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9 Incredible Hikes Near Cook Forest To See Mountain Laurels

Close-up of blooming mountain laurels

Cook Forest State Park is in Cooksburg, Pennsylvania. It straddles the Clarion River to the north and south, with 13 miles of the wild and scenic river flowing through the park. Deep in the woods hides an old-growth forest of more than 300 acres, with towering pines and hemlocks.

One of the most exciting things to do in early summer is to hike around Cook Forest and view all the gorgeous blooming mountain laurels and wildflowers! Luckily, Cook Forest State Park is bristling with these lovely plants.

There are plenty of hikes near cook forest to see mountain laurels, wildflowers, and wildlife. We’ll review the best summer hikes in and around Cook Forest and highlight where you can see the mountain laurels along the trail. Let’s go!

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When To See Mountain Laurels Bloom In Cook Forest

The mountain laurel is Pennsylvania’s state flower, but you may know it by other names – mountain ivy, calico bush, and spoonwood are all the same plant! Mountain laurels are native to the eastern United States, stretching from southern Maine to northern Florida.

This gorgeous evergreen shrub thrives in cool, moist, well-drained soils in rocky woods, meadows, and mountain slopes. Sound familiar? The Appalachian Mountains make a perfect home for mountain laurels, which is why they are so popular around the Cook Forest area.

North Carolina State University tells us that mountain laurel can grow up to 10 feet tall as a shrub and 32 feet tall as a small tree. 

The best time to see mountain laurels in bloom near Cook Forest is late spring and early summer, typically around June. Blooming lasts about three weeks, so get out to see them during this tight window!

Lucky for you, we have a list of the top hikes near Cook Forest to see mountain laurels. Let’s get into the details!

See The Mountain Laurels At Cook Forest State Park

Cook Forest State Park - Best hikes near cook forest to see mountain laurels

Let’s start with the obvious—Cook Forest State Park. Several trails are bursting with mountain laurels, but really, you could pick any trail in the park, and you’re likely to see these colorful shrubs.

Cook Forest State Park is managed by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Bureau of Forestry, which also manages the 2.2 million acres of State Park land in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Some of our favorite hikes near Cook Forest to see mountain laurels (or should we say in Cook Forest!) include the Baker Trail, North Country Trail, and River Trail.

You can find a Cook Forest trail map here.

1. Baker Trail

Baker Trail

The Baker Trail is a 134-mile-long trail system that runs from just below the Allegheny National Forest in Muzette, through Cook Forest State Park, and down to PA 356 in Freeport near Harrison Hills Park.

The Baker Trail in Cook Forest starts at Gravel Lick Road and heads east through the park. The trail meanders through groves of mountain laurel, leading you to the top of Scurry Overlook before plunging back into the valley. 

You can follow the trail to Henry Run Sawmill Dam and turn back or continue to Seneca Point Overlook, the Cook Forest Fire Tower, and beyond. It’s definitely one of the top hikes near Cook Forest to see mountain laurels!

Check out our detailed guide on hiking Henry Run Sawmill Dam for a closer look at how to see this beautiful waterfall.

2. River Trail

River Trail

The River Trail Loop is a 2.4-mile loop trail. It takes you from Fire Tower Road down to the Clarion River and back up to Fire Tower #9 and Seneca Point Overlook. As you meander from the Clarion River to the Fire Tower, you’ll be greeted with many blooming Laurels.

If you catch this trail at the right time, you can see mountain laurels and rhododendrons blooming! Aim for the end of June or the beginning of July to catch both.

3. North Country Trail (NCT)

North Country Trail

The NCT is part of a sizeable 4,800-mile trail network that crosses eight states from Pick City, North Dakota, through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, up to New York, and finally ends in Vermont. 

This spectacular trail runs right through Cook Forest State Park, sharing a trail with Baker throughout the park. The trail starts at Gravel Lick Road and traverses along the Clarion River and up through the Forest Cathedral Area before ending along Maplecreek Drive.

The vastness of this trail makes it one of the most scenic hikes near Cook Forest to see mountain laurels.

Clear Creek State Park

Some top hikes near Cook Forest to see mountain laurels are located just 11 miles down the road from Cook Forest. Clear Creek is well known for its blooming mountain laurels and has plenty of trails to explore and enjoy the gorgeous views.

Clear Creek State Park is located between Clarington and Millstone on the southern side of the Clarion River. The Allegheny National Forest is located on the north side of the river, making this one of the most scenic areas along the Clarion River.

The nice thing about Clear Creek is that you can combine trails to make loops as long or short as you want. No matter where you go in this park, you’re bound to see blooming mountain laurels, but a few trails are known for their showy flowers.

By the way, we have an ultimate day hiking gear list you can use to make sure you’re packing everything you need for a hike to see the mountain laurels!

4. Hunter Trail

Hunter Trail

The Hunter Trail is a difficult 1.2-mile out-and-back trail in the park’s north section. This steep trail connects with the Boundary Trail and starts at the Clear Creek Road loop. Combine this with the Boundary, Irish Rock, and River Trail to make it into a 2-mile loop.

The trail takes you through a hardwood forest speckled with mountain laurels bursting with color. Be aware—this trail isn’t for the faint of heart! On the west side of the trail, you can expect to gain some serious elevation.

5. Ridge Trail

Ridge Trail

The ridge trail is in the southern section of the park. It is just under 2 miles long and can be made into a loop if combined with the Zerby and Frazier trails.

The scenic Ridge Trail follows Truby Run, passing through hardwood forests and a stretch of dense mountain laurels. There are also tons of rhododendron bushes along the trail, adding to the colorful display in June and July.

If you can only pick one trail to do in Clear Creek, the Ridge Trail may be one of the best hikes near Cook Forest to see mountain laurels.

6. Tadler Trail

Tadler Trail

The Tadler Trail is a 4-mile connector trail that can be combined with the Truby Trail to form a 6-mile loop. The northern section runs along the Clarion River, while the southern section is at a higher elevation.

You can find mountain laurels throughout the trail as it meanders through hardwood forest. There are also two scenic overlooks that are best viewed in the Spring and Fall when the trees are bare. Because of this, you may not be able to catch both the mountain laurels and the scenic overlooks.

7. Tobecco Trail

Tobecco Trail

The Tobecco Trail is part of Cook Forest and Clear Creek State Parks. It is 16.2 miles out and back, but many people only hike sections of the trail or park vehicles at both the start and finish and only do the trail one way.

Much of the trail winds along the Clarion River on old logging roads, with some sections dipping into more forested regions. Mountain laurels can be found throughout the trail and are absolutely stunning when in bloom.

Because of the Tobecco Trail’s length and scenic views, it’s one of the finest hikes near Cook Forest to see mountain laurels. However, it does have some difficult hiking sections where you’ll gain and lose elevation as you journey through the forest.

Clear Creek State Forest

Just below Clear Creek State Park is Clear Creek State Forest. It encompasses 16,716 acres, has 77 miles of hiking trails, and spans five counties.

This unique tract of land is brimming with mountain laurels, rhododendrons, and other breathtaking wildflowers. You can pick just about any trail, and you’re sure to wander through thickets of mountain laurels at one point or another.

That said, a few trails are more popular for viewing Pennsylvania’s state flower. Below are our top picks for hikes near Cook Forest to see mountain laurels.

8. Beartown Rocks

Beartown Rocks

Beartown Rocks is known for its intriguing rock formations and gigantic sandstone boulders. You can snake around the rocks or commit to the 4-mile beartown rocks trail.

This is one of the best short hikes near Cook Forest to see mountain laurels. The plants are everywhere! You can find them all along the trails, the woods, and even growing out of the rocks.

A scenic overlook is at the end of the Beartown Rocks Trail and is well worth a stop. You may not see many mountain laurels from this vantage point, but it offers a breathtaking view of the Allegheny Plateau. If you don’t want to do the entire 4-mile hike, park further down Corbett Road for a shorter walk to the overlook.

9. Laurel Fields

Laurel Fields

Laurel Fields is touted as a spectacular mountain laurel destination. It is located at the southern edge of Clear Creek State Forest along Laurel Fields Road.

This field was the homestead of the Tillotson Family during the pioneer days. Today, you can drive around the Laurel Fields loop to glimpse mature stands of mountain laurels or hop on the Laurel Trail to walk amongst this beautiful flora.

Taking Pets On Hikes Near Cook Forest

Gatsby standing in the water at Forest Cathedral

We can’t leave out our precious furbabies! If you bring your furbag along for the adventure, no worriesCook Forest State Park and Clear Creek are both pet-friendly!

Here are a few guidelines for bringing your canine companion on your mountain-laurel-hunting hikes:

  • Leash Laws: Always keep your pet on a leash. This is to protect your pet and wildlife that they may chase after.
  • Leave No Trace: Picking up after your pet is super important! Always carry poo bags, pick up your dog’s waste, and throw it in a trash can. You can read about why it’s so important to pick up your dog’s poop here.
  • Wildlife: Black bears, coyotes, bobcats, rattlesnakes, and copperheads are known to frequent the areas in and around Cook Forest. Be alert, keep your pet on a leash, and respect any wildlife you encounter. Check out our guide on what to do if you see a wild animal on a hike for more information.
  • Trail Etiquette: Always respect trail etiquette by moving to the side when hikers pass. Don’t allow your dog to greet another dog without asking.
  • Gear: Remember to bring your pet’s essential gear, including harness, leash, first-aid kit, water bowl, and treats. View our dog hiking gear essentials checklist to make sure you have everything your pet needs!

Bringing your dog (or cat!) on your adventures can add to the fun and provide fantastic bonding time for you and your furry friend. So, if you plan to hike around Cook Forest to see mountain laurels, consider bringing your canine (or feline!) companion along for the journey!

That’s A Wrap On Hikes Near Cook Forest To See Mountain Laurels!

If you want to see blooming mountain laurels, the area in and around Cook Forest is a fantastic destination! These amazing evergreen bushes are spread throughout Cook Forest and nearby Clear Creek.

While you can see mountain laurels pretty much anywhere in this area, we’ve highlighted our top picks for hikes near Cook Forest to see mountain laurels. 

Do you have a favorite trail to see mountain laurels? Let us know in the comments below, and we’ll check it out! Until next time, keep adventuring, and if you’re looking for more hikes in Pennsylvania, check out our PA hiking blog!

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