The diverse terrain in Pennsylvania is ideal for hiking, offering a number of unique landscapes for a walk or stroll. Wide stretches of farmland, national forests and mountains lined with trails present navigable pathways, but hikers can choose to take the roads less traveled by exploring unmarked territory as well. Here are seven of the best hiking spots when you have a Pennsylvania vacation rental that you should put on your bucket list.
1. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary
Located along the Appalachian flyaway in eastern Pennsylvania, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary is a 2,600 acre area famous for being the world’s first refuge for birds of prey. More than 235 bird species have been sighted around the area, and the nature reserve’s varied trails offer plenty of opportunities to catch a glimpse while hiking. The mountain also has numerous lookout points for bird watching or for taking in the view below. The scenic overlooks are typically at an elevation of about 1,300 to 1,500 feet. From mid-August to mid-December, an average 18,000 birds of prey fly past the ridgetops. If you schedule a weekend trip between May through November, the sanctuary hosts a number of programs as well. The Wings of Wonder gallery and visitor center with Mountain Bookstore are open all year round.
2. Susquehannock State Forest
The Susquehannock State Forest covers an expansive 265,000 acres primarily in Potter County. The mountainous terrain offers some of the best outdoor recreation in the state, especially when it comes to hiking. The forest contains an 85-mile loop of hiking trails known as the Susquehannock Trail System designated for hikers and cross-country skiers. The forest also offers 43 miles of trails for ATVs in the summer months, and over 200 miles of pathways for snowmobiling in the winter. Susquehannock is one of the oldest forests in the state, and visitors can observe many scenic vistas and local wildlife while trekking along the trail system.
3. Cherry Springs State Park
Cherry Springs State Park covers about 82 acres and is surrounded by the massive Susquehannock State Forest. The Susquehannock Trail passes nearby, but Cherry Springs State Park offers its own unique views atop the Allegheny Plateau 2,300 feet above sea level. Wildlife is abundant in Cherry Springs, and the park is known for being as remote and wild today as it was centuries ago. The state park is particularly popular among stargazers, for its dark natural skies make it one of the best places on the eastern seaboard for astronomy. Hike among the black cherry trees throughout the park, stargaze at the Night Sky Viewing area or plan an overnight trip to Astronomy Field, where visitors can enjoy the best of both activities.
4. Raccoon Creek State Park
One of the state’s largest and most visited state parks began as a Recreational Demonstration Area in the 1930s. The park encompasses over 7,500 acres, and includes the expansive Raccoon Lake. The park itself is popular for its recreational areas and also for its gorgeous scenery. The Wildflower Reserve, situated toward the eastern end of the state park, has one of the most diverse collections of wildflowers in western Pennsylvania. Trails through the Wildflower Reserve will lead visitors across more than 700 species of plants. Hikers will encounter a variety of habitats such as an oak-hickory forest, pine plantations, woodland meadows and floodplain forest along Rock Creek. Peak blooming season for the wildflowers occurs in late April and August.
5. Kinzua Bridge State Park
The Kinzua Bridge, also called the Kinzua Viaduct, was the tallest railroad bridge of its kind when it was built back in 1882. It stood 301 feet high, and served the Erie Railroad and other excursion trains until 1959. The bridge, which was partially destroyed by a tornado in 2003, was recreated as a pedestrian walkway eight years later. Now, visitors can stroll out onto the remaining support towers of the bridge at this northwestern Pennsylvania site. Visitors can also hike down the valley and park trails below the bridge. The Kinzua Bridge Scenic Byway is open for both hikers and bikers to use. Also within the state park are the Shawmut Trail, 2 miles long, The Timberdoodle Flat Interpretive Trail, 1.4 miles and the Bluebird Trail, which is wheelchair accessible.
6. Cook Forest State Park
Once called the “Black Forest” for its abundance of evergreen tree coverage, the area now known as Cook Forest State Park covers a scenic 8,500 acres in northwestern Pennsylvania. The park is known for some of the finest virgin white pine and hemlock timber in all of America. The park is a National Natural Landmark, and was chosen one of America’s top 50 state parks by National Geographic Traveler magazine. Hikers will find over 30 miles of trails, at least 16 of those marked, ranging from about half a mile to 3 miles in length. The Longfellow Trail, which passes trees well over 300 years, attracts about 60,000 hikers each year. The Rhododendron Trail, about 1.2 miles long and moderately difficult, is another popular pick among hikers.
7. Colton Point State Park
Colton Point State Park is part of the Pine Creek Gorge National Natural Landmark, otherwise known as the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. Much of the 368-acres of Colton Point offers terrific canyon views of the modern-day Pine Creek winding 600 feet below the overlooks. The park is ideal for hikers, as it serves as a trailhead to numerous paths. The trails aren’t for the faint of heart, as they cross rugged terrain, steep cliffs and slippery surfaces. But if undertaken, the trails lead to gorgeous vistas and waterfalls. The Rim Trail is about a mile and the easiest hike, linking all of the overlook view areas together across mostly flat terrain. Turkey Path, a definite challenge, leads to a series of cascading waterfalls that will take your breath away.
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