Where is Cook Forest State Park
Nestled in pristine Northwestern Pennsylvania’s old growth countryside, Cook Forest State Park sits just south from the massive Allegheny National Forest. The park butts up to PA route 36 and the Clarion River, traveling to the park would take you an hour and forty-seven-minute drive from Pittsburgh. If you're traveling from the eastern side of the state of Pennsylvania, Cook Forest State Park is a lengthy four hours and forty-eight-minute drive from Philadelphia if you take the route that requires tolls.
How big is Cook Forest State Park
Though it seems small in stature compared to the 517,000 acres of national forest that lay due north of Cook Forest State Park, there is more than ample enough room for you to recreate on the available 8,500 acres that lay within the State Park. The park is attached to the Clarion River and a 3,136-acre parcel of state land directly across the river. This allows visitors of the park to have access to a 10 mile stretch of water for those on canoes and rafts.
Cook Forest State Park Weather
The weather that the area around Cook Forest State Park experiences is similar to what most of the Northeastern United States goes through. During the wintertime daytime temperatures can range from 40 degrees during the day to upper 20's and lower 30's at night. Once spring and summer roll in the weather can get wet quickly due to rainstorms that move over the Olympic Peninsula. Temperatures in spring can be as high as 60 degrees and as low as 35 degrees, while summer heat can spike up to and past 80 degrees. These are great conditions to see a wide variety of plants and animals that aren't around in winter. Fall temperatures range from 35 to 60 degrees with occasional rain and snow as well as the potential for fog in the lower elevations.
When did Cook Forest Become a State Park
In the time before Europeans came to America this area was a prominent hunting ground to the local Native American tribes. After the French and Indian War, the English purchased the area, settled in the early 1800s it was owned by a series of farmers until the State purchased it in 1927. Cook Forest State Park is the first state park formed to preserve a natural area in Pennsylvania.
Things to do in Cook Forest State Park
There are 210 campsites in the park, you are allowed to bring pets at specific sites after paying a fee. On top of the basic sites there are also campsites that line the Clarion River. There are also options for you to rent comfortably furnished rustic cabins.
There are multiple fishing opportunities within Cook Forest State Park, both along the Clarion River and at a regularly stocked pond near the park office. There are several species of game fish to fish for at the park including, trout, panfish, and other warm water gamefish.
During the established seasons 1,200 acres of Cook Forest State Park are open to hunting, trapping, and training of hunting dogs. Common game animals that are found in the park are deer, squirrels, and turkeys. Firearm safety is paramount, and park specific handling regulations ensure visitor safety.
Within Cook Forest State Park there are over 47 miles of hiking trails that wind throughout the trees and hills. The trails within the park are designed to range across different difficulties to ensure that there are hiking opportunities available to all the park’s visitors.
Because of the intense logging and land management practices during the 1800s and more recent protections on the regrowth from that era, there are large swaths of old growth forests composed of white pine and hemlock. Within these forests there’s a potential for visitors to see animals such as, black bears, deer, muskrats, porcupines, and even river otters. Commonly seen birds are, kingfishers, great blue herons, and mergansers as well as a plethora of songbirds.
There are nearby companies that offer canoe and kayak rentals which you can use to travel along the Clarion River. There are two routes along the river, one about 4 miles long and the other about 10 miles. You will have to obtain a permit to launch the boat into the river from the park.
When to go to Cook Forest State Park
The best time of the year to travel to Cook Forest State Park is dependent on the type of activities you want to participate in. Springtime may be wet but there's potential to find any number of wildflowers and edible mushrooms amongst the pristine forest. The hot summer months are a great time to break out the rafts, canoes, fishing gear and chart a course down the Clarion River, as well as explore the vast old growth forest that blankets the area. As the seasons move into fall and winter hunting seasons open up for those that wish to take part in the pursuit of the plethora of well managed wildlife. The coldest and most snow filled months of winter also provide opportunities for cross country skiers and ice skaters alike.
Must-Have Things to Bring to Cook Forest State Park
Water or Purifiers
While you will be surrounded by water, either from the river or small creeks, but if you want to use any of it you will need a way to purify it. It will be more convenient to bring water with you to your campsite and purify smaller amounts as you hike throughout the park.
Make sure to have quality gear and a sturdy tent if you plan on staying at Cook Forest State Park in order to be able to keep you and your supplies dry. You may want to bring a propane stove in the event you can’t get a fire started to cook your food.
While you will be able to leave the park and be able to go to nearby restaurants, it will be much more convenient and inexpensive for you to bring your own food to eat within camp. Be sure to put it into a bear safe container to keep your food away from unwanted animals.
The weather can be turbulent and unpredictable any season of the year. Be sure to keep yourself prepared and bring any amount of clothing necessary to keep yourself safe, comfortable, and dry no matter the time of year and what activity you plan on doing.
Keeping your feet comfortable is paramount to an enjoyable experience along the trails of the park. Be sure to pick a shoe that fits your foot properly as well as giving you the proper amount of support and ankle stability to avoid any serious injuries.
First Aid Kit
There are many possibilities for injury and other serious emergencies. In order to keep you and all those in your group on the trail, and to keep any injury from becoming more serious, be sure to keep a first aid kit with you and in your camp where it can be easily accessed.
If you intend on partaking in any particular hunting season make sure that you have all the gear that you will need to not only ensure a successful trip, but to keep you and any you encounter safe while out in the field. Be sure to be familiar with how your equipment works to ensure a safe trip.
In order to take advantage of all that the Clarion river has to offer, be sure to research the best techniques and equipment to use to catch your intended fish species. Buy any bait, lures, or equipment you’ll need ahead of time as well as any required licenses.
Canoes, Kayaks, and Safety Gear
To travel along the Clarion River, ensure that you bring a sturdy canoe and kayak that won’t leak or sink on you, as well as proper fitting flotation devices for every person inside the boat. A waterproof dry bag can come in handy to keep any water sensitive items safe from the water.
Where to stay in Cook Forest State Park
Within Cook Forest State Park there are a total of 210 individual campsites, each complete with their own picnic table and fire ring. There are also full hookup campsites that have on-site water, 50-amp electric hookup, and a sewage hookup. There are modern restrooms and shower facilities that remain open during the camping season, closing once temperatures remain below freezing. Coin-operated laundry systems allow you to do your laundry while out and about in the outdoors.
Food Nearby Cook Forest State Park
As long as you properly clean up after yourself and limit your impact on the amount of litter you leave behind, you can easily bring as much food into the camp if you enjoy eating in camp. There are also a number of bars and restaurants that are right outside Cook Forest State Park, the closest being a mere 4-minute drive from the campsites.
Airports Near Cook Forest State Park
For those that are traveling on an airplane and can't make the drive to Cook Forest State, there are a number of smaller airports that surround the State Park yet the Pittsburgh International Airport may be the main one you would be able to travel to. It is around a two-hour drive from the Pittsburgh International Airport to the campsites.