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2.23.2020

Finding Adventure and Ancient Old Growth Forests at Cook Forest State Park: A Sightseeing Guide

Cook Forest State Park is one of the finest examples of the best of mankind and nature coming together to create something wonderful. Pennsylvania's forests were largely clearcut by the time the 19th and early 20th century came around. A few people in the lumber industry realized this and fought hard to preserve some small tracts of land from being fully cut down. This forward thinking kept these tracts private and away from other lumber companies. These tracts, some of finest of which are located at Cook Forest State Park, and a little further north at Allegheny National Forest's Hearts Content Natural Area, have been opened up for enjoyment to all of the public. During the Great Depression, mankind came through again with President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The CCC built some wonderful facilities at the state park, including cabins, picnic shelters, trail and road improvements, and more, in order to make this spectacular place more accessible for everyone. While doing these wonderful things, it also provided jobs to the scores of young men that were unemployed during the Great Depression. 
Cook Forest became the first state park in Pennsylvania that was created to preserve a natural landmark and it is a wonderful place to explore. Small industrial remnants from the 19th century remain scattered throughout the park, and large tracts of land, specifically the Forest Cathedral Area, are home to pristine old growth forests with trees that are centuries old. The rest of the park is filled with nice second and newer growth groves of trees that are beautiful as well. In my opinion, the park is even more spectacular to explore with some fresh snowfall, with the white snow accentuating the dark green Hemlock and Pine evergreen trees.
I generally end up taking a million photos when exploring a place. I took a bunch of pictures as I usually do, but at Cook Forest I tend to find myself so enthralled by the beauty of the forest that I usually end up taking less photos than I typically do. The best thing to do at Cook Forest is to just go and spend a whole afternoon/day hiking around the state park. There are more than enough trails to go through the entire state park and take in the sights and just soak in the majesty of nature. 

In addition to the beautiful forests, the trails have some semi-rigorous elevation change and they vary from following the edge of babbling creeks, up steep hillsides, and along the side of the relaxing Clarion River. Clear Creek State Park, Beartown Rocks, and more are a really short and scenic drive away from the state park. 

The highlight to visit at Cook Forest State Park is the park's National Natural Landmark, the Forest Cathedral, which is home to the oldest and largest of the trees at the park and on the entire East Coast. 
Forest Cathedral Trailhead Coordinates: 
  • 41.33785, -79.21396
41.33785, -79.21396
Fire Tower and Seneca Rocks Coordinates:
Winter Parking Area (Requires 1.5 Mile Hike in Either Direction)
41.33644, -79.22308
  • 41.33644, -79.22308
Summer Parking Area: (Requires hike of a few hundred feet, relatively flat but not ADA suitable)
41.32176, -79.21206
My other favorite highlights at the park include the Fire Tower and Seneca Point Rocks Scenic Overlooks. Also neat to see are the Emerald Path which is a paved trail that ended up having moss grow over it to make it appear bright green in the summer months, and the Henry Run Sawmill Dam, where the old water chute creates a waterfall like effect as the water goes through the old waterfall trough into the Clarion River. 
Emerald Path Coordinates:
41.35242, -79.22137
Henry Run Sawmill Dam Coordinates (follow Baker Trail along the Clarion River to access. From the park side, you can access the trail from Fire Tower Road)
41.32099, -79.22678
We usually launch off onto the trails into the Forest Cathedral from a different spot each time we go. We stopped right off of Forest Road onto one of the trailheads for the North Country Trail. This trail goes from the Midwest from Vermont through South Dakota. The trail takes hikers through some  gorgeous places in Northwestern PA, including McConnells Mill State Park, Cook Forest State Park, and Allegheny National Forest. It leads right through Forest Cathedral. 
Steps leading down towards the creek.
Brit and CeCe taking in the scenery.
Did I mention how bucolic Cook Forest State Park is?
Hiking in a winter wonderland is one of the most relaxing and invigorating things that I know of.
Not to mention that CeCe's absolute favorite thing is playing in the snow. 
Heading into Forest Cathedral. It is such a breathtaking place.
For more background about the park and views from a springtime visit, check out this article

A look at the Log Cabin, which is home to some antique logging equipment and history.
Walking along the creek.
 A view of the frozen Clarion River. This was from the winter of 2019. There was less snow that winter in the park, but it was colder overall.
The Fire Tower Lookout provides a stunning scenic overlook, along with the nearby rock outcroppings at Seneca Point. You can drive pretty close to them during the summer season, but in the winter, the road is closed to access by motor vehicles. The hike is about 1.5 miles each direction, out and back, along the road, which I highly recommend. I just used hiking boots on this trek, but other people snowshoed along the road. 
The hike is pretty, heading through some beautiful second growth forests that are maturing, 
 along with lots of freshly planted saplings...
and rhododendrons.
 The closer you get to Seneca Point, the larger the boulders get.
 Approaching Seneca Point...
You can see the Clarion River Valley come into view as you get closer to the Point.
 The absolute quiet in this spot, especially on a winter day, is just amazing. 
 Our first view of the water level on the Clarion River, though it is hard to tell because of how frozen the water was in this picture.
 Here you can see the winding meanders of the Clarion River Valley.

Just a few hundred feet away from Seneca Point is the Fire Tower. This is one of the few in the state that is open to visitors. While the top room of the tower is not open, you can climb up all of the stairs to see a tremendous view of the Clarion River Valley and Cook Forest State Park. More of these fire towers should be opened up like this to visitors, especially the one at Ricketts Glen. Many of State Parks and State Forests have abandoned fire towers that should be open to visitors. 
 Heading up the steps!


The following is a list of the official hiking trails throughout Cook Forest State Park, thanks to the state park office. There are more than 47 miles of developed trails throughout the state park. 

Maps to see the locations of these trails can be found through this Trail Guide and the Clarion River Lands Trail Guide
Cook Forest State Park: Hiking Only (Excluding Forest Cathedral Area)

Baker Trail/North Country National Scenic Trail

12 miles within the park, more difficult hiking

Two long-distance trails, the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT) and the Baker Trail, pass through Cook Forest State Park, following the same 12-mile stretch through the Forest Cathedral, passing Seneca Point, and meandering by the Clarion River.

The 140-mile Baker Trail (blazed yellow) runs from Freeport, PA, through the Allegheny National Forest.

The NCT (blazed blue) is America’s longest national scenic trail at 4,600 miles, running from New York to North Dakota. Several named park trails follow along the NCT/Baker Trail route and are listed below.

Black Bear Trail

1.1 miles, easiest hiking

This flat loop trail begins and ends at the Sawmill Center for the Arts. Look for black bear claw marks on trees.

Browns Run Trail

2.0 miles, more difficult hiking

This trail parallels Browns Run from Toms Run Road to Forest Road. Due to its low usage, it is a wonderful trail for wilderness hiking, hunting, and birding, particularly for the flute-like songster thrushes.

Camp Trail

2.0 miles, most difficult hiking

The most traveled section of this steep trail links the Ridge Campground to Breezemont Drive near the Log Cabin Environmental Learning Classroom (ELC). Pay particular attention at trail intersections as this trail splits near the campground.

Cook Trail

2.0 miles, more difficult hiking

This lightly used loop trail winds through a magnificent stand of old growth timber. Keep watch for tall white pines, large hemlocks, oaks, black gums, relict American chestnut snags from the early 1920s, and a 1930s dynamite shack built by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

The trail can be accessed in three locations: across from River Cabin #12, at the River Picnic Area, and via a short spur trail on Cemetery Road.

Corduroy Trail

1.2 miles, more difficult hiking

This trail connects the Ridge Campground and the Liggett Trail along Toms Run. This pleasant hike crosses over Breezemont Drive, passing large American beech and Eastern hemlock. Pay attention at intersections as this trail connects with the Camp Trail.

Deer Meadow Trail

1.5 miles, more difficult hiking

This trail unites the Browns Run Trail with the multi-use Hefren Run Trail. Sections of this trail go through old growth oak hemlock forest and prime wildlife areas.

Deer Park Trail

1.1 miles, more difficult hiking

This trail segment connects PA 36 and the Seneca Trail, also linking with the Mohawk Trail. Hikers pass through the heart of the 1976 tornado damaged area. Portions of the classic movie, “The Unconquered”, were filmed near a rock outcrop here.

Hemlock Trail

0.3 mile, more difficult hiking

This short trail connector joins the Longfellow Trail near Forest Road with the Deer Park Trail at PA 36. One of the finest old growth hemlock forests in the Eastern U.S. is located along this trail. Some hemlocks surpass 140 feet tall; many are more than 300 years old!

Liggett Trail

1.5 miles, easiest hiking

This trail begins at Breezemont Road across from the Log Cabin ELC and travels a portion of the NCT/Baker Trail along Toms Run, terminating on Toms Run Rd. The trail passes through a wonderful stand of hemlocks, some of which is an old growth forested wetland. This trail is a good place to listen for the elusive winter wren. Turning right onto Toms Run Road brings you back to the Log Cabin ELC.

Mohawk Trail

1.4 miles, more difficult hiking

This trail runs from the PA 36/Forest Road intersection near the Inn at Cook Forest, and ends at the exit of Fire Tower Road.

This trail winds through magnificent old growth hemlock forest along the hilltop within the Fire Tower Road loop and the steep hillside overlooking the Clarion River. On this trail, you will walk amongst some of the tallest, largest, and oldest hemlocks found in the park. Many hemlock, white oak, and chestnut oak surpass 300 years old here.

(Emerald) Paved Trail

0.2 mile, easiest hiking

 This activity or structure is ADA accessible. This paved, ADA-accessible trail loop winds through a mature hardwood forest. It can be reached via the water tower access road near the entrance of the Sawmill Center for the Arts.

Ridge Trail

0.7 mile, most difficult hiking

This steep trail connects the Ridge Campground near Site 32 to Forest Road by Shelter #1. Large oaks and black cherry trees are found near this path. Several black cherries reach three feet across and 140 feet high, some of the tallest known in the entire Eastern U.S.

River Trail

1.2 miles, most difficult hiking

This steep segment runs along the NCT/Baker Trail by the Clarion River from the fire tower to Fire Tower Road. To continue on the NCT/Baker Trail, stay straight along the Clarion River; the River Trail works its way back uphill to connect to Fire Tower Road.

This is one of the most beautiful hikes in early summer when the mountain laurel and rhododendron bloom.

Seneca Trail

0.9 mile, most difficult hiking

This trail climbs from PA 36 to the junction with the Deer Park Trail, where a left turn will continue to the Fire Tower-Seneca Point Area. It offers an excellent view of the Clarion River, passes through old growth forest and a section of 1976 tornado downed logs.

The greatest concentration of tall hemlocks in the Northeastern U.S. can be found here. The tallest known Eastern hemlock in the Northeastern U.S., at 145 feet high, is located here.

Tobecco Trail

11 miles, more difficult hiking

This connecting trail between Cook Forest and Clear Creek state parks runs along the Wild and Scenic Clarion River from State Route 899 to the Gateway Lodge on PA 36.

Most of the trail is located on or near the river bank in a mix of pine, hemlock, rhododendron, and mountain laurel. However, the trail does ascend to the ridge tops in two locations where visitors can enjoy open hardwood forests of oak, cherry, and maple.

Cook Forest State Park contains 7.5 miles of the trail; a portion of SR 899 is used to connect the trail to Clear Creek State Park. From SR 899, it is 2.5 miles to the Clear Creek State Park Campground.

There are three trailhead parking lots.

The Gateway Lodge parking lot is available on the western end of the trail
A small parking lot on SR 899 is marked by an information kiosk
The third parking area is on the eastern end of the trail in the Clear Creek State Park campground
Forest Cathedral Trails, Cook Forest State Park: Hiking Only

The Forest Cathedral Natural Area is a registered National Natural Landmark. Numbers below correspond to the map on the Cook Forest State Park Hiking Trails brochure.

1. Joyce Kilmer Trail

1.1 miles, more difficult hiking

This trail runs from Cemetery Road to the Indian Trail. Note the rock formations nestled among large hemlock and white pine, some of which span three to four feet.

2. Rhododendron Trail

1.2 miles, more difficult hiking

A favorite hike for many, this trail joins Indian Cabins #6 and #7 to Forest Drive via the Forest Cathedral. Ancient hemlock and white pine are common along its length.

3. Longfellow Trail

1.2 miles, more difficult hiking

The most well known trail in the park runs through the finest stand of old growth white pine forest in the northeastern U.S..

The trail starts beside the Log Cabin ELC and terminates on Forest Road. Along the way, hike past the Memorial Fountain and past the tallest known tree north of the Great Smoky Mountains, a white pine 185 feet tall!

4. Toms Run Trail

0.8 mile, easiest hiking

This flat trail connects the wooden swinging bridge to the Log Cabin ELC through the picturesque Toms Run Valley. Keep a lookout for remnants of bracket dams once used to move logs downstream during the 1800s logging boom.

5. Birch Trail

0.9 mile, easiest hiking

This trail passes through a lovely stand of birch trees between the Children’s Fishing Pond and Shelter #1. The swinging bridge links this trail with the Rhododendron Trail.

6. Indian Trail

1.0 mile, most difficult hiking

This steep trail progresses from the north side of the Children’s Fishing Pond, deep into the core of the Forest Cathedral before joining the Longfellow Trail. Near the pond, observe the incredible stand of second growth Eastern white pine, logged in the 1800s. As the trail levels off, look for the transition from second growth to old growth forest.

7. Red Eft Trail

0.2 mile, most difficult hiking

This short, steep, spur trail connects the Longfellow Trail with the Toms Run Trail, making a variety of loops possible. This section traverses an old growth forested wetland through a series of bridges and steps.

8. Ancient Forest Trail

0.3 mile, more difficult hiking

This trail bisects the Longfellow Trail through the heart of the Forest Cathedral, creating various loop options. Gaze above to the highest concentration of tall, old growth white pines in the Northeastern United States.

Cook Forest State Park: Multi-Use Trails

Multi-use trails are open to hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding as designated. Please be aware and courteous of others.

Bridle Trail

1.1 miles, easiest hiking

This trail starts 0.8 miles from the beginning of Forest Drive. This fairly flat, multi-use trail weaves hikers and equestrian users through a 1930s CCC red pine plantation and then terminates at the Old Logging Road within the Forest Cathedral. Some select Eastern hemlock, white oak, and American beech surpass 200 years old. Continue onto the Old Logging Road to bring you back to Forest Drive. Hiking and horseback riding only.

Hefren Run Trail

1.1 miles, more difficult hiking

This multi-use trail connects Toms Run Road with Forest Road. This serene trail crosses Hefren Run Valley along evidence of old bracket dams used to move logs downstream in the 1800s. Hiking, biking, and horseback riding are permitted.

Old Logging Road Trail

0.6 mile, easiest hiking

This flat trail proceeds between Forest Drive and the Joyce Kilmer Trail. Watch for red and white pine orchards planted by the CCC from 1933-1937. Hiking and horseback riding only.

Equestrian Trail

1.5 miles, easiest hiking

This trail starts 0.2 miles from the beginning of Forest Drive. This fairly flat, multi-use trail weaves hikers and equestrian users through a 1930s CCC red pine plantation and then loops back onto Forest Drive. White-tailed deer are a common sight here. Keep your eyes open for hawks that like to hunt between the rows of pines. Hiking and horseback riding only.

Clarion River Lands: Hiking Only

North Country National Scenic Trail

More difficult hiking

The North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT) joins several segments of trails as it passes through Cook Forest State Park. The NCT (blazed blue) is America’s longest National Scenic Trail at 4,600 miles, running from Vermont to North Dakota. 180 miles of the NCT run through Pennsylvania and were some of the first trail mileage to be developed.

Lower Round Top Trail

2.0 miles, more difficult hiking

This steep hiking only trail links to main trail loops in the Clarion River Lands: the Mill Creek/Blyson Loops and Picture Rock Trails. This hiking trail is accessible from both Blyson parking lots. The trail follows the Clarion River along a steep hillside.

Clarion River Lands: Multi-use

Multi-use trails are open to hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding as designated. Please be aware and courteous of others.

Bessie Dewey Trail

1.0 mile, more difficult hiking

This trail creates a loop option by connecting with two points along the Boiler Trail. It climbs a fairly steep hillside through a pine and hemlock forest along Maxwell Run.

Blyson Loop Trail

2.7 miles, more difficult hiking

The Blyson Loop Trail meanders down a ridge to the Clarion River at the mouth of Blyson Run, a designated wilderness trout stream. Access Blyson Loop via Mill Creek Loop Trail from Mill Creek Drive, or from Old State Road. Note: Horse trailers are not recommended on Old State Road.

Boiler Trail

2.0 miles, more difficult hiking

Access this trail via the parking lot at Hindman Drive. It follows a steep, but wide, set of switchbacks to the bank of the Clarion River, where it joins the Bessie Dewey Trail near Maxwell Run. The trail is named for the remains of a boiler left on site.

Callihan Trail

1.3 miles, more difficult hiking

This trail unites the Picture Rock Trail with the Kaufman Loop Trail, paralleling Callihan Run toward the Clarion River. The river can be forded at the Picture Rock Crossing. River crossings possess inherent danger. All users are advised to use caution if crossing the river.

Highland Loop Trail

1.0 mile, more difficult hiking

This trail runs from the upper parking lot on Highland Drive, along a mix of old logging roads and single-track trails that wind through a mix of hardwood trees toward the Clarion River.

Highland River Crossing Trail

0.9 mile, more difficult hiking

This trail joins the Highland Loop and Finkbinder trails via a river ford at Slater’s Crossing. River crossings possess inherent danger. All users are advised to use caution if crossing the river.

Kaufman Trail

1.4 miles, easiest hiking

This relatively flat trail follows an old logging road through open hardwood forest and continues past the Short Trail to a small loop at an old power line right of way. Kaufman Trail can be accessed from the upper parking area off Highland Drive.

Kaufman Loop Trail

0.6 mile, easiest hiking

This relatively flat trail uses an old logging road to wind its way through open hardwood forest. Kaufman Loop Trail can be accessed from the upper parking area off Highland Drive.

Lower Loop Finkbinder Trail

2.3 miles, more difficult hiking

This loop trail uses a mix of old logging roads and singletrack trails to traverse the open forest along the ridgeline. This trail contains several fairly steep sections, including a set of switchbacks along the ridge of a small feeder stream.

Mill Creek Loop Trail

1.5 miles, more difficult hiking

This trail links a parking area on Millcreek Drive with the Blyson Loop Trail via wide, mostly flat, old logging roads through open hardwoods of oak, maple, and black cherry.

Picture Rock Trail

1.1 miles, more difficult hiking

This trail attaches to the Boiler Trail near Hindman parking lot, where it follows several switchbacks to the Clarion River near Picture Rock Crossing. Look for the namesake large, flat rock where many riders pose for the camera.

Rim Trail

0.8 mile, more difficult hiking

This trail uses an old logging road to unite the Kaufman and Highland Loop trails, offering beautiful views of the Clarion River Valley as it meanders along the river’s hillside.

Short Trail

0.2 mile, easiest hiking

This single-track trail connects the Kaufman, Kaufman Loop, and Callihan trails.

Slater’s Crossing

0.1 mile, more difficult hiking

This river crossing joins the Highland Loop, Bessie Dewey, and Finkbinder trails. River crossings possess inherent danger. All users are advised to use caution if crossing the river.

Upper Loop Finkbinder Trail

2.5 miles, more difficult hiking

This loop uses a mix of logging roads and single-track trails to cross the ridgeline. This trail contains several fairly steep sections.

Valley of the Bears Trail

5.2 miles, more difficult hiking

This trail contains two loops and follows the NCT in two sections as it meanders up and down the Clarion River Valley from Thompson Hill to the Highland Loop Trail. The lower loop closest to Highland is 0.8 mile long, while the upper loop near Thompson Hill is 1.8 miles.
Cook Forest State Park is a magnificent place to explore. With highlights such as the Forest Cathedral, which is home to some of the oldest and largest trees on the East Coast, to the Fire Tower and Seneca Point Rocks Overlooks, the state park is home to more than enough adventure to keep any visitor enthralled and occupied. Surprises await visitors everywhere they go, with wonderful CCC era architecture making up a good portion of the state park's architecture, old industrial remnants from the 18th century, including buildings, the Henry Run Sawmill Dam, and more. Hiking trails are perfectly spread out around the park to allow for the appreciation of the forests that make this state park a major attraction. There is even a paved trail that allows for ADA access to experience the park. The Paved Trail is covered in moss during the summer months and is known as the "Emerald Path" because of its green appearance. The Sawmill Center for the Performing Arts puts on full arts productions right within the center of the state park. The gentle Clarion River is wonderful for kayaking, canoeing, and tubing in the summer months. Overall, there is so much to see and do at this state park and it is well worth taking some time to explore.

For more information about this wonderful state park, check out its website at https://www.dcnr.pa.gov/StateParks/FindAPark/CookForestStatePark/Pages/default.aspx



2.18.2020

Interesting Pennsylvania and Beyond's 6th Anniversary : Thanks for your ongoing support!

The three of us at Big Mountain Overlook
Yet another year has passed here at Interesting Pennsylvania and Beyond and we have lots to thank you for. We are excited to be continually growing and a source for ideas for travel within Pennsylvania and beyond. As these six years have passed by, we have visited many new places, and have revisited many old favorites. The beauty of traveling within Pennsylvania is that the state's vastly different seasons give familiar views a fresh look every time you visit. The state's varying terrain provides endless opportunities to sightsee in new locations. Pennsylvania's history is legendary, and provides so many great chances to explore, research, and relive the vibrant history of the state. From the shores of Lake Erie, to the waters of the Delaware in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has so much to offer travelers in terms of resources, and affordability for travel. We welcome you along to continue with our adventures.
From scenic overlooks, to cultural institutions, businesses, eclectic art and sculptures, rugged forests and mountains, and so much more, Pennsylvania has so much to offer. We work to bring awareness to these places so you can make the most of your Pennsylvania adventures. With this process, we have steadily expanded, with tens of thousands of readers coming to our page every month, and more than 48,000 people following us on Facebook. It is wonderful being able to effectively highlight the many affordable and fun things that you can check out across Pennsylvania.
Through our other page, www.coastertalknobszone.com, which is dedicated to amusement parks, we often covered many non-amusement park related attractions across the state. After writing Great Pennsylvania Amusement Parks Road Trip, a book on Pennsylvania's ten historic and awesome amusement parks, and after a glorious visit to see the ice dunes at Presque Isle State Park on our fifth anniversary as a couple, we knew that we wanted to create Interesting Pennsylvania and Beyond to highlight travel throughout Pennsylvania.

Every place that we highlight on the page has been personally visited by us. This level of authenticity is what we aim for in order to honestly portray the places that we visit, so that you get accurate recommendations on what to expect with places when it comes to launching adventures of your own. Thanks for joining us throughout these adventures and we look forward to continuing to join us in the years ahead.


2.02.2020

McConnells Mill State Park: A Sightseeing Guide

One of the most magical places to go on a day with a little bit of snowfall is McConnells Mill State Park. The natural beauty and historic structures of this state park are even more beautiful with some fresh snow, although this place is beautiful in any time of the year. The geology of Slippery Rock Creek Gorge is beautiful, with giant boulders and rock outcrops spread throughout. Hemlock, Mountain Laurel, and Rhododendrons dominate the walls of the gorge. 

Early industry brought use of of the hydropower provided by Slippery Rock Creek with construction of a mill in 1852. The current structure was built in 1868. Thomas McConnell purchased the mill in 1875 and created the rolling mill apparatus that enabled milling of corn, oats, and buckwheat. McConnell fought in both the Mexican War and the Civil War for the American Union Army. The mill closed in 1928 due to sagging profits and technological advancements that rendered their mill antiquated and unable to compete. Thanks to conservation efforts by the last private owner of the mill, Thomas Hartman, and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, the gorge was preserved as a Pennsylvania State Park in October of 1957. This is not the end of the conservation story for the state park though, for strip mining and quarrying has remained a major threat with pollution and encroachment into the natural area. 
A new 252 acre strip mine, is being proposed immediately adjacent to the park, adding to the already existing encroachment eating away at  the edges of the park and Slippery Rock gorge. 

Now back to the fun stuff...
The often overlooked scenic overlook of Cleland Rock is not to be missed. It is one of the only spots within the state park that you will need to drive to. For the rest of the major scenic spots in the park, the ideal (and quickest) method of checking them out is by way of hiking, since there are no roads directly through the gorge and multiple bridges no longer allow vehicular traffic. 
Coordinates: 40.926843, -80.185476


Heading down into the gorge towards the Covered Bridge and Mill. This is the most famous spot to check out at the state park, for its mill and covered bridge are both beautiful and historic. For photographers, this is a tremendous place to take some time to try out new angles for photography.
The recent restoration project on the bridge has it looking absolutely radiant.
There are so many different ways to frame shots down at the mill and bridge complex. It is one of the most stunning places to sightsee in the state. 

Brit and CeCe having a blast with the fresh snowfall.
McConnells Mill Covered Bridge is one of only a few covered bridges built in the state with the Howe Truss. It has stood the test of time in Slippery Rock Gorge since 1874.
On this particular visit, the creek was absolutely roaring. It looked like it does after a major summer downpour.
The drive up and out of the gorge on the east side is nothing short of incredible. You drive next to, under, and through boulders and rock formations that are bigger than houses. When you get to the top of the gorge, my recommendation is to park at the Alpha Falls trailhead, which is near the Northern end of the park. From here, I recommend hiking down the entire gorge to the Hells Hollow Trailhead, and then come back. Throughout the hike, you will have some slight elevation change as you head back down in the gorge. 
Breakneck Falls
You will see multiple small waterfalls, including Alpha Falls (also known as Spillway Falls), Kildoo Falls, and Breakneck Falls, and groves of hemlocks, rhododendrons, and mountain laurel. About 1.5 miles from the trailhead, you will end up back at the mill and covered bridge. From here you can continue down the gorge and pass Breakneck and Kildoo Falls, which are pretty as an addition to the surroundings, but not particularly breathtaking. Breakneck and Kildoo are not worth going near at the top. You get better views from the bottom, which is how you should access them, from along the Gorge Trail. Do not attempt to get to them from the top. Frequent deaths and injuries happen here.
Grindstone Falls is located across the creek from the main trail through the gorge, and is not particularly worth taking a detour to hike up to from the gorge. The easiest way to see it is to hop in the car and pull of to the side of Mountville Road near Nye Road and go down the gorge to this small waterfall which cannot be more than 8-10 feet tall. 
The gem of the waterfalls at McConnells Mill State Park is Hells Hollow Falls. The water of the creek flows through a rock chute and into a multi-tiered waterfall that is about 15-20 feet tall in each of its two tiers. This waterfall is at the furthest end of the state park that you can reach through hiking. There is also a parking lot located near the falls, with a short hike if you do not wish to hike the whole gorge. There are also remnants of an old Lime Kiln right near the falls. This end of the gorge can also serve as a decent trailhead if you plan on hiking through the entire state park. 
Hells Hollow Falls Coordinates:
40.929168, -80.231333

Parking Lot Coordinates:
40.931402, -80.240087

If you are hiking the gorge, remember that since the state park is narrow and largely sticks to the Slippery Rock Creek Gorge, the most of the trails are not loops, so plan to hike back the same way you came in, or arrange for a shuttle. 11.2 miles of trails traverse the park. 

Trail information per the DCNR:
Alpha Pass Trail

1.5-mile, blue blazes, more difficult hiking

This trail is at the northern end of McConnells Mill State Park and is part of the North Country National Scenic Trail. This trail begins at the Alpha Pass scenic vista and follows the east bank of Slippery Rock Creek. There is an exit to the Point Parking Area or the trail follows the creek to the Old Mill.

Hells Hollow Trail

0.5-mile, easiest hiking

This trail begins at the Hells Hollow parking lot and follows and twice crosses Hell Run on its way to a limekiln and Hells Hollow Falls. Although the main trail is smooth and level, the section by the waterfall can be slippery.

Kildoo Trail

3-mile loop, more diffult hiking

Kildoo Trail is south of the Old Mill and begins at either end of the covered bridge. On the eastern bank of the creek the trail begins with a 400-yard paved section which leads to rocky terrain on the remaining section to Eckert Bridge.

Hikers then cross Slippery Rock Creek and continue on the west bank upstream to the covered bridge. The western section of the trail has blue blazes and is part of the North Country National Scenic Trail.

Slippery Rock Gorge Trail

6.2 miles, blue blazes, more difficult hiking

Part of the North Country National Scenic Trail, Slippery Rock Gorge Trail begins jointly with Hells Hollow Trail at the Hells Hollow parking lot. The Gorge Trail splits off just before the second footbridge.

The first two miles of the trail follows the upper Hell Run Valley. The rest of the trail follows the Slippery Rock Creek Gorge north for just over four miles to Eckert Bridge.

At about the 3.5-mile point, the trail descends into the deepest part of the gorge. This broad alluvial flood plain is known as Walnut Flats.

The trail then becomes more difficult, traversing very steep terrain. At the five-mile point, the trail crosses uplands then drops back down to creek level and follows along the creek bank to Eckert Bridge.

Hikers should allow a minimum of six hours to hike to Eckert Bridge and back. This is not a loop trail. If you only plan a one-way trip, please set up a shuttle.


McConnells Mill State Park is just beautiful and easily my favorite place for a quick jaunt into the woods in the Pittsburgh area. Located just about an hour north of the city, it is an excellent place for a quick getaway into nature. Nearby Moraine State Park is lots of fun to explore, with a nice lake, beach, and more. We highly recommend checking out the area.

For more information about the state park, check out its website at https://www.dcnr.pa.gov/StateParks/FindAPark/McConnellsMillStatePark/Pages/default.aspx
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