Cook Forest State Park
The 8,500-acre Cook Forest State Park lies in scenic northwestern Pennsylvania. Once called the “Black Forest,” the area is famous for its stands of old growth forest. Cook Forest’s “Forest Cathedral” of towering white pines and hemlocks is a National Natural Landmark. The Clarion River connects Clear Creek State Park to Cook Forest State Park along a scenic 10-mile stretch of river which is popular for canoeing and rafting.
Clear Creek State Park is only 11 miles away.
Hiking - Biking - Horseback Riding - Picnicking - Canoeing - Fishing - Hunting - Scenic Views - Snowshoeing - Cross-country Skiing - Sledding - Ice Skating - Sawmill Craft Center and Theater - Environmental Education - Organized Group Tenting - the Inn at Cook Forest - Cabins - Camping
Picnicking: Picnic tables are along the Clarion River in the River Cabin Picnic Area, in the Sawmill Area and near the Log Cabin Inn. Two large picnic pavilions and one small pavilion may be reserved up to 11 months in advance for a fee. Unreserved picnic pavilions are free on a first-come, first-served basis. There are ADA accessible restrooms near the picnic pavilions.
Canoeing: The Clarion River provides excellent canoeing especially during the spring and fall. The river is rated Class C (beginner) with an average downward flow of four miles per hour.
Two popular canoe trips, 4 and 10 miles in length, are a popular attraction. Rental canoes are available from commercial sources outside of the park. Both parks offer public canoe launches.
Go to the U. S. Geological Survey Web site for the water level of the Clarion River at Cooksburg. http://waterdata.usgs.gov/pa/nwis/uv/?site_no=03029500&PARAmeter_cd=00065,00060,00010
Motorboats must display a current boat registration. Non-powered boats must display one of the following: boat registration; launching permit or mooring permit from Pennsylvania State Parks, available at most state park offices; launching permit from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.
Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission laws apply. Complete information on boating rules and regulations in Pennsylvania is available from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission Web site.
The following concessionaries offer canoe, kayak and tube rentals:
Fishing: The Clarion River borders the park and provides fishing for trout, warm-water game fish and panfish. About 2.5 miles of Toms Run is stocked with trout. A special fishing pond stocked with trout is by the park office and is available for use by children 12 and younger and people with a disability. An ADA accessible pier provides access.
Go to the U. S. Geological Survey Web site for the water level of the Clarion River at Cooksburg. http://waterdata.usgs.gov/pa/nwis/uv/?site_no=03029500&PARAmeter_cd=00065,00060,00010
Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission laws apply. Complete information on fishing rules and regulations in Pennsylvania is available from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission Web site.
Hunting and Firearms: About 7,000 acres are open to hunting, trapping and the training of dogs during established seasons. Common game species are deer, turkey, bear and squirrel. Over 10,000 acres of adjacent state forests and over 500,000 acres of Allegheny National Forest are also open to hunting.
Hunting woodchucks, also known as groundhogs, is prohibited. Dog training is only permitted from the day following Labor Day through March 31 in designated hunting areas. The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Pennsylvania Game Commission rules and regulations apply. Contact the park office for ADA accessible hunting information.
Use extreme caution with firearms at all times. Other visitors use the park during hunting seasons. Firearms and archery equipment used for hunting may be uncased and ready for use only in authorized hunting areas during hunting seasons. In areas not open to hunting or during non-hunting seasons, firearms and archery equipment shall be kept in the owner's car, trailer or leased campsite. Exceptions include: law enforcement officers and individuals with a valid Pennsylvania License to Carry Firearms are authorized to carry a firearm concealed on their person while they are within a state park.
Complete information on hunting rules and regulations in Pennsylvania is available from the Pennsylvania Game Commission Web site.
Hiking: 29 miles of trails
Biking: 13 miles of trails
Horseback Riding: Equestrians can enjoy a two-hour loop trail that begins at a small parking lot on Forest Drive, connects to Old Logging Road Trail, and winds through beautiful pine plantations. Another equestrian trail begins at the trailhead, follows Hefren Run Trail and connects to Toms Run Road. The one hour loop next to the organized group camping area is heavily used by a vendor, and not recommended.
Scenic Views: Two scenic views are in the southeastern corner of Cook Forest State Park. From the rock ledges of Seneca Point Overlook you can see the Clarion Valley. An 80-foot climb up Old #9 Fire Tower gives a breathtaking view of the entire area. On a clear day you can see 15 to 20 miles.
Do not walk or climb on the rock outcroppings outside of the fenced area. These rock ledges are very hazardous.
Do Not Feed Wild Animals: Black bears are native to this area. All food should be put away after use and kept in a tight, secure container in the trunk of a car or in a camper. Feeding wild animals is prohibited. When wildlife loses its fear of people, these animals can become pests, and dangerous situations can result.
Sawmill Craft Center and Theater: A local, non-profit craft organization housed in the historic sawmill offers traditional crafts on display, a gift shop and classes. Demonstrations and classes on various crafts are presented throughout the summer and fall seasons for children and adults. The Verna Leith Sawmill Theater presents plays, musicals and other entertainment throughout the summer season. 814-927-6655 www.sawmill.org.
Visitors can stay the night from the second Friday in April to late December.
Camping: flush toilets, warm showers, electric hook-ups
Explore camping for more information.
Free Camping for Campground Hosts: 3 host positions
Rustic Cabins: The 8 River Cabins are on a hillside overlooking the Clarion River. The 10 Indian Cabins are along Toms Run behind the park office.
The cabins are available for rent from the second Friday in April to the third Friday in December. The rustic cabins are minimally furnished. Each cabin has beds, mattresses, stove, refrigerator, table and chairs and is heated by a wood fireplace or gas heater. Occupants must provide their own bedding, cookware and tableware. Cabins sleep 4 or 8 people. Extra cots are not available. Frost-free water faucets are outside. A showerhouse is nearby. One cabin is ADA accessible. In 2014, up to two dogs will be permitted in River Cabins 11, 14 and 15 for a fee..
The cabins must be rented for one week, except in the spring and fall rental season. Firewood is not provided. Alcoholic beverages and pets are not permitted.
Explore cabins for more information.
Organized Group Tenting: Organized groups can rent this rustic area year-round. The five sites each accommodate 20 people.
Explore organized group tenting for more information.
The Inn at Cook Forest: The Cook Family homestead is now open as a bed and breakfast. Rent a room or the entire inn for access to canoeing and kayaking on the Clarion River, over 40 miles of hiking and biking trails, and some of the oldest trees in the state. www.theinnatcookforest.com
Snowshoeing and Cross-country Skiing: Snowshoeing is permitted on all trails. Cross-country skiing is recommended on selected trails on the maps. Cook Forest has three groomed trails: Fire Tower Road, Toms Run Road and part of Forest Drive.
Sledding: There are three acres of slopes by the River Cabins.
Ice Skating: A lighted ice skating pond is along River Road.
Environmental Education and Interpretation
Through hands-on activities, guided walks and evening programs, participants gain appreciation, understanding and develop a sense of stewardship toward natural and cultural resources.
Curriculum-based environmental education programs are available to schools and youth groups. Teacher work-shops are available. Group programs must be scheduled in advance by calling the park office.
At Cook Forest State Park programs are offered year-round. The park has an environmental learning center in the Log Cabin Inn at the Main Picnic Area. The Historical Room displays logging and rafting tools, models and arti-facts.
Explore the Calendar of Events for a listing of events from today forward.
Explore environmental education and interpretation for more information.
Access for People with Disabilities
If you need an accommodation to participate in park activities due to a disability, please contact the park you plan to visit.
Old Growth Timber Areas: From the area of Cook Forest State Park came the famous Pennsylvania cork pine, so named because of the white pine"s thick, cork-like bark.
There are nine old growth areas in the park, totaling over 2,200 acres. Some stands contain ancient red and white oaks, red maple and black cherry. Other areas consist of white pine, eastern hemlock and American beech trees.
The three other old growth areas consist mainly of eastern white pine, eastern hemlock and American beech. Many white pine and hemlock in these areas approach 350 years old. Scientists believe these old growth areas began growing following a large forest fire in 1644. Some trees survived the fire and are almost 450 years old. Many American chestnut snags are still standing, 80 years after the chestnut blight swept through the area.
The Forest Cathedral Natural Area is home to the finest eastern white pine in the northeastern U.S. Many of these magnificent pine and hemlocks exceed three feet in diameter and approach 200 feet tall. It is fitting that this forest remains in the midst of the area that saw the greatest logging boom in the history of Pennsylvania. In the late 1800s, thousands of acres of old growth forests were cut for the shipbuilding and construction industries. The Forest Cathedral is a National Natural Landmark and has been set aside for protection as a state park natural area.
Explore natural areas for more information.
Clarion River: Local American Indians called the Clarion River the "Tobecco," which means "dark brown water." Tannic acid from decaying evergreen needles turned the river brown in color.
Early settlers called it "Toby Creek." Effects from lumbering -- cleared hillsides and erosion -- renamed it "Stump Creek" and "Mud River." The "Clarion" River was named when Daniel Stanard and David Lawson, two road surveyors, were blazing a trail from Kittanning to Franklin in 1817. Stanard said, "The ripple of the river sounds like a distant clarion" (a trumpet call).
Rivers were vital for transportation by the early logging industry. Logs were brought to the Clarion, bound together in simple rafts, and "run" down river for sale in Pittsburgh. A one way trip on the Allegheny River from the mouth of the Clarion to Pittsburgh was over 100 miles! Pennsylvania led the nation in lumber production in 1860.
River corridors are natural transportation routes and so the Clarion River corridor has a great diversity of plants and animals. Great blue heron, mergansers, kingfisher and bald eagle are common river residents.
The Clarion River is designated a Wild and Scenic River for its scenic beauty, water quality, and archaeological significance.
Geologic History: The bedrock of Cook Forest is mainly sedimentary rock, deposited by an ocean that once covered western Pennsylvania. Heavy erosion of the mountains to the east deposited thick layers of sand, resulting in massive, coarse beds of sandstone. Movements in the earth’s crust eventually lifted this ocean floor to an elevation of 1,200 to 1,600 feet.
Sandstone is unusual because it has few cracks. When the sandstone is exposed, like at Seneca Point, it cracks in large pieces, some as large as a house.
Video of Blooming Rhododendron in Late June
When Europeans arrived, the Seneca Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy used this area as hunting grounds. In 1757, the Proprietary Council of Pennsylvania sent Moravian missionary Christian Frederick Post to convince the Seneca to join the British in the French and Indian War, but the Seneca sided with the French. The English won the war and eventually purchased the land from the Iroquois.
John Cook was the first permanent American settler to Cooksburg. He arrived in 1826 to determine the feasibility of building an east to west canal along the Clarion River for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. John purchased 765 acres and settled here with his wife in 1828.
At the mouth of Tom's Run, present day Cooksburg, John built his one story cabin and the first of many water-driven sawmills. He worked his mills, logged with oxen, rafted logs to Pittsburgh and also engaged in flatboat building through the years.
John's son, Andrew, bought 36 acres from his father, then gained the rest of his acreage when his father died in 1858. Anthony erected three sawmills, one flouring mill, one planing mill, a boat scaffold, several dwellings and a store. About 1870, he built the Cook Homestead at the corner of land where Route 36 and River Road intersect. Many of the large homes on River Road are still maintained by the Cook Family and descendents. After Anthony’s death, the business was managed under A. Cook Sons Company.
The Cook Forest Association formed in the 1920s to save the few areas of surviving old growth timber. Early pioneers in this effort were M. I. McCreight, Theo Wilson and John Nicholson. The Association, endorsed by national natural resource groups and Governor Gifford Pinchot, raised $200,000.
Publicity such as the following helped raise funds:
"This Wood will become a forest monument, like those of the West, known not only in Pennsylvania, but throughout the Country. The East possesses few scenes more impressive than this magnificent area of primeval white pine, surrounded by giant hemlocks and hardwoods. The venerable splendor of these trees is a heritage for the future of the State. Many of them have lifted their heads to the sunshine of more than two hundred summers and the largest of them were here before the colonization of America..."
Money from the Association helped the Commonwealth purchase 6,055 acres from A. Cook Sons Company in 1927 for $640,000. Cook Forest became the first Pennsylvania State Park acquired to preserve a natural landmark.
Log Cabin Inn: Cook Forest's environmental learning center is a large log building built in 1934 by the CCC. It is at one end of Longfellow Trail and contains a variety of displays, taxidermy animals and logging tools from early lumbering days.
River Cabins, Indian Cabins, Log Cabin and the Old Contact Station: In the 1930s, the CCC constructed these buildings from salvaged American chestnut killed by the blight. These buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places.
CCC Camp: On March 31, 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The purpose of the CCC was to provide employment and restore our nation's natural resources.
In 1934, CCC Camp SP-2 was built in the present-day River Cabins area along River Road. A typical CCC camp had barracks, a mess hall, bathhouses and other structures. This camp housed 200 enrollees and staff until 1937 when it closed, and the buildings were razed and used to construct CCC Camp SP-6 at Raccoon Creek State Park in Beaver County.
A large wayside interprets CCC Camp SP-2 and is where the camp once stood within the River Picnic Area.
Work of the CCC in Cook Forest still remains. Indian and River cabins were built, trails and roads constructed and forest resources preserved by these hard-working men.
During the nine years of existence, the CCC nationwide employed three million young men and produced conservation work valued at over $1.5 billion!
For more information on the CCC explore the CCC Years.
Memorial Fountain: Built in 1950 on Longfellow Trail, the fountain was dedicated to the original Cook Forest Association. The association was instrumental in raising additional funds needed to purchase the land from the A. Cook Sons Company.
Cook Forest Fire Tower/Seneca Point Overlook: The 80-foot fire tower built in 1929, gave firefighters a 15- to 20-mile view of the area. The tower retired from service in 1966. Periodically, the cab on top of the tower is open during interpretive programs.
American Indians used the sandstone of the area to grind seeds and grains. Look for unnatural indentations in the stone used for these 'Indian mills.'
Cobbtown and Bracket Dams: A walk along the four miles of Tom's Run, starting at Picnic Pavilion #2, can take you back to the hectic, rowdy days of the 1800s logging boom. Although time and nature have erased much of the past, a keen-eyed observer can still find clues.
Stone and earthen foundations of bracket dams can be found along the banks of Tom's Run. Bracket dams created an artificial flood to raise the water level for floating logs to the Clarion River. Three miles up Tom's Run are the scant remains of Cobbtown, one of many temporary logging boomtowns.
Seneca Trail Mineral Springs: Along Seneca Trail, about 0.25 mile from the PA 36 entrance at Cooksburg, little remains of the natural mineral springs that produced waters with white sulfur and iron. These springs were popular in the early 1900s. A boardwalk fringed by gaslights was lit 24 hours a day while visitors bathed and drank the spring waters believed to have curative powers.
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Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation
Believing that each generation is responsible for leaving behind a better legacy of good conservation, the Pennsylvania Parks & Forests Foundation (PPFF) was created in 1999 to give supporters and users of Pennsylvania's parks and forests a positive way to contribute to the conservation of our publicly-owned properties. The Pennsylvania Parks & Forests Foundation welcomes the support of individuals and businesses who share a commitment to conserving, protecting, and enhancing the natural, scenic, and recreational areas of this commonwealth. www.paparksandforests.org
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We love when young people ask us how to get involved!
DiscoverE has programs for young people ages 4 to 17, provided by Pennsylvania State Park educators. By combining recreation and education, we hope to motivate children to learn more and return often, leading to a lifetime of outdoor enjoyment and conservation leadership.
In Watershed Education, teachers and students assess water quality of a local stream on a quarterly basis and develop strategies to solve local water quality problems.
ECO Camp - Exploring Careers Outdoors - is a week-long residential camp for a cross-section of high school youth from across Pennsylvania, sponsored by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). Participate in action-packed, hands on activities and recreational adventures in Pennsylvania’s state parks and forests that expose youth to conservation, recreation and careers in natural resources. Learn how people make a living working in the outdoors.
Explore education for more information on these and other programs.
Explore the Calendar of Events to find a program near you.
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Pennsylvania State Parks and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources offer a wide range of civil service and non-civil service jobs, from foresters, to rangers, to engineers, to educators, to botanists and so much more. Learn what is currently available.
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Cook Forest State Park
Clear Creek State Forest: Adjacent to Clear Creek State Park, this 10,113-acre area provides hunting, fishing, hiking and general recreation. Scenic views of the surrounding area may be seen from Bear Town Rocks.
Allegheny National Forest: This large, 506,465-acre area is the only national forest in Pennsylvania and has general outdoor recreation.
Explore Pennsylvania Wilds
Pennsylvania Wilds is two million acres of public lands for hiking, biking, fishing, boating, hunting, and exploration in northcentral Pennsylvania.
Highlights of the area are elk watching at the Elk Country Visitor Center, scenic PA Route 6, Pine Creek Gorge (PA Grand Canyon), the darkest skies in the east at Cherry Springs State Park, and hundreds of miles of backpacking trails, bike paths, and trout fishing streams. www.pawilds.com
Maps and Downloadables
Below are many of the maps and publications for this park. You can read them or download them and might need special software (all free) to view the publications.
You must have the free Adobe Reader to view the maps and brochures that are in pdf format (.pdf).
Alternate versions of the text of the brochures are in rich text and text formats. Click on the files to view them. To download (.rtf) files:
Interactive GIS Map
The Interactive GIS Map uses Geographic Information Systems to create a map that does not need to be downloaded and features driving directions, searchable park amenities and customizable maps. Please note that the background maps are maintained by a variety of public sources and driving directions usually go to the nearest large road.
Cook Forest State Park Cabin Map (.pdf) (210 kb, 1/14)
Cook Forest State Park Bird Checklist (.pdf) (2,908 kb, 3/11)
Hiking Trail Brochure
Hiking Trails of Cook Forest State Park (.pdf) (104 kb, 3/11)
Clarion Water Trail Guide - Middle Section
Clarion Water Trail Guide Map - Middle Section (.pdf) (316 kb, 3/12)
Clarion Water Trail Map - Middle Section
Clarion Water Trail Guide Map - Middle Section (.pdf) (617 kb, 3/12)
From the east, take Exit 78 off of I-80, then PA 36 north directly to the park in Cooksburg.
From the west, take Exit 60 off of I-80, then take PA 66 north to Leeper. From Leeper, follow PA 36 south, seven miles to the park.
GPS DD: Lat. 41.33244 Long. -79.20793
Driving Directions: The Interactive GIS Map has turn-by-turn driving directions to the park office from the Park Information Window. Please note that the background maps are maintained by a variety of public sources and driving directions usually go to the nearest large road.
Cook Forest State Park