Into the Woods
Referred to as the “Black Forest” of Pennsylvania for its towering stands of ancient growth trees, Cook Forest is known for its history of preservation and breathtaking natural beauty. Many have long made the journey to experience its enchanting trails and to float upon the designated National Wild & Scenic Clarion River. Once you’ve been here, you’ll understand why others keep coming back.
“I hear the sounds of the forest, the call of the warbler, the creak of a tree trunk against a fallen comrade in the wind, the rustle of leaves from an undetectable creature in a nearby rhododendron thicket. A wonderful piney aroma reaches deep into my soul to create an almost alarming awareness of textures and the incredible sensations of being in an ancient forest.”
– Anthony Cook, “The Cook Forest, An Island in Time”
There are a number of ways to explore Cook Forest. Below are some of our favorites.
Hike some of the thirty miles of trails and take in the natural beauty of an old growth forest of Eastern Hemlock and virgin White Pine. Our favorite recommendation is to hike the Longfellow trail to the Forest Cathedral area, a grouping of ancient growth stands. A seasoned staff member at Gateway Lodge can offer some great insight into the variety of hiking that’s available, so make a point to grab a map and plot out your adventure ahead of time.
Fishing Along the Clarion River
The Clarion River flows along the Park border and provides great fishing for trout, warm water game fish, and panfish. The Park Office also has a small stocked fishing pond nearby for the kids. To get the details on the best fishing spots, request a fishing guide from Pennsylvania Great Outdoors Travel Association.
Canoes, Kayaks & Innertubes
Two-hour to full-day excursions are available in the Cook Forest/Clear Creek area. We recommend Pale Whale Canoe and Cook Forest Canoe Livery, which are the closest to Gateway.
Horseback Riding in the Forest
Ride trails at a relaxing pace. Cook Forest’s stables offer horseback riding for all ages and experience levels. Our recommendation is to book a reservation with Clarion Scenic Trail Ride.
Bumper Boats, Go Karts & Mini Golf
Yes, Cook Forest has some fun in store for the young and young at heart. Most of these fun activities are right along Route 36.
Cook Forest offers plenty of beautiful scenery worthy of your “focus.” In fact, it could take weeks to fully capture the essence of Cook Forest’s wildlife, vegetation, fungi, trails, trees, rocks, and scenic vistas. Be sure to stop by the Kaltenbaugh Photography “Gallery in the Woods” to view Kevin Kaltenbaugh’s beautiful images of the forest, just minutes from the Lodge.
Local Artisan Gallery & Shops
In addition to Kevin Kaltenbaugh’s “Gallery in the Woods,” other wonderful shops include Briar Hill Furniture, Cooksburg Dry Goods, the Pickle Barrel, and Through the Woods Antiques.
Cook Forest Park Educational Programs
During the summer you can take advantage of “environmental interpretive programs” presented every Friday and Saturday night (subject to change) by the Park Service. Trail walks are also held during the summer season. A weekly interpretive schedule is available at the park office.
Cook Forest Sawmill Center for the Arts
Dedicated to preserving traditional arts and crafts, the Sawmill Center offers art workshops and holds theatrical performances in the round throughout the summer. The Sawmill Center also sells local artwork and crafts.
Cook Forest Fire Tower and Seneca Point Overlook
The 80-foot tower, built in 1929, gave firefighters a 20-mile view of the area. The tower retired from service in 1966 and now offers visitors one of the best scenic views of the forest. When you’re at the very top, try to spot the Gateway Lodge. It’s the only building in view. Also nearby is Seneca Overlook, a great grouping of rock formations with a spectacular view of the Clarion River.
Log Cabin Inn Learning Center
Visit Cook Forest’s environmental learning center. Adjacent to the Longfellow trail, it contains a variety of displays, taxidermied animals, and logging tools from early lumbering days. Learn about the efforts of Civil Conservation Corp, the largest conservation effort in American history.
Cook Forest is just as beautiful in the winter as it is in other seasons (some might argue more!). The park has a lighted ice-skating pond near River Road, 10 acres of sledding slopes, and three designated cross-country ski trails with an equipment rental facility.
However you decide to enjoy the forest, may it be a time of great memories made. A common statement we hear from many adults within our region is that “this is the place they would go when they were little.” We are excited to see traditions carry on and hearts touched by the beauty of Cook Forest.