In search of old growth forest
October 4, 2015 7:07 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to do a short backpacking trip in old growth forest within driving distance of the DC area (4-5 hours or less, ideally). I looked up the locations of old growth stands in adjacent states, but many are quite small, and I'd like to get some recommendations on places I could hike and camp a couple nights.

It would be nice, but certainly not a requirement, if there was good info available about the area's biodiversity. This trip is (mostly) book research for a work of fiction (but also a personal getaway), so I'm looking for a sense of what sets this area apart from land that has undergone logging and other human interventions. Bonus points for a ranger station or someone who can discuss the area's unique qualities, but that's not a requirement.

I could stretch the drive distance for something really spectacular. There are some large old growth tracts in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, it appears, but I lack info on what the experience there might be like. I'm a fairly experienced hiker, comfortable in most environments and climates. Can you offer a recommendation?
posted by itstheclamsname to Science & Nature (5 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
How about Cook Forest State Park in Pennsylvania, a National Natural Landmark? (I haven't been there yet, but I have a thing for old growth forests and it's on my list of places to see, since it has some of the tallest old growth trees in the east. 29 miles of hiking trails. More images here. Wikipedia.
posted by vers at 8:32 AM on October 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

How about Bear Meadows Natural Area? It's a bog that is surrounded by an old-growth forest. Also, here's a link to PA's old growth forests.
posted by Rob Rockets at 9:24 AM on October 4, 2015

I've been to Bear Meadows Natural Area (and a reasonable selection of the adjacent Rothrock State Forest as part of doing the Rothrock Challenge, a 30K that traverses the area) as well as the Alan Seeger Natural Area (as part of the Richard C. Ely Memorial Ride). Bear Meadows has not got many trees on it. Looks like the linked picture, sort of boggy and not-tree-like. When I was there (June) it was rather wet -- expect many small creeks, poor drainage, and lots of rhododendrons. Rothrock State Forest and the Alan Seeger Naural Area are nearby/contiguous and very doable. The whole mess is a fairly well-used hunk of public lands with decently-maintained trails and quite driveable blue gravel access roads.

My only warnings are that if you're planning a fall trip, check to make sure you're not coming on a "Football Weekend" -- PSU home games do a number on the local traffic up that way. Easiest route from DC would be up I-70 to US 30, then westward a short distance on US 30 (couple of stoplights, about twenty miles) to I-99 North, which will just about get you there. And if you go in the next two weeks, foliage will be about as good as it gets. By the end of October, the colors are done. Right now it's bow hunting (for deer), season just opened on Saturday, but if you wear bright colors and leave the fake antlers at home, you should be fine.
posted by which_chick at 6:16 PM on October 4, 2015

Cathedral State Park is in West Virginia and is a beautiful "ancient hemlock forest of majestic proportions, and one of the last living commemorations of the vast virgin hemlock forest which once flourished in the Appalachian highlands. Trees up to 90 feet in height and 21 feet in circumference form cloisters in the park."

It's pretty cool for hiking.
posted by irisclara at 6:49 PM on October 4, 2015

Disclaimer: I am currently reading Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods so of course I instantly thought: ooh, the Appalachian Trail! The Shenandoah part of the trail is apparently very beautiful and accessible, but it also runs into Maryland and even closer to DC (crossing the Potomac at Harpers Ferry). The advantage of it being famous is that it should be pretty easy to find information about it, flora and fauna, etc (link of course has some info and further sources). The disadvantage of it being famous is that it is probably reasonably well-travelled.
posted by Athanassiel at 8:35 PM on October 4, 2015

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