Thursday, January 3, 2013

A good hike

There's a saying about golf that "golf is a good walk ruined."

I can identify with this, because as much as I love to hunt, I love to hike too.  So I'm sure more than one of my hunts has been ruined by my wanderlust pulling me out of a treestand.

That's okay really because I really do just love to explore a new area.  How else would I stumble upon bear and coyote tracks within 100 yards of each other:

It's a rare sight for me to see a black bear in the areas I hunt, and I've never seen a coyote in the wild, so to find both these tracks reminded me that I'm not the only hunter in the woods today. 

So I think it's only natural for me to plan our family vacations around hiking destinations.

Yes I'm aware it's January, but really is there a better time to plan vacations?  Most of us in the northern tier are stuck indoors most of the day, and I don't think there's a better time to browse maps and websites for places to camp.  Plus, if you find yourself totally enamored with an area, you can reserve your spot before the seasonal rush, and guarantee your plans.

With that in mind I've been studying a couple spots in the Allegheny National Forest.  My mother's family has owned a cabin near the outskirts of the ANF for almost 50 years.  For the last 2 years this camp has served as a basecamp for my family to explore the ANF.  Our youngest will turn 3 this summer, and our oldest 8, so we finally feel like we are able to effectively wrangle them, in order to do some tent or camper camping.

Since we have already done some regular exploring at Heart's Content Scenic Area we are going to try out the campsite just a few hundred yards down the road.  Heart's Content is one of the largest tracks of virgin timber east of the Mississippi.  It has never been cut, and therefore the forest exists in its pure natural state.  White pines grow to enormous proportions, until they are toppled in a wind storm.  The ground consumes the fallen timber and the opening in the canopy releases long dormant seeds from the ground.  It's an amazing place.

The campsite butts up against the Hickory Creek Wilderness Area.  The Hickory Creek area was one of the first area protected under the Wilderness Act of 1964.  Howard Zahniser, the author and champion of the Wilderness Act wrote: 
“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”
Heart's Content campground can access the Hickory Creek trail, which links through the woods to the Wheeler trail, which will arrive at Heart's Content interpretive trail.  The next length of the Wheeler trail wraps below the campground and with a little off trail brush busting we should be able to arrive at our campsite.

Later in the summer we'll travel to the northern arm of the Kinzua Reservoir.  Last summer we rented a cabin for one night at Willowbay Campground, which is the only Federally controlled campground with cabins to rent.  All other campgrounds with cabins are privately owned.  This was a really nice stay where shortly after unpacking we were visited by a flock of turkey including young of the year.  And the view was just phenomenal looking out over the reservoir.

While finding our way to Willowbay we came across another ANF campground called Tracy's Ridge.  Since there were no cabins there, we didn't stay, but the brochure showed us the extensive trail system.  There's the Land of Many Uses interpretive trail, which links to both the Tracy ridge trail and the Johnnycake trail.  Both of those trails link up to a length of the North Country Scenic trail.

The North Country Scenic trail will someday be the longest footpath in North America stretching 4600 miles from upper New York to North Dakota.  Of that proposed route, 2100 miles have been certified, with some of the most well developed portions of the path being in Pennsylvania.  We explored a couple trailheads last year, and I'd be lying to say I'm not just a little bit obsessed with this trail.  Judging from the map I believe a through hike of the PA portion would be possible in under 4 days, but for a distance of that size I wouldn't want to push too tight of a schedule. 

So much land to explore, makes surfing the internet in January so exciting.

Happy Exploring
Scott M

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