This is a story of the serendipity of giant trees. On a recent long drive to New Jersey, we planned to visit a grove of giant white pine trees in Pennsylvania’s Cook Forest State Park. Plans don’t always go perfectly, but sometimes serendipity happens. It sure did for us.

We are awestruck by the beauty and heritage of giant trees and found an exceptional one by accident. Serendipity. About a hundred miles after we left home, we needed to change drivers and exited Interstate 80 Eastbound just after crossing the Mississippi River.

Rest Stop Serendipity

Giant Oak on Mississippi River

Welcoming Oak

We planned to make a brief stop but stayed a while to marvel at a massive white oak that greeted us at the building’s entrance. We marveled at its girth and spreading limbs. The people who designed and built the restroom structure took pains to carefully craft it to emphasize the tree’s beauty and protect it from construction damage.

This tree is worth a stop. It is at about I-80’s exit one in Illinois immediately south of the Mississippi River. There’s also a magnificent view of the River and Iowa in the distance. 

Pennsylvania Wilds Serendipity

We’d checked Pennsylvania’s predicted weather before leaving our Iowa home, and it promised pleasant camping weather in Cook Forest State Park. Our camping gear was in the car as we headed East. Well, weather reports aren’t perfect. Crossing Ohio in driving rain we realized that being in a tent that night would be soggy, but serendipity happened. Our cell phones helped us book an overnight room at a lodge near the Park’s ancient pine grove.

In the rain, we took small twisty roads for about 20 miles north of Clarion, Pennsylvania.

It was still cascading down as we entered the vast park in the midst of THE PENNSYLVANIA WILDS. We’d come a long way and were determined to see the grove of ancients, so, raincoat-clad, we headed up the trail.

Cook State Forest Serendipity

It was magical. We were enveloped in a forest of massive pines that had sprouted around 1600 and bypassed by the loggers who leveled most of the Keystone State’s forests. Beneath the trees, the ground was soft as a plush carpet. Other than raindrops, silence enveloped us – a soothing respite from the Interstate’s noisy trucks.

Cook Forest State Park is set in a vast woodland along the Clarion River. Only a few miles north of Interstate 80, it offers hiking, mountain biking, fishing, hunting, river running, and enjoying massive trees. Many area cabins and lodges offer dry places to overnight, and the Park has a campground.  Serendipity met us again.

Clarion River Lodge Serendipity

Wet and soggy after our forest walk, and tired of twisty roads, we found ourselves at the Clarion River Lodge near the grove where Shannon Otte warmly greeted us. She showed us our cozy, dry room.  Later we enjoyed dinner while watching the rain continue to drench the woods.

Fortunately, the rain slowed, giving us a chance to walk a gravel road above the lodge.  Ovenbirds serenaded us from deep in the forest as we overlooked the Clarion River.

The Clarion River Lodge is a revitalized lodge with distinctive rooms creatively well-appointed. The dining area and bar welcome guests and locals.  The entire establishment, tucked into the woods is cozy and comfortable. The mix of vintage and modern make for great exploring of the common room and the halls, and peeking into different rooms.

The next morning, we took advantage of the coffee maker in the lobby and enjoyed the view of the woods and moss-covered rocks from the end of the second-floor hall porch. A phoebe scolded us as we sat sipping our warm beverage. When we realized we were settled near its nest we moved further away.  Under a clear blue sky and waning crescent moon, we enjoyed the soft drip of last night’s rain off the trees.

Overall the drive East was filled with Giant Trees that enticed us to stop.

Finding Giant Trees

American Forests keeps a list of the biggest known individual of nearly all species of North American Trees. The registry helps anyone locate these giant and, often, ancient trees.