Laurel Hill State Park: Old Growth Hemlocks and Mountain Streams Highlight Hike

The downstream view of Laurel Hill Creek from the bridge.

The downstream view of Laurel Hill Creek from the bridge.

The summer of Covid 2020 had been boring, but productive. Even though there weren’t many fun events and activities to attend, it went by especially fast. I spent it getting caught up on many things and moving forward on a few new projects. I had wanted to have a few deep woods hikes, but just couldn’t make it happen.

Then I saw that the weather for the Wednesday after Labor Day was going to be sunny with a high near ninety degrees. “That’s my day,” I exclaimed to myself. Now where to go? Several friends had gone to Laurel Hill State Park this summer for some hiking and swimming. I saw some posted pictures of one family’s outing to the beach at the park’s lake, which looked very inviting.

I had hiked at Laurel Hill State Park years ago with my Boy Scout troop. I don’t remember much from that outing besides scrambling up rocks on the side of a ridge and also seeing a snake sunning itself on the rocks.

I looked at the Pennsylvania DCNR (Department of Conservation and Natural Resources) website for Laurel Hill State Park. I perused their trail list. They had several interesting hikes including Lake and Ridge trails. I then found Hemlock Trail. It was marked as more difficult, “Narrow at times and running along steep banks at places…with a stand of old growth eastern hemlock trees along the banks of Laurel Hill Creek.” It had me at old growth hemlocks and Laurel Hill Creek. 

On that Wednesday I headed out via the PA Turnpike to the Donegal exit and then on to Laurel Hill State Park. Upon arrival I checked out the Laurel Hill Lake area and its wide sandy beach. There were a few late-season stragglers sunning themselves and enjoying the water while two kayakers paddled in the distance. On the way to Hemlock Trail I stopped to explore a babbling brook near the roadside. It was small, but made a nice gurgling sound.

I parked near the Hemlock Trail trailhead next to a small bridge and Laurel Hill Creek. I saw steps descending to the creek across the road and went to investigate. It was a very picturesque spot with the creek flowing down to a bend and disappearing behind the trees and flora. There was even a creekside picnic table. What an idyllic spot for a picnic. 

I went back up to the road and retrieved my hip pack from my Jeep. The pack is chock full of all the basic necessities for a hike and possible survival in the woods. After all, I was a Boy Scout and their motto is “Be Prepared.” 

At this point the trail closely follows Laurel Hill Creek.

Part of the trail closely follows Laurel Hill Creek.

Hemlock Trail is not an especially long trail, and most of them at Laurel Hill are not. This one is 1.2 miles. You enter the woods and the trail ascends up the ridge. After crossing two very small mountain streams there is a fork in the trail. The left fork ascends steeply further up the ridge; the right fork is more level and is closer to Laurel Hill Creek. I always like to get the steeper part of the hike done whenever possible. If just looking for a shorter scenic hike take the right fork and come back the same way.

The steep climb up the ridge is aided by rough-cut steps. Once on top of the ridge the trail levels off and one can relax a little and take in the beauty of the forest. Tall trees, ferns, rhododendron, and moss-covered rocks are all aspects of the sylvan scenery. 

After about a half mile the trail starts to descend. At the bottom a sign states, “Entering Hemlock Natural Area.“ The old growth eastern hemlocks stand tall (over 100 feet) in all their beauty and majesty. After entering the grove there is a sign explaining that the eastern hemlock is Pennsylvania’s state tree and that these trees are important to migrating birds and other wildlife. Many of the hemlocks date back to Revolutionary War times. It’s remarkable that this stand of trees exists, as the area was heavily logged in the late 1800s and early 1900s. 

As the trail continues through the hemlocks it gets closer to Laurel Hill Creek, running parallel to it. The sound of the water cascading over the rocks in certain spots is a soothing tonic for the ears and soul. Water bugs dart along the surface of quiet parts of the creek. Rainbow, brown, and brook trout, both wild and stocked, inhabit the waters of Laurel Hill Creek and hide among its rocks and vegetation. Special fishing restrictions are posted at this creek so check them out before making a fishing trip.

My hike was not an especially long one, but it was restorative. Laurel Hill State Park is an easy getaway to the Laurel Mountains and offers many activities. For more information on what the park offers, visit the Laurel Hill State Park website. And let’s all do our part to preserve and protect our state’s and country’s wild spaces.



Story and photos by Rick Handler, Entertainment Central’s executive producer.

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