Grand Plans: PA Summer Trail Adventures

It has been a minute since I’ve written anything at all on this blog! What a shame. I wish I could say that I’ll try to write more, but I know myself… and I can say with confidence that it’ll be another 6 months before I write again. Self-fulfilling prophecy? Probably. Or maybe it just gives me a standard to exceed.

I’ve been doing a lot of trail running recently. Forests have always been special to me, serving as sources of mind-clearing tranquility, as nature’s symphonic orchestras. You hear the trees whisper and you wonder if it’s a gust of wind or a rush of new rain. You know birds are calling, but their language is a mystery and you have to simply accept that you will never fully understand. That unnameable scent of spring and summer, which never fails to whisk me back to rural North Carolina, where I was born and returned to intermittently throughout my childhood and early teens. It smells like my great-grandmother’s backyard.

There’s an added bonus to running on trails: it is much kinder to your knees, hips, and ankles! The ground is more uneven, yes, but it is considerably softer, and the roots and rocks force you to carefully plan each step, resulting in gentler footfalls. It’s even more comfortable if the trail happens to be grassy. As a result, the balls of my feet have never felt better. I’m extremely lucky in that I have never had knee or IT (iliotibial) band issues, but my hips and forefeet get stiff and sore whenever I go the distance (generally five miles or more). This is great training for the 30K (18 miles) trail adventure race that I’ll be doing at the end of June! Trails are a blessing on a practical front in addition to their mental and emotional benefits!

To better solidify my trail goals for this summer, I want to compile a list of a few trails/parks that I want to run or hike (hopefully both!). I’ll do two posts – one for PA parks, and another for those outside PA but still within a few hours’ drive. My hope is that making this short list will help me hold myself accountable for actually visiting and exploring these trails and parks!

  1. Cook Forest State Park. This park, about two hours northeast of Pittsburgh, features 29 miles of trails of all difficulty levels. Hemlock pines here reach 150 feet and can be 400 years old! If you really want to get into the spirit of the forest, you can camp (according to the web site, it’s free), but there are also cabins and a bed-and-breakfast if you want to stay for a couple of nights without the hassle of carting around camping equipment. My plan would be to run the 4.1-mile Bridle Trail, which is used by horseback riders and hikers alike, and then hike the other, more difficult trails at a more leisurely pace. One can also rent canoes and choose between a 4-mile or 10-mile paddling adventure on a relatively easygoing river.
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One of the neat-looking cabins at Cook Forest State Park. I would probably live here year-round if possible!

2. Presque Isle State Park. This is located in Erie, PA, just a few hours north of Pittsburgh. Of course, its main attraction is that it’s located right on the shores of the famous Lake Erie – and judging from the pictures, people treat it like they’re visiting the sea itself! This park boasts 11 miles of trails, not including the 11 beaches that offer their own unique running experience to boot. Of course, boat rentals (and tours!) abound, which I love. Erie, although it’s second on the list, is probably my top pick for outdoor fun this summer.

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One of Erie’s magnificent beaches. I can see myself going on a sunset run, then enjoying a delicious dinner somewhere outdoors, where I can see the lake!

3. Colton Point State Park. Located in north central PA (about 4 hours north of us – zoinks), this park is found on the western rim of Pine Creek Gorge (known colloquially as the PA Grand Canyon!). Words can’t describe the majesty of this park, just from the pictures on the site: looming, rolling, verdant mountains, rushing waterfalls, and dramatic outcroppings of ancient rock make this a must-visit. Get this: the Pine Creek Trail is 62 miles long and begins at the bottom of the canyon! Turkey Path, on the other hand, begins on a mountainside and consists of a single steep descent to the Pine Creek River. Once there, you get a gorgeous waterfall to enjoy before the daunting journey back up! Of course, camping amenities are there for all – no cabins, though!

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I mean, just soak in those mountains.

4. Ohiopyle State Park. Probably the weirdest name for a park I’ve ever heard. Nonetheless, it looks and sounds simply amazing, and it’s close to home! Less than 2 hours from our front door, OSP boasts some spectacular whitewater rapids and waterfalls. 79 miles of trails, several spots for rock climbing (I’m terrified to do that because I’m afraid of heights unless I’m strapped in and going 90 miles an hour, but it’s still awesome), and YURTS. Yurts are cute little tents with canvas and wooden walls which you can rent out during spring and fall. I would visit this park simply to eat yogurt in a yurt. You bet your tits I would.

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Sample of some of the rapids at Ohiopyle. I remember being a kid and playing in rivers like this at my aunt and uncle’s home in Jersey. I will definitely need waterproof shoes for this park!

5. World’s End State Park. *whistles* What a name. I certainly hope it lives up to that name, and from what I can see, it certainly does. This park has some unique features that make it especially enticing: the 20 miles of exceptionally hilly and rocky trails (I’m a girl who loves a challenge), a swimming area formed by a dam, and the fact that the wildflower diversity is absolutely bonkers. It also looks like it’s right in between Scranton and Williamsport, where we have friends we could invite on our adventures!

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Just look at those lush green hills. I could wander through them all day. Which is kind of the idea. 

There you have it! That’s my list of must-do parks in PA this summer. I know it’s ambitious to think I’ll possibly get to all of them, but even two or three would be fantastic. If you’re reading this and have any suggestions, please feel free to speak up!

Till next time,

Lauren 🙂

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