Written by Danielle Taylor | Photo by Fair Winds in the Forest
Whether you enjoy hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, or wildlife viewing, you’ll find a trail perfect for your pastime in the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors. Hundreds of miles of trails from rugged backcountry paths to wide, smooth rail-trails crisscross the region, and the area’s natural scenery and rolling hills give endless variety for trail users of all types.
2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the National Trails System Act, and one of the country’s 11 National Scenic Trails runs right through this region. More than 100 miles of the 4,600-mile North Country National Scenic Trail run through Clarion and Forest Counties here, and this section features several Adirondack-style shelters for multi-day hikers. The Mahoning Shadow Trail in Punxsutawney and the Black Cherry Trail in the Allegheny National Forest have been designated National Recreational Trails, and they showcase some of the region’s industrial heritage as well as its natural beauty.
Beyond just Black Cherry, Allegheny National Forest features hundreds of miles of trails, including the ever-popular Buzzard Swamp Trail System, which provides some of the best wildlife viewing opportunities in the forest. The Twin Lakes Trail north of Ridgway and the Beaver Meadows Trail System near Marienville offer a variety of trail lengths and difficulty levels to accommodate any hiker.
In Cook Forest State Park, hikers won’t want to miss the majestic Forest Cathedral, a National Natural Landmark filled with pine and hemlock trees, with some dating back to the 1600s. The 1.2-mile Longfellow Trail here passes through some of the tallest, oldest, and largest eastern white pine in the northeastern U.S., including the Longfellow Pine, the tallest known tree north of the Smokies at just under 185 feet tall. To the south, the 0.9-mile Seneca Trail leads to the Fire Tower at Seneca Point and offers an excellent view of the Clarion River.
Just upriver from Cook Forest in Clear Creek State Park, Beartown Rocks features house-sized boulders sprawled across several acres. Kids and adults alike enjoy hiking around and scrambling on the rocks, some of which have trees growing on them.
From Ridgway to Brockway, the 18-mile Clarion-Little Toby Trail follows the path of a former rail line along the Clarion River and Little Toby Creek. Along the way, trail riders can see what’s left of half a dozen ghost towns, a flooded dam, and a train wreck, and take a fun detour on a swinging bridge over Little Toby Creek.
Another noteworthy rail-trail, the Redbank Valley Trail from East Brady to Brookville earned the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ first “Trail of the Year” designation in 2014. The 41.5-mile main portion of the trail runs along Redbank Creek over several bridges and stone arches and through tunnels, while an additional nine-mile spur extends from Lawsonham to just south of Sligo.
In the winter, cross-country skiers can check out the Laurel Mill and Little Drummer Trails in the Allegheny National Forest. The Sand Springs Trail in Elk State Forest offers an additional 2.3 miles of slopes and curves for skiers, and the Hunters Run Trail System in Cornplanter State Forest features nested loops for hikers, cross-country skiers, and snowshoers to explore depending on their abilities and interests.
The Pennsylvania Great Outdoors region features hundreds of additional miles of trails, and you can access maps by stopping in to our visitors bureau, calling (814) 849-5197, or going to VisitPAGO.com. Trail maps are also available at state park and national forest offices.