KEMPTON – Here is some advice – free of charge – from the folks who maintain Hawk Mountain Sanctuary as one of the most-visited, year-around outdoors destinations in the Northeast: "Take a hike."
While best known as the world's first refuge for birds of prey and a non-profit, international center for raptor conservation, Hawk Mountain is also one of the most scenic hiking destinations for those of all abilities. Eight miles of trails and their overlooks at the 2,600-acre sanctuary are open the year-around for a modest trail fee to the public and their use is included in the annual membership dues.
"Summer is an ideal time to explore Hawk Mountain trails, and the 200-degree panorama from the famous North Lookout is unarguably one of the most scenic in the East," sanctuary spokesperson Mary Linkevich said. "During summer, visitors can gaze out upon an endless stretch of green along the Kittatinny Ridge, and to the north, the central Appalachian ridges contrast with the farms and fields in the great valley to the south, and once on the mountain, hikers find an afternoon ramble blissfully quiet.
"Visitor numbers are low this time of year, and the forest bursts with activity, with hemlock and mountain laurel are plentiful along the route. There is a variety of other flora and fauna, and besides hawks and birds, common encounters include chipmunks, toads, a lazy black snake, and very occasionally, a passing porcupine, bear or deer."
Hiking the path to North Lookout, which is by far the most popular destination, requires a moderate, one-mile walk to the summit. The trail winds along the ridge top, cuts into the oak forest and passes through a thick grove of hemlock.
A volunteer-made, but natural-appearing stone staircase leads visitors up the final steps to the top of the world. If the summer heat is oppressive, stay in the shade at the very top of Hawk Mountain and be rewarded with a 10-degree drop in temperature.
From North Lookout, experienced hikers with plenty of time and water sometimes pick up the blue-blazed Skyline Trail that begins with a very steep drop then continues along the spine of the Kittatinny Ridge or Blue Mountain. Skyline connects to the Appalachian Trail, or, hikers may pick up one of two connector trails that explore the slopes and lead to the "River of Rocks," a boulder field from the Ice Age on the valley floor.
Here, the valley habitat is one of deep forest, including stands of tulip poplars and small bogs. In addition, there is an underground stream and plenty of sandstone rocks deposited by the glacial runoff that once carved this valley.
Those with limited mobility or even just limited time may choose an easier day, walking the short rise to the South Lookout, just 100 yards from the trail entrance. One of the most popular attractions is the fenced and wheelchair-accessible Native Plant Garden located between the Visitor Center and trail. This is a great place to spot butterflies during the peak of their diversity.
Indoors, a variety of bird feeders in front of large picture windows makes a great spot to get close-up looks at hummingbirds. Usually, there is plenty of free entertainment in the form of the antics by the plentiful chipmunks.
Hawk Mountain strongly advises visitors to review in advance the hiking safety tips and downloadable trail maps found at www.hawkmountain.org under its "Visiting Us" tab. No matter how long of a hike that is planned, it is advised to carry a daypack stocked with plenty of water, light snacks, a trail map and field guides.
Hikers should always allow plenty of daylight to complete their walk and never hike when rain is in the forecast. Above all, hikers should know their own abilities.
For more hikes, Pennsylvania's www.visitapa.com suggests a four-day Eastern Hiking Adventure that begins at World's End State Park, heads to the Pinchot Trail Northern Loop, stops at the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and finishes at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. For a shorter overnight, make a base camp at Jim Thorpe, explore the Lehigh Gorge on one day and continue on to Hawk Mountain the next.
For more information on Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, including membership options, call 610-756-6961 between 9 am and 5 pm or visit www.hawkmountain.org.