with little ones in strollers can enjoy the trail. I’ve used it to access the Little Toby for fishing, I’ve ridden my bike on it from Brockway to Ridgway, It’s always enjoyable, and it’s a good place to see all types of wildlife.

The Little Drummer Historical Pathway is one I haven’t been on in probably close to 20 years, but I think a return trip is due. As a primary link to the Atlantic flyway, it has mostly flat hiking trails leading past 15 man-made ponds. Look for songbirds along the 1.5-mile loop of the Songbird Sojourn Interpretive Trail from the parking area.

For waterfowl, walk or bike the Buzzard Swamp Trail System. The first pond is 0.5 miles from the parking area, and the trail is 9.7 miles in length with two trailheads to the north along Lamonaville Road (FR 130).

While we may be well past the spring migration where a hiker may see two dozen species of waterfowl, there are plenty of other birds spending the summer there. They include American Woodcock, House Wren, Eastern Bluebird, Tree and Barn Swallows, Cedar Waxwing, Red-winged Blackbird, Black-throated Green Warbler, Wood Thrush, Ovenbird, Veery, Indigo Bunting, Eastern Towhee, Wild Turkey, Northern Harrier, Osprey, and Bald Eagles. Wildlife includes black bear, white-tailed deer, beaver, coyote, and snapping turtle.

These next three trails are ones I have no personal experience on, but from what I’ve found, they sound very appealing.

  • Armstrong Trail, Clarion County: It’s 36 miles long and is located on the former Allegheny Valley Railroad line along the eastern bank of the Allegheny River in Armstrong and Clarion counties. The trail links such towns as Ford City, Kittanning, and East Brady and is a great place to bicycle, walk, jog, and cross country ski. Thirty miles of the trail, from Rosston to East Brady, is improved trail with several short share the road sections. The trail is for non-motorized use only.
  • Mahoning Shadow Trail, Jefferson County: It runs for 15 miles along the corridor of the former Penn Central Railroad. The trail winds along the scenic Mahoning Creek for most of its course throughout the Punxsutawney area. The trail is designed for non-motorized recreational usage including bicyclists, walkers, runners, and cross-country skiers. Visitors will notice several interesting features as they follow the trail. The western section of the trail winds along the Mahoning Creek to Fordham, crossing over a re-decked railroad trestle bridge and passing a group of coke ovens, once used for burning coal to produce coke, which was used by the steel industry. The eastern section runs along the tranquil Mahoning to the village of Cloe, and from there, strays from the waterway to climb through the scenic highlands until it reaches “Devil’s Elbow” Road near the village of Hudson. This portion of the trail also boasts its own waterfall!
  • Redbank Valley Trail, Clarion/Jefferson County: It’s a 51-mile non-motorized, four-season trail currently being developed and improved. It was recognized by DCNR as PA’s Trail of the Year for 2014! Forty-two miles parallel the scenic Redbank Creek through mostly natural areas. The trail travels from the confluence with the Allegheny River through New Bethlehem in Clarion County at the mid-point, touching on Armstrong County, through Hawthorn (near the Redbank Valley Municipal Park), Summerville, and continuing currently to just beyond the Rose Siding Bridge, near Maple Street, (and MP 42) in Brookville, Jefferson County. There is also a 9-mile spur from Lawsonham to Sligo also in Clarion County.

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“The Great Outdoors,” sponsored by the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors, is a weekly blog by exploreClarion.com’s Scott Shindledecker. Plan you next outdoor adventure at VisitPAGO.com or call (814) 849-5197 for more information.


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