Looking to visit Cook Forest State Park? Read on for the best things to see and do in the park and how to maximize your visit!
Visiting Cook Forest State Park
The 8,500 acre Cook Forest State Park is located in northwestern PA. It is 11 miles away from Clear Creek State Park and Clear Creek State Forest. The Clarion River runs through the park.
Hiking in Cook Forest
There are over 47 miles of hiking trails in Cook Forest. I’ve listed out the must-see points below!
Seneca Lookout and Fire Tower
Do you like heights and rickety fire towers? Well you are in luck! The No. 9 Fire Tower was built in 1929 and rises 88 feet above the ground to give amazing, if terrifying views of the surrounding area. The capacity limit is 8 people but honestly, I thought it was sketchy with two people and a dog. The top of the tower is almost never open and it was not when we were there. On a clear day, you can see up to 20 miles!
The nearby Seneca Lookout is a good way to get equally cool views, without the terror. Both of these spots don’t require a strenuous hike to get to, though I recommend including parking here and using the Baker Trail/NCT to hike to both landmarks listed below.
Henry Run Falls
Wanna know that is cooler than a waterfall? A secret waterfall! Well, it’s not really a secret but this awesome waterfall is not on the official park map that requires a hike to visit. The dam and waterfall are about 10 feet tall. Henry Run, the waterfall’s namesake, is a tributary of the Clarion River.
The trail to see the falls is part of both the Baker Trail and North Country Trail. If you’re thru hiking on either of these trails, make sure to stop here! While we were only day hiking, we had a lovely picnic at the falls. The falls is equidistant from the Fire tower and Gravel Lick Road, where you can also park. I’d recommend starting at the Fire tower to get to it early and then hiking west towards the falls and Scurry Overlook, below. This will be a moderate 6 mile hike that hits almost all the high points (literally and metaphorically) in Cook Forest.
This scenic overlook might be easy to miss if you’re a heads down hiker, but it’s worth stopping to take a look at! Even though the trees were very leafy, we were still able to get a great view of the Clarion River from this overlook.
If you hike from the fire tower, this overlook should be your turnaround point. This is a tough climb up from the waterfall but worth the views. If you hike from Gravel Lick Road, this will be your first scenic stop, with the Fire Tower or the waterfall as your turnaround point.
The Forest Cathedral held some of the coolest trees I’ve ever seen. Some of the pine and hemlock trees in this area have a diameter three feet or larger and are close to 180 feet tall. Unfortunately, this is why this forest was a center for a huge logging boom in the late 1800.s Thousands of acres of old growth forests were cut down and now the Forest Cathedral is a National Natural landmark to protect the forest.
For a guide to all the trails in the park, click here for PA DNCR’s map with trail descriptions.
Looking to visit more Pennsylvania State Parks? Check out my post listing all of my PA State Park guides for tips on visiting some of my favorites!
Other Things to Do in Cook Forest
Cook Forest offers a ton of outdoor activities for all seasons. The 13 mile stretch of the Clarion River that runs through is popular for fishing, kayaking, and tubing. There are multiple rental places along the Clarion that will drive you to a further away point on the river so that you can (literally) go with the flow and return the kayak, tube, or canoe further downstream.
In the winter, the park has ice skating, show-shoeing, cross country skiing, and sledding. Some of the roads may be difficult to drive on in wintry conditions in this area.
FAQs About Cook Forest
Where is Cook Forest State Park?
Cook Forest is located in northwestern Pennsylvania, in an area called the Pennsylvania Wilds. It is a little less than two hours from both Pittsburgh and Erie.
For a map of the park, click here (but I’d recommend going to the ranger station when you’re there to make sure that you get your sticker for the PA State Park Passport!)
What is the best time of year to visit?
Cook Forest has options for all seasons so the best time of year depends on what you want to do! If you’re planning on watersports like tubing, come in the summer. If hiking is more your thing, early fall may be better.
We went on Memorial Day and it was very busy in the afternoons. Next time, I’d skip a holiday weekend to try to avoid some of the crowds in popular areas like the Forest Cathedral.
Where to Stay in Cook Forest
There are many options for overnight stays in Cook Forest and the surrounding area. The park itself has full hookup camping, cabins, tent camping, and river camping. For more information
To make campground reservations, visit the PA State Parks Reserve America site.
We stayed at an Airbnb out of Mitchell’s Pond Inne in Knox, PA, which was about 40 minutes away. This was perfect as it was the same distance between Cook Forest and Oil Creek State Parks so we were able to visit both in our three day visit!
Visiting Other State Parks Nearby
As I mentioned earlier, Cook Forest State Park is only 11 miles away from Clear Creek State Park. It’s also located under an hour from both Oil Creek State Park and Chapman State Park (however I’d recommend keeping trips separate since there’s so much to see in both places!
If you’re visiting Cook Forest from the Pittsburgh area, I highly recommend checking out Freedom Falls and Rockland Tunnel on your way to the park or home from the park. They’re less than an hour away from the park and will be basically on your route home.
Got any questions about visiting Cook Forest State Park? Let me know in the comments below!