The Baker Trail merges with the North Country Scenic Trail just south of Cook Forest State Park, on the banks of the Clarion River. The trails then meander through Cook Forest State Park and pass through the Forest Cathedral: a stand of ancient White Pines and Hemlocks. This outing had us hiking a section of the Baker Trail as it traversed through the Forest Cathedral. We also used some of the other many trails in the State Park to make a pleasant morning circuit hike.
|Trailhead:||N 41° 20.74'
W 79° 13.06'
|Trail Length:||2.9 miles|
|Hike Time:||2 hours|
|Near:||Cook Forest State Park|
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The trailhead for this hike is located within Cook Forest State Park. From the east, take Exit 78 off of Interstate route I80, then route PA36 north directly to the park in Cooksburg, approximately 15 miles from the exit. Coming from the west, take Exit 60 off of Interstate route I80, then take route PA66 north to Leeper. From the town of Leeper, turn right onto route PA36 and follow it approximately 7 miles south to the park. Once in the park, look for Forest Road. This is just past the bridge over the Clarion River (if heading north on route PA36, just prior to the bridge if heading south). From here drive almost a mile and you will see a large parking area to the right of the road. Pull in here as this is the trailhead for this hike.
This was to be our first hike on a weekend of hiking. However when we visited the park on Saturday and turned out that they were having some sort of bike (pedal) rally or race or something. So we decided to avoid the crowds and come back on Monday morning. As we pulled into the parking lot for the start of the hike there wasn't another car to be seen. Looks like we made the right call on this one.
We started the hike by finding where the Baker Trail crossed the road. When blazed trails are routed through frequented areas of state parks, and particularly around parking areas, sometimes it is a bit difficult to figure out exactly where they go. With a quick look at the map we found the trail in the northeast corner of the lot. Soon we were hiking on a well groomed trail, wide enough for Shari and I to walk side-by-side.
We came across our first point of interest just a bit over a tenth of a mile into our hike. It was the Memorial Fountain located just along the left side of the trail. Built in 1950, the fountain was dedicated to the original Cook Forest Association. The Association was instrumental in raising additional funds needed to purchase the land from A. Cook Sons Company. We spent a few minutes here taking pictures and enjoying the sounds of falling water before we continued on with our hike.
Our first trail junction was at 0.3 miles. Bearing off to the right was the Ancient Forest Trail. Shari wanted to take this trail but I told her we needed to hike to the top of the ridge before heading south. I assured her that we would return on the Ancient Forest Trail.
We now had a bit of an ascent but the going was made pretty easy as the trail was terraced into steps. At 0.6 miles we came to another junction. This time the Baker Trail continued to the right but we continued straight as we followed the Indian Trail across the ridge top. It was very peaceful hiking on this trail. The sun was just starting to break through the clouds and early morning fog and the trees here were large and tall. Shari and I enjoyed the sights, smells and sounds of the forest, as we hiked through the Forest Cathedral.
At 1.1 miles the trail began to descend from the ridge top as we followed an abandoned forest road. We continued the descent on the Indian Trail until we came upon the edge of the State Park lands. The trail straight ahed was blocked with a "No Trespassing" sign. However the Indian Trail made a switchback to the right and we headed towards the cabin area and park office. At 1.6 miles we were off the ridge and found ourselves standing alongside a small fishing pond at the entrance to a cul-de-sac where the cabin rentals at Cook Forest were located.
A quick look at the map again showed us a trail leading north at the far end of the cul-de-sac and we were now hiking on Rhododendron Trail. We were only on this trail for a short while until we turned right onto the Tom's Run Trail. At this intersection there is a swinging bridge over Tom's Run and Shari and I walked out onto it to enjoy the view of the stream.
Once back on Tom's Run Trail we hiked north for about 0.2 miles when we once again encountered the Baker Trail. We turned right and started another climb up the east ridge. The climb wasn't nearly as steep or as long as our first climb. The Baker Trail was now wandering through the heart of the Forest Cathedral and we saw many large white pines and hemlocks, with a few large oaks throw in for good measure.
At 2.2 miles into the hike we came across the Ancient Forest Trail bearing off to the left of the Baker Trail. We left the blue and yellow blazed Baker Trail to take a short cut on the Ancient Forest Trail. Again we were hiking through some very old, large and tall pine trees. The trail lived up to it's namesake.
At 2.6 miles we emerged back on the Baker Trail, just a short distance above the Memorial Fountain. We retraced our steps on the Baker Trail and after 2.9 miles of hiking we were back at our car.