Cook Forest State Park is located halfway between Erie, Pennsylvania and State College, Pennsylvania. The area has an old-growth hemlock forest with gorgeous evergreen trees, plentiful creeks, and many camping options - including cabin rentals.
Kayaking or Tubing on the Clarion River
The Clarion River flows through Cook Forest and is easy to navigate for beginner kayakers. Kayaks and canoes can be rented from the Pale Whale Canoe Fleet in Cooksburg. For those seeking a more sedate trip down the river, inflatable tubes can also be rented for a trip down the river. A 4-mile and 8-mile trip are available, with transportation upstream so the paddling work is relatively easy, going with the current.
The river level varies, and the minimum age allowed to kayak varies by the water level. In mid-summer, the water levels are often fairly low (around 2 feet deep), and the minimum age for canoeing will allow two year old children to accompany their parents. Due to the low water level in summer, it is very advisable to wear water shoes, as you may need to exit your kayak and reposition it if it gets stuck on a rock.
The trip downstream (for the four mile trip) takes between 1-2 hours, depending on how quickly you paddle. Wildlife can often be spotted along the river - we saw deer, a bald eagle, ducks, and geese on our trip.
When the water level is low, we recommend sticking to the "darker water" in the middle of the river, which tends to be deeper. While getting stuck on the rocks isn't a big deal, it is a lot more fun to paddle without having to reposition the kayak!
Ride a Horse
There are several stables in the area. We went on a trail ride with the Silver Stallion Stables. There is an option for a 1 hour and a 2 hour trail ride, and we opted for a one hour trip. The horses are very calm and know the trail well. The trip was through beautiful hemlock groves and we really enjoyed the quiet exploration via horseback!
The Best Hikes in Cook Forest
The North Country National Scenic Trail passes through Cook Forest, and serious backpackers will traverse through this section of the park. Our family only did day hikes, and we found the following trails the most fun:
This trail winds through the Forest Cathedral, and area of old-growth hemlock trees. These trees are the tallest in the northeast region of the United States, and the loop-style trail is easy to navigate. This trail is about 2.25 miles long and is a fairly easy hike.
Tom's Run Trail
At the end of the Longfellow loop, Tom's Run Trail leads to a swinging bridge. The trail is also easily accessed from the parking lot by the park office. Follow the Birch Trail approximately 1/4 mile until you reach the bridge. The bridge is extremely fun and sways a lot as you cross it!
Seneca Point and Fire Tower Trail
This unique trail leads to a fire tower you can actually climb. The view from the top is incredible! While we hiked the entire road on the way in, there is a parking lot down the dirt access road that is very close to the fire tower. For those with small kids, this might be the best option.
In late June, the access road trail was covered in flowering mountain laurel. The white blooms were everywhere and made the longer hike in worth it for our family!
We visited in June 2020, and social distancing measures were in effect due to COVID. One party was allowed at a time on the fire tower, which allowed us an uncrowded view from the top.
The fire tower is 108 steps to the top. We found going up easy, but going down the stairs felt a little scary from the high elevation! There are plenty of fences and rails to protect hikers, though, so the fire tower is quite safe.
Double Diamond Deer Ranch
This is one activity we have not yet tried, but is a great place to learn about the white-tailed deer that live in the area. Unfortunately, we didn't have time for the ranch on our camping trip, but hope to visit it soon so we can give a full review!
The ranch is located in Cooksburg, PA and is open from Mother's Day through Halloween, from 10 am to dusk. In the summer months, visitors are able to bottle feed fawns and pet the deer. In the fall, mating season arrives and the deer are separated into pens.
We highly recommend visiting the Cook Forest area, particularly for nature lovers. The Pennsylvania Wilds offer a lot of wildlife, hiking trails, and water exploration activities!