2018 Summer Travels – Cook Forest

Bill drove our motor home 800 miles over the nearly two months we were in Pennsylvania.

We’re in the Wilds!!! See the bottom picture in our last blog post to see how Pennsylvania is broken down regionally. Anyway, trying to decide where to finish our last two weeks in Pennsylvania was no easy task but we felt the Wilds calling our name. So much to see, so little time!

We’ll admit, we were pleasantly surprised at how much we’ve enjoyed this beautiful state. Surprised because it is Bill’s home state – he never really “saw” the state! Bill had hoped to make it up to Lake Erie and to the Allegheny National Forest, but the clock was ticking, we needed to return to Virginia on June 27, 2018.

Bill’s focus this summer, after reviewing places to hike in Pennsylvania was to find state parks where we could start our hikes from our campsites. Our last two weeks, we finally stayed in two locations where we could do this and we loved it!

We left off in our last post in the New Stanton Area with our dilemma – where to go next? We finally decided to make a loop as you can see in our map, we traveled about 95 miles to Ridge Campground in the Cook State Forest (CSF) then the next week, around 100 miles to Black Moshannon State Park’s campground, then back to Dillsburg. We stayed in CSF from June 9 – June 17. It is a very popular location.

Since we made our reservations at the last minute, we had to change sites three times! That was a bit of a pain, but so worth it. In fact, this turned out to be our favorite campground so far. We liked it so much, we found a place we could easily camp for anywhere from a month to six months (that’s the season) next summer.  We are dreaming of bringing our grandsons here. And the best part was that the camp host’s husband serves as the on-site Chaplain so we were able to attend church at the campground.

We stayed in Black Moshannon State from June 17 – 25. This campground must not have been as popular as we snagged a full hook up site at the last minute for our entire stay. This happened to us in Shawnee State Park – we’ve been blessed in this regard! More on it in our next and the last post on our summer travels in our Motor Home. We do have a flight booked to Sacramento, CA for a wedding. And that is the reason for us staying closer to Virginia this summer. Stay tuned for that blog post.

Our first campsite at CSF for one night, site 150.

Bill selected this State Forest to visit for a few reasons: #1 It has full hook ups! In the summer, especially, we are washing clothes daily in addition to our dishes and cooking at home. #2 There are 47 miles of hiking trails in an old growth forest which includes another state park nearby. We put a dent in the list of trails, which can be found here. #3 It was close to Clarion, a sweet town that would meet our food shopping needs. #4 It just sounded enchanting!!!

It’s rare in today’s day-and-age to witness something truly awe-inspiring, especially when anything you could want to see is only a click away. However, there’s nothing quite like experiencing the sights, sounds, and smells that come with a journey into Cook Forest. Picture yourself hiking through the forest on a bed of fallen pine needles. The sunlight pierces through the canopy of ancient trees above you in intermittent rays. Everything around you is quiet and still, save for the distant churning waters of the Clarion River and the occasional chirp from a blue jay or the tap-tap-tapping of a nearby woodpecker. You take a deep breath to fill your lungs with the clean, wilderness air and the fragrant scent of hemlock and mountain laurel fills your nostrils. A trip to Cook Forest is a vacation for your senses, and it’s an experience that you and your family will never forget.

Cook Forest State Park now spans 8,500 acres where Forest, Clarion, and Jefferson Counties meet on the banks of the Clarion River, and it contains a number of noteworthy natural features and recreational outlets. At its heart, the Forest Cathedral Natural Area holds several hundred acres of ancient, enormous white pines and hemlocks, some of which date back to the 1600s. Among them, the 184-foot Longfellow Pine stands as the tallest tree north of the Smokies in the eastern United States. Once, the continent was full of forests like these, and today, hikers who stand at the feet of these giants can get a feel for the country’s original, untouched landscape. VisitPAGo.com

Bill and I always had an affinity for the “woods” as we called them as children. Perhaps this is why we both love the park forest settings – it reminds us of our childhoods. Who wouldn’t want to come here after reading a little about CSF. And it lived up to the descriptions – really a place of enchantment for us.

We wanted to beat a potential rainstorm by arriving here a day earlier than we initially reserved. We felt lucky to get this site as the campground looked booked up. Indeed, it is very popular.

We arrived here on Saturday, June 9, 2018 and took our time getting oriented around the campground, picking up a hiking map from the camp host and talking with her and her husband about the trails. They recommended the Cathedral Forest. It sounded like a place we’d want to see.

We couldn’t wait to hit the trails! And what a reward we had waiting for us. The deer were plentiful in this forest.

The name “Ridge” Campground had new meaning as we began to hike. As the passenger/navigator, I didn’t really notice our ascent UP to the campground. So when Bill asked if we should take our hiking poles, I said no. It all looked pretty flat to me….But I seem to remember something about a “heart attack hill….”

We always start off a bit naive. We are off on our merry way not knowing what awaits us. However, Bill knew we were on top of the mountain so what did he expect?

We climbed up this hill on this easy looking trail. I’m actually sucking wind as I stopped and said, “Let’s take a picture to show how steep this is!” Was this that heart attack hill???

The hiking trail map didn’t have descriptions of the trails! So later, we found it on-line. This is that “easy” trail we thought we were taking:

Camp Trail: 1.8-mile, difficult hiking. This steep trail begins at Ridge Camp Campground and ends at Breezemont Drive within view of the Log Cabin Inn Environmental Learning Center. This “calorie burning” trail is used by campers to travel from the campground to the Log Cabin Inn and main picnic area. Watch your map. Another section of Camp Trail ends farther up Breezemont Drive at the intersection of Corduroy Trail.

Wow, it was only 459 feet? It sure was a dip down and then the climb up was pretty brutal! But a great workout on a travel day.

The next day, Sunday, June 10, 2018, we finally got the thunderstorms that had been predicted for a while. It was also cold so we opted to drive into town to attend church at First Baptist Church of Clarion instead of the campground church service. It is normally outdoors which we did enjoy that the following Sunday. But in the rain, it’s held in a covered pavilion with picnic tables. As good of shape as we are in, we just can’t sit at picnic tables and certainly can’t sit outside in the cold for an hour.

Clarion is the county seat of Clarion County and is home to Clarion University of Pennsylvania. We enjoy small college towns and always hope to catch a good play. We didn’t get a chance to see if anything was playing while here. I guess I should mention a downside to the CSF is the lack of cell phone connectivity! I meant to do some research while in town, but we were busy dodging the heavy rain and grocery shopping. We made a wrong turn, so we were able to see the college campus and it did look like it was closed for the summer! Or was it all the rain? Which stopped as soon as we retuned to the campground. And so it was time to change sites:

While it wasn’t too tight on the curving roads between the trees, Bill had to drive cautiously!

We set up here for five nights, Sunday through Friday. During the week, the campground seemed nearly empty! We really enjoyed ourselves here.

Site 77, nearly in full sun, which we prefer. The trees hanging over us tend to drop sap and other things on the roof. This site has full hook ups but is in the “dog” or pets section of the park. Our first site was in the no pets allowed section.

While we didn’t take a long hike on Saturday, we felt we needed a day of rest on Sunday. So no hiking our next day, just roamed around the campground. We saved our energy for a good long and adventurous hike on Monday, June 11, 2018. While Bill seemed to enjoy the woods on Saturday, the jury was still out for me. But we did like the dense forest as we set out to do some exploring.

We had to cross the main road to get to this trailhead. The camp host had said the hike to the Fire Tower wasn’t too steep, which was where I thought we were headed. Bill studied the map and had other ideas. So of course, we weren’t just going to the Fire Tower….

Mohawk Trail: 2 miles, difficult hiking

This steep trail starts at the intersection of PA36 and Forest Road and ends at PA 36 near Ridge Camp Campground. This hike takes you through another old growth forest dominated by ancient hemlock, eastern white pine, chestnut oak, black gum and red maple. Part of this area was hit by fire in the late 1880s, then a tornado in 1976, but still has some magnificent hemlock trees. One has been designated as the state champion at almost 16 ft. around and 125 ft. high.

Again, we only descended and ascended 449 feet, but seriously, it felt so much steeper!

It’s hard to adequately describe the magnitude of this forest! Hopefully, we can capture some of it in our meager photos.

We love some challenges and different topography. We are really in a forest with little sun and lots of moss!

The trail to the Fire Tower was flat and easy to maneuver.

The fire tower was built in 1929 and is 87.5 feet high. There was a time when I couldn’t climb these steps, so up I went! Bill passed since he is not a fan of heights.

My view from the top. Aren’t the clouds amazing? The beautiful forest looks so thick  and lush from up here.

Can you see Bill in the center of this picture. I tried to get him to wave but he didn’t even like to see me climbing it let alone waving from the top!

From here, we took the Seneca Point Trail. It seems like we need to stitch together lots of short trails to make one long hike!

Seneca Trail: 0.9-mile, difficult hiking
This steep trail starts at the Clarion River PA 36 Bridge and ends in the Fire Tower/SenecaPoint Area. This trail offers an excellent overlook view of the Clarion River as you pass through old growth forest and 1976 tornado downed logs. Many towering hemlocks and white pines still remain. Some hemlocks here are over 145 ft. high. As you start up the trail from PA 36, there is a side trail that goes off to your left. This trail used to be lighted by natural gas lights that led you to a sulfur spring known as the old Mineral Spring. One hemlock here has been documented as the tallest found in the entire Northeastern United States!

Here we are at Seneca Point. We wanted the background to show, but our random photographer thought we wanted to be the main attraction in this picture. From here is a view of the Clarion River Valley but we didn’t capture it. Let’s just go down the steep descent and see the river!

What an inviting river! It reminded us of the Black Water River in the Florida Panhandle. We kayaked on it a few summers ago. This looks like our kind of river to take another kayak trip!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018 we decided to hike on the trails in the Forest Cathedral Natural Area. One negative about the trail map is how obscure it is to find the trailheads. We could tell it was close to the State Park Office. So we asked and sure enough, they said park there and walk a few 100 feet to it. Later we learned, this was the steepest climb up to the Area! But we are glad we took this route up.

From the Park brochure:

The Forest Cathedral Natural Area is home to the finest stand of tall white pine and hemlock in the entire Northeastern U.S. Many of these magnificent Pine and hemlock trees exceed 3 feet in diameter with the tallest Pines approaching 200 feet. It is fitting that this forest remains in the midst of the area that saw the greatest logging boom in the history of Pennsylvania. In the late 1800s, thousands of acres of old growth forests were cut for the shipbuilding and construction industries. The Forest Cathedral is a National Natural Landmark and has been set aside for protection as a state park natural area.”

Can you see how steep the ascent was? Wow, I couldn’t take any pictures because it took both hands to pump the hiking poles to get to the top! You may note the Verizon signal was very weak.

Below is a slide show which captures only a small portion of the beauty. It really was a place of enchantment and a place we want to see again.

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June 13, 2018, Wednesday. We really wanted to go kayaking but a storm was threatening. We decided to get in a quick and relatively easy hike (almost five miles) and then took a driving tour to see another campground we had contemplated staying in. Tionesta Recreation Area Campground, US Army Corps of Engineers was inviting! It has full hook ups and was on the edge of the Allegheny Forest. The downside was we would have to drive to our daily hikes. We decided this is a place we could stay one day – but staying for a month or two or three in CSF area would be hard to pass up! After we checked it out, we decided we needed a few provisions so we drove into Clarion to the Walmart. Our drive for the day was 60 miles!

We drove from the CSF to Tionesta. We hoped a Walmart was up in that area, but the closest one was in Clarion.

June 14, 2018, Thursday. Flag Day! And it was a day for flags to wave. The sky was bright blue and our Kayak driver told us it was a perfect day to Kayak – if you are a hard core kayaker – not a beginner like us. We’ve only tried it once before. But we said we were in great shape, why not go for the 10 mile trip – not the 4 mile. He did say it was a perfect day, right?

The Canoe and Kayak Rental was just across the river from the CSF Park Office.

We were piled into a van with a family of five, a mom with her two teenaged sons, married daughter and son-in-law from Los Angeles. Our five kayaks and one canoe (the married couple used the canoe) were towed behind. We drove about 10 miles up stream.

We are supposed to be the dour old farmer and his wife with a pitchfork. I can’t help but smile but Bill was in character!

We were able to launch ourselves! But it wasn’t made clear to us which way to go. Bill has an internal GPS so he headed off in the right direction. The mother and her family had Kayaked here for years, years ago. She couldn’t remember! The married couple are taking off in their canoe next to Bill while mom watches from her kayak..

It looks just about perfect doesn’t it? You may notice the water has some ripples in it….that means wind.

We actually met up with a few groups. This is a popular activity. We were surprised there were only seven of us in the van on the way here.

I was making a video for our grandsons when Bill snapped this photo! I’ll add a link where you can see it on YouTube. We were only a mile or two into the ride and I’m still smiling!

You can watch the minute long YouTube video hereI’ve tried creating a channel to share our videos with our grandsons on Kids YouTube. But until we get lots of hits, I don’t think we will be on it. They each have their own tablet. It would be nice for them to watch some of our adventures, don’t you think?

We took two breaks. After all, it was a 10 mile ride! On our first Kayak trip, there were sandy beaches for the breaks. But this was OK.

Now for the bad news! The day we looked at the river, it was smooth as glass. All the ripples you now see mean wind. And since the threatened rain the day before never really materialized, the river was a bit shallow – and it was full of rocks and boulders. Bill got hung up three times. The beauty of being a light weight, I slipped right over those boulders! But the wind. Oh the wind became brutal! You can see the curvy river below and it seemed as we rounded those bends, the wind really picked up. We both got blisters on our hands, my knees were sunburned and we thought we might not finish the course! We felt for the couple in the canoe. They seemed to really struggle and we never saw them after we hit four miles. We said this might be our last time to kayak! Our memories were short….stay tuned.

For what it is worth – I “mapped my kayak trip.” I loved seeing what a curving river we were on! We started at 11:36 am and finished at 2:51 pm.

June 15, 2018, Friday  The beauty of moving a motor home is that it is relatively easy! So this was moving day from a full hook up site with lots of dogs as neighbors, back to near where we parked the first day and night here. It was an electric only site but no pets. Since we don’t have any pets, we’re more comfortable not having them barking nearby. We managed to get in a five mile hike. That’s always a good thing on a moving day! But there was a downside. Check in and check OUT is 3 pm. Yep, we discovered that is a norm in Pennsylvania State Parks. We had checked our site the day before and no one was on it. So we thought for sure, we’d get on it early – like 9:00 am. Why I didn’t walk over to confirm it. So we drove up and there was a couple camped out in full force! This was their shake down trip! They did arrive the day before, probably soon after we walked by. They planned to not leave until 2 pm. So off we went for our walk while we waited.

We stayed on Site 148 for two nights. We had to squeeze our car on our site! If we wanted a campfire, we would be hard pressed to sit out and enjoy it. Just too cramped. Thankfully, we don’t spend much time in our RV, just to sleep and eat. The rest of the time, we are out and about exploring!

June 16, 2018, Saturday and our last hike here. Even with a few negatives, we really loved our time here. We wanted to end on a exhaustive note so we had an ambitious hike planned. I made these notes on our All Trails App:

We started at our campsite, then to Corduroy Trail. It’s an easy descent. Crossed Breezemont Drive and soon connected to Liggett Trail/North Country Trail. This crossed Tom’s Run Rd, then becomes Brown Run Trail/North Country Trail. We aimed for Baker Trail at the Swamp Natural Area but the gnats were too annoying so turned back. We took Deer Meadow Trail and found a Campground with Park Models. We may stay there one day. Then we took Hefren Trail back to Toms Run Road. We stayed on it for short distance, crossed bridge and went up steps to get back on Liggett Trail/North Country then back to Corduroy Trail to our campsite.

Wow, not bad, 8.8 miles with 837 ft elevation. The total time we were out was about 5 hours. We talked to a couple in the private campground for some time.

Oh yes, this was the day we found a private campground nearby! But shhhh, we want to keep it a secret as this would meet all our needs. It doesn’t fill up like the Ridge Campground, all sites are full hook up and the Verizon signal was better! The best rates are monthly. Thus we may just come back here for a month or two!

Sunday, June 17, 2018 is another moving day. We really dislike moving on Sundays. For one, we like to start our day in church. And that is possible when there is a campground with a Pastor. And CSF has one! He’s actually the husband of one camp host. It was so wonderful to attend the service and meet our neighbors there! While we like to leave early and arrive early, we had to modify our preferences for these two weeks. We left CSF around 10:30 with about a three hour drive ahead. We really didn’t need to hurry as we assumed our site would be vacant. Doesn’t everyone else like to travel like us?

Up next, our last full week in a State Forest and Campground, Black Moshannon. How will it compare to CSF? The bar has been set pretty high! Then we will stay for two nights back in Dillsburg before we head back to Virginia.

God created everything through Him, and nothing was created except through Him. John 1:3 NLT

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