THE FOREST CATHEDRAL
Christy and I spent a long weekend in northwestern Pennsylvania at her family reunion. We stayed at a private campground, which was located in a beautiful forest of hemlock and white pine. It would've been the ideal place for us if it hadn't been for the horses and go-carts and bumper boats and mud. You might say that it was a little bit too developed for our tastes.
After several days of dreary weather, the sun finally came out on Sunday. We were ready to escape from the campground. We decided to hike. Carolyn, who hails from California, decided to join us. Carolyn does most of her hiking in the Sierra's, but was looking forward to seeing a Pennsylvania forest, we decided to show her a good one. We headed for Cook's Forest State Park, which contains one of the largest tracts of Virgin Forest remaining in the east.
This was a new area for me, so we picked a hike out of a guidebook. This worked out fairly well, as we ended up hiking short sections of what seemed like a dozen trails. We started at the Log Cabin Visitors Center around 11AM. We walked back down the road a short distance and picked up the Ridge Trail. We followed it up through a forest, which started out nice and only got better. At first we climbed through a hemlock forest full of boulders and ferns. On the ridge though, the forest really opened up in a park-like setting. I'm not sure if this part of the park is virgin forest, but this part of the forest was my favorite.
We reached a park campground, and thanks to some shoddy directions, we took a long, unnecessary tour of it. Eventually we escaped and crossed highway 36. On the far side we followed a path through virgin forest. This woodland was nearly as nice as the previous one. The trees were big, though not immense. Eventually we reached a dirt road and followed it. Here we encountered a huge Black Snake. It was probably over 6' long, if you were daring enough to stretch it out.
We followed the road a short distance, and then another trail. We descended steeply to the Clarion River. The river is beautiful brown ribbon of slow-moving water squeezed between steep, densely wooded walls. Just downstream we spotted Hemlock Island. We enjoyed a break, and Saucony went for a swim.
Afterwards we hiked upstream along the river. We passed a couple of nice campsites before heading steeply back up the mountain. We hiked through several switchbacks, passing blooming mountain laurel along the way. Finally we reached the top and found a fire tower. We climbed to the top and enjoyed a cool breeze and a pleasant view of the Pennsylvania countryside.
We left the tower and hiked a short side trail out to an overlook. This view is more limited, but perhaps more scenic than the one from the tower. We had a great view downstream long the river. The overlook was a rocky outcrop, and we took a few minutes to explore the numerous narrow passageways through the rocks. It was almost like a little slice of Utah in Pennsylvania.
We left the overlook and followed another trail back down to highway 36. We crossed the road, and immediately got lost looking for the next trail. We wandered around for a bit and eventually found it, though our route bared no resemblance to the one suggested in the guidebook.
We climbed another hill, again through lovely pine forest. On the far side of the hill we passed through the heart of the virgin white pine forest. This cathedral of trees was a fitting end to a nice hike in the Pennsylvania woods.
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