Sometimes the road less traveled is the most enjoyable. That’s why more and more joggers and runners are beating a path to the increasingly popular activity of trail running.

Trail running became popular in the 1960s thanks to Bill Bowerman’s elite University of Oregon track program. Bowerman and the city of Eugene, Oregon, created a woodchip-covered trail for elite runners like Steve Prefontaine, so they could train on resilient foot paths to avoid the wear and tear of macadam road surfaces or flat cinder tracks.

A smooth, resilient trail is still the ideal surface for a serious workout or an easy jog. But not content with easy-going paths, today’s trail runners are demanding more difficult routes: woodland paths covered with roots, rocks, and water hazards that turn an average run into a real adventure.

The scenic and smog-free environment of Cook Forest is an ideal place for trail runners who want to enjoy a route less traveled.

Mapping Your Route
Cook Forest State Park’s 8,500 acres contains 29 miles of hiking trails, many of which are suitable for trail running. Virgin timber constitutes nearly one-third of the park. These trails wind through old growth timber, up ridges, down hills and along flat riverbeds. To find a route that’s right for you, use a detailed map of Cook Forest Park to help you plot your path.

The longest route: The Baker Trail and North Country Scenic Trail is a 9.4-mile route that is part of the 140-mile Baker Trail that starts at Freeport, Pennsylvania, and ends in the Allegheny National Forest. From the north, the Baker Trail enters Cook Forest State Park near the intersection of Forest Road and Greenwood Road (SR1015). As it winds into the Park, Bakers Trail changes names, becoming North Country Trail, then Browns Run Trail, Liggett Trail, Seneca Trail, and River Trail before exiting the park in the southwest and splitting into North Country Trail going west and Baker Trail going south.

For easy running: Follow the Liggett Trail at Forest Road across from the Log Cabin Inn Environmental Learning Center, which travels up Toms Run, then circles back down to Toms Run Road, ending back at Log Cabin Inn for a comfortable 2.2-mile round trip.

For a moderate challenge: Leave Liggett Trail and pick up Seneca Trail as it winds along Browns Run and Tom’s Creek. Then double back to complete your route.

For a demanding challenge: Difficult footing and sharp inclines lay ahead if you continue along Seneca Trail to the fire tower. But then you can rest and catch the view from Seneca Point. To continue the challenge, wrap around north along the Mohawk Trail, then cut back through Camp Trail to rejoin Brown’s Run. If the trail is too rugged, you can bail out using the Fire Tower Road or Route 36.

For a scenic route: The scenic routes, known as the Forest Cathedral Trails, can be connected into a loop that takes you into the Park’s grove of virgin hemlock and century-old eastern white pine. To start the circuit, follow the 1.2-mile Longfellow Trail, which begins at the Log Cabin Inn Environmental Learning Center, passes the Memorial Fountain, and finally emerges into tall, old-growth pines of the Forest Cathedral. Continue back to the Log Cabin Inn, then pickup Toms Run Trail, a flat, 0.8-mile path that runs within the picturesque Toms Run Valley. Finish on the 0.9-mile Birch Trail that passes through birch trees along Toms Run and wraps back to the Log Cabin Inn.

Trail Running Tips
For Cook Forest ‘s easy trails, standard running shoes are fine for flat, obstacle-free running. But for the tougher routes, you want to make sure you have the right gear and running technique appropriate to the trail. To make your run enjoyable, here are some tips that will help:

Start with the right gear: For moderate to difficult terrain, you’ll want trail running shoes, not running shoes. These shoes are designed with larger lugs, tougher soles, big toe guards, and proper support for to handle more rugged terrain.

Run hills the right way: The key to running hills is to maintain a consistent work rate over the entire climb, using shorter strides as the incline rises. This is especially true downhill, where you should take short, quick strides rather than brake yourself. On rugged trails, your arm’s should swing wider to maintain balance. But avoid taking leaping steps, which can lead to a sprained ankle or worse if you lose your footing.

Plan to go with a pal: Most important, make sure you’ve mapped out a course that’s right for you, including rest spots. And run with a friend, especially if you’re taking a difficult route. You can pace each other — and your partner can go for help if needed.

Using the trails, the gear, and the technique appropriate for you will make running in Cook Forest State Park a natural delight. Here, the routes less traveled are indeed the most enjoyable.

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