Our next stop was Cook Forest State Park, recognized as one of the finest state parks in the country. Cook Forest protects over 2,200 acres of old growth forest and has almost 30 miles of trails, including a section of the North Country Trail. Cook Forest is home to some of the tallest trees in the eastern United States, with trees over 180 feet tall and hundreds of years old. Prior to a windstorm in the 1950s, there were trees over 200 feet tall. The heart of this remarkable old growth forest is called the Forest Cathedral, a National Natural Landmark.
Established in 1927, this state park was the first one established in Pennsylvania with the specific purpose of protecting a natural landmark, that being the old growth forest.
I have been to Cook Forest a few times before and it had always struck me as a special place, a true cathedral of trees. It is hard to imagine a forest such as this covered most of Pennsylvania, only to be clear-cut. This park offers a vision of what once existed.
This route is described in Hikes 43 and 45 of Hiking the Allegheny National Forest.
We arrived at the park and began our hike through the famous Forest Cathedral, which we had mostly to ourselves. The people we did see were quiet, almost reverent, as if they were in church. The forests were stunning with massive, towering tree trunks, and an understory of beech trees ablaze with yellow and orange. Some trees at Cook Forest are quite massive, but may not be as wide as what one might expect. However, they are incredibly tall. Moss and ferns covered the forest floor. We hiked along the clear water of Tom’s Run and then began a second hike to Seneca Point and the Clarion River. This hike featured massive hemlock trees, large boulders, and some nice views from a fire tower at Seneca Point. The trail took us down to the gorgeous Clarion River, a national wild and scenic river, as it flowed through a wooded canyon with more large trees. Our hike was on the North Country Trail, which extends from North Dakota to Vermont. The hike returned us to the park office and we followed Tom’s Run back to a swinging bridge and our car.
Cook Forest is a beautiful park that everyone should visit. The ancient forest offers a spiritual experience in our rushed and hectic lives. Our next visit would take us into the Allegheny National Forest to see another ancient forest- Hearts Content Scenic Area…
Information about the state park.