I needed to escape. I needed new surroundings, to go somewhere I had never been before. I did some research, looked at some maps, checked out some trails and found Cook Forest. With so much history and full of hemlocks (my favorite), I headed west. It was nearing the end of 2018. I was heartbroken. I had just ended an eight-year marriage and lost both of my Grandparents who meant more to me than anything. If anyone had introduced me to the meaning of “wanderlust,” it was them. I get my sense of travel and exploration from them. I want to live a life just like they did with stories to tell and pictures to prove it. Needing to heal and what better way than to do it in where I felt most safe, I planned a three-day hiking-venture in Cook Forest.
I planned to hike most of the state park. The history intrigued me and I fell in love. I needed to escape during one of the noisiest holidays of the year, and I decided to head out west again for the 4th of July. This time with a whole heart and happiness consuming me, I was looking forward to having a different perspective on the forest. I was fortunate to have scored an early copy of the upcoming (now available!) Cook Forest - Clear Creek Lizard Map, a pre-production copy to check out, and I was so excited to see what it may hold!
One thing I miss from living in California is the abundance of pine that smothered the mountains. The Forest Cathedral, brings back memories of childhood camping in the Sierras. The Cathedral, found in the heart of Cook Forest State Park, is Pennsylvania’s largest and is a registered national natural landmark. Multiple different species of trees reside here, reaching 150 years old.
Since this was my second trip to Cook Forest on a busy holiday, I tried to stick to trails that I hadn’t hiked yet and what I thought would be the least busy. So, I started from the top of the state park and headed south. With Piper, my dog, coming along for the adventure, we pulled into a small parking lot across the street from the Hefron Run trail. We stretched out legs and took in that abundant scent of pine. Hefron Run is a 1.1 out and back trail on the northern end of the State Park. I had discovered it looking at my Purple Lizard Map.
This area was peaceful, covered in fern and enveloped in hemlocks. I felt home again. I had a wonderful life outside of hiking but being in nature is was fills my core with peace and happiness. I have a fulfilling, secure job, amazing friends and family and watching my son grow and change over the years has been my proudest achievement. But when I am not in the woods, I ache.
It was getting hot and I wanted to let the dog cool off, so I drove to the “Log Cabin” and we walked the Longfellow loop, down the swinging bridge and upstream along Toms Run.
While Piper played in the water, I referred to my map. This area of the Park has so many inter-weaving trails. You could make up your own hike and all within reasonable mileage. We ended our stroll through the Ancient Forest. This is where history lies. When and if you decide to stop here, take a moment. The surroundings are a silent reminder of how powerful Mother Nature is. This small 400-acre area was covered in white pine but was destroyed years ago by a cyclone.
One of the last stops I wanted to make today was along the North County Trail, which runs through Clear creek and Cook Forest State parks.
There was a hidden gem along the Clarion River that set forth to find. I drove up the road to the Seneca Tower viewing area but stopped short at the River Trailhead. This trail started through an old-growth area but was soon smothered in Rhodadendron. I thought, how lucky I was to see them in full bloom because they don’t last forever.
The water was stunning this evening. The warm sun, glowing on the top. I intersected to NCT and made a right-hand turn. After a few minutes I came to Henry Run Sawmill Dam Falls. That was a mouthful. It dumps into the Clarion River in front of Hemlock Island. Even though it’s the only waterfall in Cook Forest, it’s not on the park map. But you may find it with the help of a lizard. At 10 feet high and 50 feet wide, it was flowing strong, but peaceful. I was the only one there to say hello.
I cherish all these quiet moments that I am so lucky to have while hiking and I will continue to share them in hopes to get two more feet on a hiking trail. As others have inspired me, I hope to do the same. As I drove away from Cook Forest, I am grateful to get the chance to return to search a beautiful place in a completely different state of mind. With some upcoming challenges that I need to face this year, I remind myself that if I can climb mountains, I can overcome anything. I may cry, I may get impatient and want to give up, but I won’t. I am the person I am today because of the paths that I have walked.
s the worldwide pandemic continues many folks are discovering or re-discovering the gift of exploring on public land. With proper social distancing, and masking, spending time exploring the outdoors on public land - hiking can be a safe way to connect with loved ones and the natural world.
Whether you are a beginner hiker, or getting back out there for the first time in a while, this guide will give you some simple steps to enjoying hiking safely during the pandemic and any time.