The Hook Natural Area is in the Bald Eagle State Forest and is one of the largest natural areas in the state, covering 5,119 acres. The Hook has long attracted the attention of hikers with its deep, wooded valleys, streams, and rhododendron tunnels. A few weekends ago, I finally had a chance to explore The Hook to see for myself what this hidden place was all about.
I parked at the Mifflinburg Reservoir and hiked the Hook Tram Trail. This level trail follows an old grade through thickets of rhodos and occasional views of the stream. I hoped to see the blooms of the rhodos, but there weren’t as many as I’d hoped, and the blooms were small in size. Regardless, the blooms I did see were nice. Hiking on the Hook Tram Trail became a little monotonous due to its rocky nature and I began to question what was so special about The Hook. Then, the trail went through impressive tunnels of rhodos as hidden streams tumbled in the deep shade of the forest. I climbed a little to a beautiful forest with small glades of ferns where the faint, unmarked Molasses Gap Trail joined from the left.
The trail twisted through a beautiful forest of pine, hemlocks, rhodo, and laurel before crossing Buffalo Creek on a wooden bridge. I was entering The Hook itself, and it became apparent what was so special about this place. The trail tunneled through more rhodo and laurel, crossing fern glades and blooming rhodos covered the mountainsides. While the display was not as epic as the ones along Round Island Run in the Sproul State Forest, it was still scenic. This mountain valley had a primeval, isolated feel filled with the sounds of babbling creeks. The hemlocks were fairly healthy as hardwood trees towered overhead. The trail then meandered into a tight rhodo tunnel that would’ve been better suited for a gnome. I returned to the open stream valley with more fern meadows. I reached a place where some streams met, and a sign for the Middle Ridge Trail. I continued on the Molasses Gap Trail and then veered left onto the Mule Shanty Trail. This trail was brushy and rocky, but still a nice hike with some ledges and rock outcrops along a tumbling stream. Talus slopes covered the sides of the valley. As usual, rhodos and mountain laurel were prevalent along the trail.
I then encountered a box turtle, taking its time crossing the rocky trail, unsure whether to keep its head out, or in its shell. I soon turned around, retracing my steps through The Hook Natural Area. I now see why The Hook is so well-regarded, it is a beautiful, little-known place that feels secluded and wild. It is well worth the visit.
After reaching my car, I drove up Old Shingle Road to scout some trails for a future adventure- an exploration of The Goosenecks Gorge.
I then drove through the incredibly beautiful countryside outside of Mifflinburg and stopped at the Rusty Rail Brewery in town. The food and beer were good, and the building itself was impressive. A great place to stop by after hiking.
- Most people begin at the small Mifflinburg Reservoir. 40.958918, -77.130927
- The trails are blazed yellow, with old blue blazes. The trails can be followed fairly easy, but are brushy in places and tight through the rhododendrons.
- Hook Tram Trail is level, but rocky.
- The highlight is The Hook itself, a beautiful, serene mountain valley with fern meadows, streams, hemlock, pine, laurel, and rhodos.
- I did an out and back hike, but this loop is also popular: http://pahikes.com/trails/bald-eagle-state-forest/75-trails-of-the-hook-natural-area