A Long Weekend Exploring Cook Forest
My brother and I rented a pair of adjacent cabins at Indian Cabins near the park office in Cook Forest. We arrived in the evening on a Thursday in late August, and stayed there through Sunday evening. The beautiful Toms Run flows directly behind the cabins, making for some very peaceful streamside moments throughout the weekend. Thursday morning we spotted a bald eagle fishing right behind the cabins. Later in the morning I took my camera and tripod up toward the swinging bridge. I worked my way back down to the cabins, flushing a great blue heron downstream to my brother and his son, who are both avid birders. We also enjoyed watching an osprey fish several times at the children’s fishing pond below the cabins.
Indian Cabins at Cook Forest State Park
Rhododendron Trail was right beside our cabin, and having direct access to the old-growth forest was fantastic. We went up the trail several times either birding, or just to enjoy the scenery. The kiddos enjoyed the swinging bridge, and up the stream where several trails intersect with multiple bridges. What a beautiful spot! A small waterfall drops behind one of the bridges and meets Toms Run at a rocky section with small riffles. The boughs of smaller trees hang over the creek, while the massive old-growth pine and hemlock loom a hundred feet overtop of the scene. We finished that hike with a loop up Red Eft Trail, then back to the cabins via Longfellow and Toms Run Trails.
I have been hiking in Cook Forest for over three decades, but I still had a couple trails on my list that I had never hiked. I grabbed my new Purple Lizard Cook Forest map and used it to navigate Corduroy, Camp, and Ridge Trails. I also grabbed the map and the whole family and hiked down Boiler Trail in the Clarion River Lands. There’s literally an ancient steam locomotive boiler sitting down there close to the edge of the Clarion River! It had been reused as a stationary boiler for a well sometime in the late 19th or early 20th Century. It was a great hike, descending 500 ft in 1 mile down to the boiler.
The actual boiler on Boiler Trail
We visited the Fire Tower and Seneca Point all three days we were there. We got up early to see the fog in the Clarion River valley, and we were up there at bright, sunny parts of the day to enjoy views down into the valley. The vista at Seneca Point is growing in a little, and I hope they can work on keeping Hemlock Island and Gravel Lick bridge visible. We swung down to the Cooksburg Café to enjoy some good food and ice cream along the banks of the Clarion River.
We finished our weekend at Cook Forest with a classic loop in the Forest Cathedral. We started at the Log Cabin Inn, a stunningly beautiful rustic cabin built in 1934 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. We hiked up Longfellow Trail past the newly-replaced National Natural Landmark plaque and the Memorial Fountain. We then entered the “big trees” of the Forest Cathedral Natural Area. We visited the 1954 tornado blowdown site, and the site of extensive damage from a microburst in May of 2018. There are still plenty of massive trees left in the Forest Cathedral, though, and they surrounded us as we looped back to the vehicles via Ancient Forest and Longfellow Trails.
National Natural Landmark plaque
Old Growth Pine in Cook Forest Cathedral
Ancient Forest Trail in Cook Forest Cathedral
Cook Forest will always be my favorite Pennsylvania state park. It has a great combination of “stuff for the kiddos,” good restaurants, many hiking trails, the Wild & Scenic Clarion River, historic sites from Native Americans, logging history, CCC history, and of course, one of the last remaining stands of “Penns Woods” that has been untouched for over 400 years.
Rob Keith lives in Brockway, PA with his wife Kristina and their son Wesley. He is a high school chemistry teacher, and teaches in DuBois, PA. He is an avid hiker and kayaker/canoer, and thoroughly enjoys exploring the Little Toby and Clarion River valleys. He is a published historian of the Brockway area as well. Some of his favorite spots in PA include the Allegheny National Forest, Quehanna, Pine Creek, Ohiopyle, the Hammersley, Bald Eagle, Rothrock, and Loyalsock State Forest.