Cherry Springs State Park- A Portal to the Universe



Waiting for the show to start, the horizon at Cherry Springs State Park.


Cherry Springs State Park has emerged as one of the PA Wilds premier destinations, for reasons that aren’t even on the ground.  Cherry Springs has some of the darkest skies in the East and is famous with astronomers and star gazers.

It was the second International Dark Sky Park, and under ideal conditions, the Milky Way can even cast a slight shadow.  Over 10,000 stars can be seen with the naked eye.

The park has a campground, open fields for watching the stars, hiking trails, and even impressive architecture from the CCC era.  It is located at an elevation of about 2,400 feet and is close to the Susquehannock State Forest, Susquehannock Trail, and several other state parks.  A network of hiking and mountain biking trails surround the park.

We were fortunate enough to be in the area on a clear night during the Perseid meteor shower.  I was surprised by all the people who were there, from many different states, speaking a variety of languages, sitting close to each other looking up at the heavens.  It seems the dark, and stars, can bring people together.

As the sun melted over the horizon and the last light of the day drained from the sky, the stars began to make their appearance.  The sheer number of stars were amazing-layers after layers of stars as the cloudy band of the Milky Way stretched across the entire sky.  I don’t think I have ever seen so many stars.

Soon the meteors arrived, shooting across the sky.  Some were quick blasts, others stretched across the constellations.  Satellites also appeared, moving more slowly below the stars.  Planets in our solar system tried to hide among the countless stars in the galaxy.  Cherry Springs makes you realize just how vast this universe is.

Some tips about visiting Cherry Springs:

  1. It gets cool up there, so dress a little warm.
  2. Bring something comfortable to lay on and a pillow, it’s the best way to see the night sky.  Don’t want to lay down? Bring a chair where you can comfortably lean back.
  3. Limit the use of light, and only use a red light.
  4. Be prepared to be amazed.

A clear night at Cherry Springs State Park is an experience you won’t soon forget.


Vistas of the Susquehannock State Forest


Cherry Springs Vista, Susquehannock State Forest

Want to take it easy and see some natural beauty in the PA Wilds?  Take a drive and see the various road-side vistas the Susquehannock State Forest has to offer.


This state forest is vast, covering 265,000 acres, and it has about twelve different vistas on its network of roads.  Be sure to get a free public use map of the forest to help with navigation.  Contact the state forest office.


The roads are usually in good shape and besides views they offer isolation, beautiful forests, streams, and opportunities to see wildlife.


Some of my favorite vistas are along PA 44, particularly Cherry Springs vista.  Losey Run vista is excellent, as are the ones along McConnell and Junction Roads.


The state forest is home to vast northern hardwoods that are stunning in the Autumn.  Colors tend to peak in late September to mid October.  As others crowd New England, you can have this whole place to yourself.

Our next stop on our PA Wilds tour will be the stars, Milky Way, constellations, and shooting stars of Cherry Springs State Park, home to some of the darkest skies in the east.

More photos.

Prouty Place State Park


Prouty Place State Park

My tour of the PA Wilds continued with a visit to Prouty Place State Park, one of the smallest, least visited and isolated state parks in PA.


There isn’t much to this park, it is basically a meadow, crossed by a dirt road, with a defunct hand pump well and a port a john.  The park is five acres in size.  It appears you can camp at the park at undeveloped sites in the meadow, or along scenic Prouty Run.   The park is located in a very isolated, wooded valley that makes it a rustic and beautiful getaway.


A yellow trail from the park leads to the Susquehannock Trail.  It is a very nice hike along a small stream with beautiful pine forests.  It joins the Susquehannock Trail at a stream and small campsite.


Prouty Place is ideal as a basecamp to explore the northern Susquehannock State Forest.  Coudersport, Austin Dam, Patterson State Park, Denton Hill State Park, Cherry Springs State Park, Lyman Run State Park, and Hammersley Wild Area are all a fairly short drive away.  This area of the state forest features a vast network of mountain biking and hiking trails, and if you don’t want to hike, the forest roads lead to many superb vistas.

If you want to escape civilization and the crowds for a few days, go to Prouty Place.

More photos.

Scenic Driving on Ridge Road, Elk State Forest


Squaretimber Vista on Ridge Road, Elk State Forest

After hiking the Bucktail Path, my tour of the PA Wilds continued on Ridge Road in the Elk State Forest.  This road is locally well-known for its nine beautiful vistas, making it a miniature Blue Ridge Parkway, just on a dirt road and without the crowds.


It is surprising just how beautiful the PA Wilds are, whether it be the isolation, endless trails, numerous state parks, vast public lands, dark skies, and breathtaking vistas.


I’ve always driven north on Ridge Road, I don’t think it matters much which direction you take.  From US 120, south of Emporium, take Grove Hill Road to the top of the mountain.  This road becomes Ridge Road.


The vistas soon begin off of both sides of the ridge.  My two favorite vistas are Squaretimber and Logue Run Vistas.


Being a north-south ridge, the vistas offer both sunrise and sunset panoramas.


There is even a picnic area along the road at the Whitehead Pavilion.


Many people head back down Whitehead Road, but there are three more vistas to the north, one being only a half mile north of the juncture of Ridge and Whitehead Roads.  To see the remaining two vistas, continue north on Ridge Road for about fourteen miles.  The road was under construction when we drove it, and it was a bit rough, but I assume it is otherwise in good shape.


Turn left onto Crooked Run Road for the final view.  The two northern views are not as dramatic and expansive as the others, but they are very nice nonetheless.  Drive Crooked Run Road down to scenic Sizerville State Park.

More photos.



Backpacking the Bucktail Path



View from the Bucktail Path, Johnson Run Natural Area, Elk State Forest


The Bucktail Path (BP) has the distinction of being one of PA’s most isolated and least hiked trails.  This 34 mile long linear trail explores the ridges and streams of the Elk State Forest where you are almost guaranteed that you will not see another hiker.  This is the heart of the PA Wilds.


This trail has unique qualities that make it a challenge for the experienced backpacker.  First, it’s a trail of differences.  In places it is easy, or it is challenging.  Sometimes it’s a well-established trail, in many other places it is an overgrown wilderness trek with blazes.  Sometimes you’re cursing the trail, other times you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.


Before hiking this trail, accept it is different.  It is not the AT, it is not well established, it does not cater to you.


I was in the area to do a presentation for the Susquehannock Trail Club at Ole Bull State Park.  I decided to make a long weekend of it and explore more of the PA Wilds, using my friend’s Ryan cabin as a basecamp.  While there, we decided to tackle the BP.


After shuttling cars between Sinnemahoning and Sizerville State Park, we began our hike from north to south.   Sizerville is a beautiful state park that serves as the northern trailhead.  We immediately had some trouble finding the trail, but some blazes guided our way into beautiful, but painful, Buffalo Switch Hollow.  It was inundated with stinging nettle, but it was beautiful as the morning sun sent shafts of light through the stately hardwood forests.  We reached the top, fought through brush, crossed a forest road, and descended into a scenic glen.  Thankfully, stinging nettle became less of an issue as we hiked south with only a few small patches.  The southern half of the trail had no nettle.


A short roadwalk followed until we turned into the woods and crossed a stream.  The BP then followed a series of gradual, old grades that was a pleasure to hike, with views of the forests and deep glens.  Upon reaching another logging road, the trail made a discreet turn to the left, which we missed, but we soon got back on the trail.


Next was a highlight, McNuff Branch.  This isolated valley features beavers ponds, meadows, hemlock groves, and the trail’s finest camping.  In places, beaver dams nearly flooded the trail, requiring a log crossing.  The views over the meadows made this section a treat, with many birds and butterflies.  Ryan saw a buck in a meadow below the trail.  The isolation of this valley and its scenery made this a very enjoyable hike.


We crossed a road, walked near some cabins, and began a climb along a small stream with boulders and cascades in a beautiful glen.  The trail leveled at the top with thick laurel and ferns and then descended to the BP’s next highlight-Rock Run.  This creek has carved a rugged gorge with large boulders and many cascades and falls in high water; one falls might be 12 feet high.  The water was low on our hike, but the creek was still beautiful.  We found an old campsite along the creek, bringing an end to our 18 mile day.


While setting up my tent, I realized I forgot one of my poles.  I tried to rig my tent up with string and a sapling, with poor results.  The rain overnight didn’t help, but I stayed mostly dry, somehow.


We got up early the next morning and proceeded down the trail as mist dripped from the trees.  The BP made a discreet turn off the road and along the creek with deep, wet hemlock forests that were beautiful along Whitehead Branch.  Another road crossing brought the biggest climb of all, over 1,000 vertical feet along the side of a deep gorge with fern meadows.  It was beautiful, but tiring.  The morning sun fought through the mist, only making the forests more scenic.  The trail leveled along laurel and traversed a series of ups and downs with vast fern meadows that stretched deep into the woods.


We reached a narrow pipeline swath, where the BP made a right turn with no blazes in sight.  A steep climb up the swath followed to where the trail turned left into the woods.  I climbed through the forests, crossed the pipeline again and descended through more scenic forests with pine and hemlock to Ridge Road, which the trail crossed.


The next highlight was the Right Fork of Brooks Run which featured beautiful glens with tumbling streams and deep hemlocks.  A steep climb followed to the Brook Run firetower and cabin.  The BP then crossed Ridge Road and entered the Squaretimber Wild Area, passing a yellow trail to the right.  A gradual climb brought us to an open area and old quarry with nice views to the south.  There is a dirt road here, we took it to the right to a large meadow with views to the south.  It would be a great place to camp to see the stars.


More views followed on the BP as it crossed a meadow of blueberries and pine trees.  The trail soon followed a grassy pipeline and crossed Ridge Road at a small parking area and a sign for the Pepper Hill Trail.  The BP continued along the pipeline swath, descending into a valley with a seasonal stream and then crossing private property along a large meadow.


The trail turned left off the pipeline swath and into the woods along the steep edge of the plateau with views through the trees.  The mountain terrain was beautiful.  It then crossed into private land along a jeep road on a ridge that became more and more narrow.  The trail turned discreetly left off this jeep road along the narrow ridge with steep terrain on both sides.  A steep descent brought the trail back to the jeep road, and another steep climb followed up the spine of the ridge.


I became a little frustrated with the trail, but things soon improved as the trail re-entered the Elk State Forest and the Johnson Run Natural Area.  This was a beautiful section with pine forests along the precipitous ridge and even a few views.  It kind of felt like an island in the sky, being surrounded by deep canyons and glens.


The trail reached a dirt road; I had hoped to explore some meadows off the trail, on the ridge to the south which had awesome views, but I was tired and the skies threatened rain.  The BP followed the dirt road on a very long two mile descent across private land.  At the bottom, we crossed Grove Run without a bridge and reached the small parking area, the southern trailhead of the BP outside of the village of Sinnemahoning.


We were wet, stinking, dirty, and tired.  We found a restaurant in Sinnemahoning and hobbled in for a delicious meal.


It was good to return to the BP and hike a trail few others have.  It was a unique and rewarding experience deep in the forested wilderness of the PA Wilds.


More photos

Map and brochure

Length:  34 mile linear trail between Sizerville State Park and Sinnemahoning

Blazes:  Orange.  The trail is blazed fairly well, but expect discreet turns, particularly off of dirt or jeep roads

Trail condition:  Highly variable, from well established tread to non-existent, overgrown trail.  Expect brushy areas.  The route is “followable”.

Best route:  North to south.

Stinging nettle:  A huge issue at the northern end, in Buffalo Switch Hollow.  Not a problem on the rest of the trail.

Water:  Sufficient in the northern half of the trail.  Trail is dry south of the Right Fork of Brooks Run, roughly the southern half of the trail.

Camping:  Few established sites.  Best camping is along McNuff Branch, Rock Run, Whitehead Run, Right Fork of Brooks Run.  Dry camping at Brooks Run firetower and in the meadow in the Squaretimber Wild Area.

Highlights:  McNuff Branch, Rock Run, waterfalls and cascades on Rock Run, Whitehead Branch, Right Fork of Brooks Run, Brooks Run firetower, views and meadows in the Squaretimber Wild Area, Johnson Run Natural Area with steep ridges, pine forest, and view, isolation, many gorges and glens.

Problems:  Few views, trail overgrown in places, roadwalk at southern end, walking along pipeline swath, the ridge along the southern end is challenging and has some steep climbs and descents without views.

Would I hike it again?  Yes.  I think the BP has more scenery and good qualities than people give it credit for.  I would recommend a hike from Sizerville State Park to the Pepper Hill Trail along Ridge Road, south of Squaretimber Wild Area.  The southern section could be beautiful with some re-routes to take advantage of views and meadows along the dramatic ridge.  The BP should also take advantage of the vistas on Ridge Road, which it avoids for some reason.

Other things to do:  Explore the beautiful Squaretimber Wild Area with its deep gorges, drive Ridge Road to see its great views, camp and hike at serene Sizerville State Park, explore bucolic Emporium and other small towns in the area.


Hiking Drake Hollow-Chuck Keiper Trail


Falls on Drake Hollow, Chuck Keiper Trail, Sproul State Forest

I was asked to lead a hike for the 2017 Prowl the Sproul hiking event, sponsored by the Keystone Trails Association.  I was assigned to a hike along the Chuck Keiper Trail (CKT) down Drake Hollow, which I had hiked many years ago.  I remembered it being a scenic place, so I was excited to return.  This was a shuttle hike, and since we were starting at the top, it would be mostly a downhill walk to the car along PA 144.


About seven people joined me on this hike, some were from the local area, others were from near where I live in Northeast PA.  They were a great group of people and after enjoying the vista over the Fish Dam Wild Area, we began the hike on the orange blazed CKT, which is a rugged 50 mile double loop trail.  We only did a section of this trail, this hike was about 6 miles long.


The trail explored scenic forests with lowbush blueberry and northern hardwoods.  We walked a road and took a side trip to Big Rocks, which featured large boulders, cliffs, and even a cave.  Everyone enjoyed the huge rocks.  A yellow trail explored the maze of rocks, but we did not hike all of this trail, instead retracing our steps to the CKT.

The CKT eventually left the road as we hiked through laurel before the trail descended into Drake Hollow.  The terrain was a little rocky as we entered the glen along a dry stream.  The stream soon appeared along mossy rocks and clear pools.  A sidestream joined, with a small, trickling falls above us.  I was worried about stinging nettle, but it wasn’t too bad.  The CKT followed an obvious grade down this beautiful glen with towering hardwoods as shafts of sunlight lit the ground.


I was told of a waterfall on Drake Hollow and to look for a side trail.  I found the side trail, on the left if descending, and it dropped down to the creek, ending at a beautiful hidden grotto and a seven foot falls.  For some reason, this spot really impressed me with its beauty.  Springs spilled from the bedrock and everything was green and mossy.  If hiking Drake Hollow, be sure to include the falls.

The trail leveled and crossed the creek a few times.  We had lunch under hemlocks as everyone enjoyed the scenery.  Our hike continued as we passed some campsites before the CKT turned right along the base of the mountain on a new route put in a few years ago to avoid the old route, which was a roadwalk along PA 144.


I enjoyed this “new” route as it wound in and out of two glens that had seasonal streams and cascades.  One glen had a distinct cool breeze flowing down it, like natural air conditioning, something we relished on a warm day.  The CKT dropped down to PA 144 where the other car was parked.

This was a great hike with waterfalls, glens, streams, and beautiful forests.  I encourage everyone to explore more of the CKT, and Drake Hollow in particular.  You can see these beautiful places on guided hikes during the Prowl the Sproul hiking events, held each July.

More photos.

Map of the CKT’s east loop, with Drake Hollow on the left.


Green Hills Preserve


Green Hills Preserve in full bloom

Natural Lands is a conservancy that has protected thousands of acres in eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey.   Green Hills Preserve near Reading is one of the places Natural Lands protects.


Green Hills covers 201 acres and has three miles of trails.  We visited to see the prime attraction,  a remarkable superbloom of wildflowers.


We hiked the trails, enjoying the blooms of bee balm, black eyed susans,  joe pye weed,  and many others.  It’s not common in PA to see acres of such flowers, which were planted to transform the fields into high grass meadows.


Trails also feature forests, a stream, and wetland.  As we hiked we saw hawks, many birds, and countless butterflies.


The preserve is in a rural area, but near a highway.  What was supposed to be a housing development are now meadows that will host a variety of wildlife.  Regardless where it is located, land is worthy of conservation that will benefit us for generations to come.


While in the area, we also checked out Nolde Forest Environmental Education Center and walked around its famous stone mansion.  The forest looked beautiful, so I hope to return.


More photos.

Website and map.