A bonafide “Dark Skies Park”, Cherry Springs State Park offers some of the best stargazing and sunsets on the eastern seaboard.
Orange blazes mark the path along the Black Forest Trail. 

Orange blazes mark the path along the Black Forest Trail. 

The bright orange blaze on the tree a few meters in front of me was a welcome sight, and all the reassurance I needed to know I was going the right direction. I hadn’t seen another person since I left my car in the dirt parking lot a few hours prior and began my hike along the Black Forest Trail in central, upstate Pennsylvania, and the single colorful stripe on the towering Oak before me beckoned me on like a guide in an impressive forest. No doubt that the trail was well marked, it was operator error that I had missed the last few flags as I had been looking at the spectacular scenery rather than the trail markers. With the peace of mind that I was where I needed to be, I broke out a fresh granola bar and pushed farther into the forest ahead.

When backpacked in its entirety, the Black Forest Trail is no small feat. At more than 43 miles in length, the loop consistently climbs and descends among Lycoming and Potter County’s rolling hills, forming eight dominant ascents, whose tops offer incredible views, and a perfect excuse to stop and catch your breath. The large hemlock, maple, and oak trees that line the path and whose foliage block the sun’s rays give the trail plenty of shade, and despite the lack of cell service and GPS signal, provide a sense of security and peace. The trail also affords a number of cutoffs and entry points that amount to a much shorter hike, such as the 12-mile section that the bright orange blazes so kindly directed me on and dropped me back in the parking lot from whence I came. 

As the forest very rapidly transitioned from dense trees to an open lot, I had half a mind to simply refresh my water supply, fashion myself a fishing rod, and turn right back around into the forest, but alas, impending nightfall forced a more reasonable action, and I piled into the car and headed for Cherry Springs State Park in Potter County.

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Roughly two hours of driving on highways and intermittent dirt roads, I turned into one of Pennsylvania’s 121 state parks, Cherry Springs State Park. Designated as a “Dark Skies Park” and heralded as one of the best places on the eastern seaboard for stargazing and the science of astronomy, it spans 82-acres atop a vista with no town or city lights anywhere in sight. While one side of the road is reserved for RVs and has three astronomy domes available for reservation, the other side of the park is reserved for recreational camping and offers a large open field for visitors to train their cameras on the glorious sunsets and brilliant stars. Having paid my camp fee, picked up firewood, and pitched my tent, I sunk into my camp chair and began to watch the sun slowly descend beneath the horizon line, slowly setting the stage for the constellations to play. Having camped all over the country, I am often impressed by the night skies even just a few short miles away from the closest city, but I was floored by the absolute darkness that befell Cherry Springs State Park. With only a few small clouds in the skies, the number of stars in the skies and their absolute clarity left me stunned. Laying on my back, awed at the spectacle above me, was nearly all I could do.

Sadly, by midnight, a single large cloud began to claim some real estate in the star ridden sky, and my tent beckoned. With a final deep breath, I retreated within cozy down sleeping bag, and before I knew it, my alarm was ringing for sunrise. With a great yawn I threw my tent door aside and was greeted by a yet another amazing view, the sun rising opposite from its tremendous descent mere hours before. I lay in my tent for a long time, watching the sun rise, wondering if I should ever leave this patch of ground after the splendor of that evening before and the view I now beheld. Yet, all the other aspects of life called, and I once again packed my tent and stowed my gear, training my car East in search of more adventures within Tioga County, PA.

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