|The Forest Cathedral, Cook Forest State Park. Here the North Country Trail passes through a rare virgin forest with 2200 acres of giant pine and hemlock trees that have never been cut.|
|Flowers and sky. The trail provides a number of opportunities to walk quiet upland meadows.|
"Hither to Yon" - Days 49 through 53
The sign said it all.
Through western Pennsylvania between Allegheny State Forest and Shippenville the North Country Trail crosses a patchwork of wonderfully quiet land, usually through the woods, and posted at road crossings with signs such as the above. They announce that the trail is reserved for those on foot in order "To reduce trail impact and insure a premier hiking experience."
Premier it was. One of the hidden benefits is that this section of the North Country Trail is not heavily used, yet there seems to be a community of local trail friends and maintainers who love their trail and have worked to improve it and live up to the language on the sign.
For backpackers there are three lean-to-type shelters, all built within the last two or three years and all in wonderful wild settings. There is the Maple Creek Shelter on state forest land just north of Cook Forest State Park.
There is the Highland shelter nestled in the woods on State land, I believe, high above the Clarion River.
And there is the Doe Run Shelter near the town of Clarion, built as an Eagle Scout project on private land generously made available to hikers.
Hikers will find a pleasurable variety of trail environments, the most outstanding of which is the 2200 acres of stately old trees in Cook Forest State Park. Some of these trees date back to the time of William Penn and the naming of the Pennsylvania colony as "Penn's Woods".
Elsewhere, to expound on the highlights from NE toward SW, the trail passes beaver ponds, crosses one on a unique floating bridge, then meanders along the Clarion River, with excellent views.
Next it crosses through a private Dude Ranch with 200 miles of horse trails that are meticulously kept separate from the hiking route. There is a large Game Land where the trail crosses extensive remote 'Bald'-like high meadows filled with drifts of late spring wild flowers, a segment that follows an old pipe line along a grassy right-of-way on private land, then the remote woods walk near Clarion on private land where the Doe Run Shelter is located.
Finally there is a state game land where most of the trail is on gated forest roads. There is a significant ford of Deer Creek here, a hundred feet wide and knee deep.
And on the day I came through (and fortunately after I made this ford) I was caught by a heavy thunderstorm and took refuge in a big culvert, big enough to stand up in.
I was safe and dry there until a flash flood rolled in. Water volume increased tenfold in seconds and I had to scramble out into the rain.
Fortunately the rain ended within ten minutes, so all ended well and I did not get soaking wet.
Bottom line: Yes, for the hiker seeking a premier hiking experience, this section of seventy or eighty miles of North Country Trail can't be beat. Start at the SW end near Shippenville and you can continue on through Allegheny State Forest and Allegany State Park in New York for a wonderful wilderness walk of about 250 miles.
Here, for reference are the maps with tracks of each of the day hikes of this 'Premier Hiking Experience'