Hiking Pennsylvania: Hawk Mountain with TerraMar Adventures

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary is a research center, a conservation training site, a learning facility, an eco-tourism destination, and the world's largest member-supported raptor conservation organization according to literature available at the visitor center and online. Hawk Mountain is also one of the best places in the northeast to watch the annual hawk migration and one of my favorite places to hike near Philadelphia. The Sanctuary Association was incorporated as a non-profit in 1938 after a wildlife photographer's photos of the goshawk inspired a local conservationist to create a place protect them. It's open year round and hosts frequent field trips for kids, workshops, and service learning opportunities.

Fall colors peeking through along the Golden Eagle Trail.

I headed up to Hawk Mountain to meet friends and other outdoor enthusiasts involved with TerraMar Adventures, a Philadelphia-based outdoor adventure group I used to lead events for. I'd been to Hawk Mountain at least half a dozen times, but love hiking there because of the variety of experiences available. After checking out the visitors center and buying our tickets ($6 for adults, $3 for children  into the Sanctuary, we hit the trails.

Though the parking lot is usually packed this time of year, most visitors stick to the easily accessible trails, aptly names the Lookout Trails, some of which lead directly to a large outcropping with 360-degree views.

But what many visitors miss are trails like the River of Rocks, Skyline and Golden Eagle Trails, all of which provide some of the best hiking in the area.

We headed out on my normal loop, taking the River of Rocks Trail (red blazes), dropping 600' the mountain and into the forest, stopping to take a look at one of my favorite trail features. Though it's still a bit early for vibrant fall colors in northeastern Pennsylvania yet, we got a taste of what's to come with yellow and orange leaves dotting some of the trees. Rhododendrons are among the most numerous plants we saw, and some species in the area are evergreen.

The River of Rocks.

We looped around the River of Rocks and picked up the Golden Eagle Connector Trail, which climbs back up 600' in less than a mile. The yellow blazed Golden Eagle Trail connects to the Skyline Trail, which is my absolute favorite part of the hike. The yellow blazes were tricky to spot with the leaves starting to change, but the signage at Hawk Mountain makes trails easy to find and follow. Most of the trail is wide, though it narrows as it starts to climb. It's a tough part of the hike, but it's worth the trip.

It's not all easy hiking on the Skyline Trail, but it's worth it!

As we turned on to the Skyline Trail, arguably the most challenging part of the trail, I couldn't wait to start boulder-hopping. The Skyline Trail involves climbing over large, jagged rock formations separated by flatter, easier sections along the Hawk Mountain ridgeline. Blue blazes mark the path of easiest travel, but I always enjoy scrambling up the formations using different routes. Trees shade hikers, but formations like East Rocks are exposed to wind and sun. They also offer some of the views!

As we finished climbing over the formations and approached the North Lookout, which is easily accessible via the aforementioned Lookout Trails from the parking lot, we came to the steepest section of the climb.

Standing next to the sign for the Skyline Trail after finishing the climb. As you can see by the blaze,
the trail goes straight up! 

Popping out of the trees and on to the ridge at the North Lookout is my favorite part of the hike. You'll usually find dozens of raptor enthusiasts, other hikers, families and groups sitting at the lookout hoping to spot birds of prey. After a quick snack break we headed back to the visitor center. The whole loop is 4-5 miles and at our pace, including stops at some of the most unique trail features, we finished it in about four hours.

To learn more about the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, follow them on Twitter, visit the Sanctuary Association's Facebook page, the Hawk Mountain website, and of course, visit the Sanctuary itself!

What's the most unique trail system in your area? Do you have a place to watch bids of prey migrate? If you've been to Hawk Mountain, what's your favorite trail? Sound off in the comments!


eaglesgal54 said…
I love Hawk Mountain (I'm only about 45 minutes away, I'm a member :)).. I'm a birder AND hiker.. so I like to take the escarpment trail up to North Lookout. Lots of fun and much quieter than the other trails (especially this time of year). Have you checked out the AT Pinnacle Hike nearby?
Katie said…
I'm so jealous! I'm planning to get a membership soon, it's such a great organization. I'll have to check out the escarpment trail! And I have been to the Pinnacle, it's one of my absolute favorite hikes. I've done it in winter too, so beautiful! Do you have any other recommendations for trails nearby? I'm always looking for places to go!
Katie said…
Awww yay! That would've been amazing. We have a great place to look for bald eagles around here, aren't they beautiful?
Alex Frenkel said…
Climbed Hawk Mountain after graduating high school.... at 5am! Bringing me back, Katie!
Jessica Rhae said…
That looks like a great place to hike. I have never seen a hawk migration (actually, I never even knew it existed) but it sounds like an amazing sight to see.