Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Local wilderness vacations: Erie Bluffs State Park

On a recent sunny Sunday we found ourselves with nothing specific to do. A rare thing for a family with 2 young boys, but I'm not crazy enough to look a gift horse in the mouth!

Jen and I quickly packed up a daypack with some snack and drinks. I made sure my toddler pack was in the Jeep, then I grabbed the camera and we hit the road.

We headed west of the City of Erie, on US 20 all the way to Girard, PA. About 30 minutes from the city. Then we cut down to US 5 and drove about another 5 miles to Erie Bluffs State Park.

Erie Bluffs is a relatively new addition to PA's State Park system. Boasting over 500 acres open to hiking, and hunting. There is a developing trail network suitable for exploring with kids, or even mountain biking.

Attached to Erie Bluffs State Park is the Elk Creek Access Area, maintained by the PA Fish and Boat Commission. Elk Creek is one of the world's premier Steelhead fishing destinations.

Trails interconnect between the Access Area and the State Park.

Being that this was our first trip we reviewed the map and the information pavilion and headed off down the main driveway. This road is maintained with gravel to support the agricultural equipment used on the approximately 100 acres of corn fields.

Seeing such a wide expanse of cut corn fields is not that common among State Parks, but it is a very good use of the land. The land was already opened to agriculture, prior to becoming a State Park, so why not continue allowing the land to be farmed, in order to offset the cost of maintenance and development of the park.

We followed the main driveway as it wound it's way on the east edge of the corn fields towards the north east corner of the park. Here we found a wooded trail, which was well worn and very easy to follow. Several other trails cut off of this primary trail, but we followed along eventually coming to a point where we could see down over the bluff to the parking lot for the access area. Knowing we were on the eastern edge, we then followed another trail closer to the lake bluffs.

Here is where the real beauty of this natural area lies. Raw and undeveloped this area looks much the same as it would have for the settlers some 200+ years ago. Steep cliffs, giving way to narrow shoreline, looking out over an enormous body of water. This was early spring and the trees haven't yet budded out, but I can only picture what the area will look like when we visit later in the summer. 

After following the trail along the cliff for about 300 yards, the trail took an obvious bend and we found ourselves meeting up with the initial trail very close to the trailhead and the end of the gravel driveway. Several hundred yards back towards the parking lot was a small picnic grove. Four rustic tables and a cement fire ring are all that fill this little clearing in the woods, but it was just perfect for some Goldfish crackers, a couple oranges and bottles of water.

After a nice rest we took a small trail out of the opposite side of the picnic grove, which wound around to the driveway and we headed back out to the Jeep.  We had a fun time exploring the east end of the park, but in the two hour trip, we barely scratched the surface. There are several trails at the west end of the park, and someday I'd love to make a loop hike walking the entire perimeter including all of the shoreline.

There's great potential in this park, and after reading the State's Master Plan document I think they are on the right track.

Happy Exploring
Scott M

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