Woman sets out to hike all of PA's state parks, shares experience on Happy Valley trails

– by Kim Debes

Hiking in a forest alone never crossed my mind as something I would be doing before 2023. I had barely set foot in a forest. As a former long-distance runner, I thrived on the adrenaline of a long run. Never would I see myself hiking slowly through a forest, having to be aware of such things as snakes and bears. After the passing of my mother in late 2020, I thought I would use running to heal, but I found that I could no longer find the motivation to do so. After many failed attempts to return to running, I began walking instead.

Woman Sets Out To Hike All Of Pennsylvania’s State Parks Creator Shares Experience On Happy Valley’s Trails

In the summer of 2022, my dad rented a cabin in Cook Forest State Park. My two sisters and our families joined him for a few days of fun in one of the most popular state parks in the Commonwealth. Despite being less than two hours from our home, I had never visited Cook Forest. Upon arrival in the park, I was instantly mesmerized by the beauty of the old-growth forest. Each morning, I woke up and chose a different trail to hike in the park. I found the peace I could no longer experience with running. This left me wondering what other places there were for me to explore. I wanted more of this feeling.

In the remaining months of 2022, I prioritized time in nature for myself, my husband, and our five children. We took family hikes in local and state parks near our home in Southwestern Pennsylvania, and I set aside time for solo hikes. With five active children involved in various sports and activities, I found my day-to-day life to be hectic and stressful. Solo hiking was just what I needed to recharge.

In December of 2022, I was setting goals for the New Year. I learned there are 124 state parks in Pennsylvania and thought it would be fun to see them all. I decided on a goal to hike in 52 state parks for the first year, some solo and others with my family. I discovered the “See Them All Challenge” by the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation in which you can collect stamps from each state park in a Passport. I purchased a copy and started collecting stamps.

I spent the winter of 2023 exploring the parks of Western Pennsylvania, hiking along waterfalls and creeks, over the most charming bridges, and through majestic snow-covered forests. I saw overlooks and frozen lakes and watched the sun rise and set. Spring brought regrowth and more adventure as the forests came back to life. It was incredible to watch each week as the leaves began to unfurl, and the flowers blossomed.


It wasn’t until the summer that I made my way to Happy Valley. I spent a memorable birthday morning in July watching the sunrise over Black Moshannon Lake. I hiked the boardwalk of the Bog Trail and the fern forest of the Moss-Hanne Trail. On this trail, I had my first bear sighting while hiking in a state park. I froze still in my tracks and watched in awe and trepidation as a bear cub crossed the trail and disappeared into the forest. Luckily, I did not see Mama, and I had my bear spray handy.

I hiked the forested Skyline Drive Trail in Bald Eagle State Park to the Butterfly Trail and marveled over the abundance of wildflowers, birds, and other wildlife. Of course, I couldn’t leave Happy Valley without tackling the five-mile Mount Nittany Loop which offers a challenging ascent and the most incredible views of the Penn State campus.

In the fall, I returned to Happy Valley with my family. We rented a camping cottage in Poe Valley State Park and enjoyed adventuring throughout the park, stargazing over Poe Lake, and hiking the kid-friendly Nature Trail. We enjoyed a scenic hike along Penns Creek on the John Snyder Trail to the Poe Paddy Tunnel in Poe Paddy State Park. Happy Valley became one of our favorite regions to explore in Pennsylvania.

My fall visit to Happy Valley brought my total state park count to 55, surpassing my original goal of 52 parks for the year. Throughout this journey, I have found that we are incredibly lucky to live in this beautiful state which offers such a variety of landscapes and outdoor recreational opportunities. No matter where you live in the state, you are close to some incredible hiking trails. Perhaps you won’t want to take a hike in every state park in the Commonwealth, but I would suggest you at least check out some of the amazing parks this state has to offer. After all, they are free and plentiful. Might I suggest you begin in Happy Valley? I hope to see you on the trails!

The Happy Valley Adventure Bureau publishes up-to-date event information at HappyValley.com/events