The Drive: Mc Henry, Maryland Miles: 248 Even wetter: The U.S. Freestyle Kayak National Championships will hit the Adventure Sports Center International rapids Sept. 29.
The Clarion River pulls canoes leisurely downstream — paddling is an afterthought. Instead, use your vessel for sightseeing: Miles of hemlocks and pines line the shores. Mountains rise in the distance. It won’t be long before you’ll spot a deer coming down to the bank for a drink, or float by a lone fly fisherman waist-high in the water, methodically flicking his rod back and forth.
This beginner’s river (i.e. no experience necessary) lies in the heart of Cook Forest, Pa. The water depth ranges from just scraping the bottom of the boat to deep enough to get in a quick swim, and rentals are cheap ($26 to start) at Cook Forest Canoe Rental. Of course, no trip is complete without a celebratory stop for ice cream at the Cooksburg Café.
But there’s a lot more to Cook Forest than the river. No. 9 Fire Tower attracts the bravest families, those who can stomach climbing stairs uncomfortably open to the elements. Eighty feet up, climbers are rewarded with a panoramic view of the hills, valleys and thousands of trees that make Cook Forest a National Natural Landmark. It’s the only way to see the tops of the tallest trees this side of the Redwood Forest (200 feet to be exact).
Back on the ground, head for the Cathedral Forest. It’s a humbling experience to stand under evergreens that are more than 300 years old. And with 29 miles of secluded trails to tackle, you’ll most likely be able to commune with nature in peace. Evenings in the forest mean backcountry fried chicken with chippers, courtesy of the Trail’s End in Cooksburg. Then settle in to a rustic cabin for s’mores under the stars. www.cookforest.com