Located in northwestern Pennsylvania, Cook Forest offers families the chance explore nature. The state park covers 3,136 acres, with more than 40 miles of hiking paths lined with old-growth white pines and hemlocks that provide shade on hot summer days. Find Pennsylvania vacation rentals tucked away in the woods or in the small, nearby towns — both options put you in proximity to all the area has to offer, including these kid-friendly attractions and activities.
1. Take a Hike
Stop by the Cook Forest State Park’s visitor’s center for a map of the available hiking trails before heading out for a day on the trails. If you’re traveling with younger kids, consider the Black Bear Trail. It remains relatively flat and spans a little more than a mile. Encourage your kids to look for the bear claw marks on the trees as you walk. Browns Run Trail spans a little less than 3 miles, and offer moderate hiking conditions, making it a good option for families with older children or teens.
2. Go Fishing
Grab your gear, and head to Clarion Lake, which sits just inside Cook Forest. Find a comfy spot along the banks of the river, drop your line in the water, and wait for the trout, panfish, and warm-water game fish to bite. Don’t forget to bring your cooler to the lake to transport anything you catch. After all, a fish fry at your vacation home is a great way to end a relaxing day of fishing.
3. Go Kayaking or Canoeing
In the fall and spring, rains turn the Clarion River into a popular haven for people with kayaks and canoes. The water moves at a brisk four miles per hour, which is ideal for families with younger children. Bring your family’s kayaks or canoes with you or rent your watercrafts from one of the many local outfitters. A permit is required for kayaks and canoes, so stop by the visitor’s center to get one before launching your craft.
4. Get Creative at the Sawmill Center for the Arts
Spend an afternoon at the Sawmill Center for the Arts, watching a demonstration or taking a class. Located in a historic sawmill, this art center offers arts and crafts for sale. Check the schedule of available classes, and choose something your whole family enjoys. The Verna Leith Sawmill Theater is part of the Sawmill Center for the Arts. So take an afternoon class, grab an early dinner nearby, and return in the evening to see a play or musical.
5. Go Horseback Riding
Families traveling with horses often frequent Cook Forest’s horseback riding loop, which is accessed from Forest Drive. It’s a relaxing ride through beautiful, towering pines. If you don’t own horses, stop by the Cook Forest Scenic Trail Ride and Dude Ranch or Silver Stallion Stables to arrange a trail ride. These locations offer a variety of rides for both beginners and more experienced riders.
6. Learn About the Area’s Environment and Conservation Efforts
Cook Forest State Park offers a slew of programs designed to help teach your family about the park’s environment and conservation efforts. Attend a lecture at the visitors center, or enjoy a guided tour of the park conducted by a knowledgeable park ranger. These talks and tours take place at varying times of the day, so check the park’s schedule of events to find something that appeals to your family.
7. Go Cross-Country Skiing
If you’re visiting the area in the winter months, bring your family’s cross-country skiing gear — it’s easily stored at your vacation home when it’s not in use. Alternatively, rent some equipment from a local shop before hitting the trails. Inside of Cook Forest, there are three trails that are regularly groomed for cross-country skiing: Fire Tower Road, Toms Run Road, and part of Forest Drive. If you aren’t up for cross-country skiing, explore these trails with snow shoes on your feet — you don’t want to miss the amazing winter scenery.
8. Go For a Bike Ride
Cook Forest State Park is a bike-friendly park. However, you have to stick to the one-way trails and dirt roads while you ride. Additionally, the park boasts a scenic 13-mile bike route that follows some of the rarely traveled back roads, along with a section of the Hefren Run Trail. When your kids tire of forest scenery, ride your bikes along the country roads separating the area’s small towns.
9. Go Sledding and Ice Skating
When the snow falls and the temperatures dip, sledding, and ice skating become popular pastimes in the area. Zip down the slopes along the Henrys Run Day Use Area on your sleds, or go ice skating at the rink on River Road. This ice-skating area is lighted for nighttime skating. However, no one officially monitors the ice depth so be careful of cracks, especially during spells of warm weather.
10. Go Camping
Leave the comforts of your vacation rental for a night of camping in the state park. The park features more than 200 sights to pitch your tent. Many of the locations offer bathroom facilities, so you’re not completely without amenities. Enjoy an evening of campfire songs and ghost stories while munching your way through freshly made s’mores.
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