Bald Eagle State Park: Day 5 & 6

The rain had moved out in the morning and was replaced with bright blue skies and sunshine. The last full day of our trip promised more adventure judging by the weather. After breakfast, I decided to take Peter for a walk. As we got ready, Peyton, my parents’ dog, begged to come too. With both dogs in the lead, we walked through the campground and bumbled down a shortcut to West Launch Road. I took in the sunshine as we walked along the road, always keeping an eye out for vehicles.

When we came to the road that went back to the boat launch, we were met with a sign… “Road Closed”. Water flowed across the road ahead of us and created a little stream into the brush. Friendly walkers came out from the road and told me that it was wet but safe. I proceeded along the edge of the pavement, trying not to get my sneakers too wet. The dogs bounded through the water with great joy! They were excited about the newfound stream.

As we approached the lake, I realized that the water had risen quite far. There was only about 5 yards of ramp for boaters to use and the dock that once sat well below a concrete slab was now level with it. The picnic tables that previously sat along the lake had been moved into the parking lot and their original spot was covered with water. We walked back West Launch Trail and alerted our fellow campers of the rising water. Some of the campsites were getting so saturated that a couple had moved their tent to higher ground.

Later, we drove around the park to investigate the flooding. By the evening, multiple roads and boat launches were closed. The Woapalanne Trail that Peter and I hiked just the day before could only be used by fish.

Hunter Run West Trail

Peter and I were getting restless. Both of us wanted one last hike before we went home! I looked at the map and saw that the pair of Hunter Run trails were further away from the lake. If any trail was suitable for hiking, these two seemed to be the best bet. I opted to take Hunter Run West Trail to hike through the Allegheny Plateau. Peter and I walked up the road and turned left to start our ascent through the forest. The path was still glistening from the moisture and newly fallen branches created obstacles for Peter to prance over. I looked through the trees across to the mountains in the distance. It was stunning, even with the leaves partially obstructing the view. We climbed on and then made the descent down the trail. Swoosh! Suddenly, the trail disappeared and turned into a rippling stream. I clambered to the edge of the trail to get past the rushing water. Further down the path, the brook gave way to the trail and we carried on.

Hunter Run West Trail

When we looped around and started back to the trailhead, the trail turned to swampy grass. Each step created a swashing noise under my feet. Peter seemed to enjoy splashing along the trail with mud flying. Soon we were back to the road and we left the “bog” behind. As we proceeded to the campground, I was happy that we had completed one last hike before we left. We had hiked all of the trails on the campground side of the lake except for Hunter Run East Trail. It made sense to leave one more to explore for when we go back.

The next morning, we drove around the park. The flooding was much worse than before. Campsites, trails, and other areas were covered in even more water. All of the boat launches remained closed as well as some roads. A fishing pier, footbridge, and beach were completely submerged. The marina was now unusable as someone would need a raft just to reach the boats.

Flooding at Russell P. Letterman Campground

As we packed up to leave, I felt fortunate that we remained safe from the flooding and had a great trip. Bald Eagle State Park is now a favorite because of all the trails, the nice campground, the big lake, and the gorgeous views. I cannot wait to go back to explore the park more with Peter Pan.

Bald Eagle State Park: Day 4

As I opened my eyes, I heard rain pattering on the canvas of the pop-up camper. I rolled over and snuggled closer to Peter who was curled up on his blanket. I laid with him for a while, just listening to the peaceful sounds of the rain. The rain had begun the night before when we were coming back from Mill Hall. It was supposed to rain all day but I was OK with that. I enjoy a rainy day. Something about it seems so tranquil. It also meant that the day could be spent driving around to explore other parks.

After much debate, we decided to drive to Black Moshannon State Park which is about 30 to 40 minutes from the Russell P. Letterman campground. Black Moshannon State Park includes 3300+ acres of land, which is surrounded by the vast, 43,000 acre Moshannon State Forest. The far-reaching forests make the park feel secluded and remote. As we entered the park and pulled up to the park office, the small lake caught our eye. It was a long, narrow lake that was covered in aquatic flora. The lake is a mere 250 acres compared to the 1700-plus acre lake at Bald Eagle. But it was charming. The lake was inviting for kayaks and canoes, and the paddling pups who enjoy them.

Black Moshannon Lake

After leaving the office with maps in hand, we went to one of the boat launch areas. I invited Peter for a short walk around the boat launch to which he happily agreed. We took in the views of the unique lake and strolled through a forested trail before heading back to the truck.

We drove around the lake to other launches and even road through the campground. We perused the most attractive, dog-friendly sites and wrote down the site numbers for a future visit. We also visited the camp store before turning back towards Bald Eagle.

When we got back to the Russell P. Letterman campground, Peter and I were itching for more adventure. Even though it was a wet and rainy day, we geared up with our waterproof coats and went for a hike. I decided to hike the Woapalanne Trail and drove to the trail head at Winter Launch. As Peter and I started our hike, Penn State University students hauled oars and long shells (boats) to the water. They appeared to be holding a team rowing practice.

We heard coaches giving instructions to the students as we carried on, strolling down the trail. The light rain added a misty tone to our hike as wisps of fog caressed the mountains. Red berries added a dash of color among the glistening green of the trail and forest. As we hiked along, we saw a groundhog eating an evening meal of vegetation. I also spotted at least 3 White-tailed deer as their white flags bobbed through the forest. Luckily, the breeze was blowing their scent away from the trail as my busy little Beagle sniffed among the grasses. A scent of deer would certainly be too overwhelming for my well-mannered hound to stay calm and collected.

Berries along Woapalanne Trail

As we approached Winter Launch upon our return, the sounds of coaches using megaphones came into my awareness. Our hike had mostly been silent apart from the birds and insects that created the melody for our adventure.

We headed back to the campground just as the trees started to dance wildly in the wind. Little did we know what would become of the Woapalanne Trail the next morning.

Bald Eagle State Park: Day 3

Peter rested his little chin on the edge of the boat, his lips adorably smooshing against the silver railing. The pontoon boat glided over the smooth water with ease as Peter’s ears waved in the wind. My parents’ dog, Peyton, would occasionally join Peter in the front of the boat but would soon return to the large couch-like seat for a mid-day siesta. I sat in the front of the boat thinking to myself what an amazing experience it is to be on the water with a dog. There is nothing like soaking up each moment on a boat with a hound dog at your side!

After a few hiccups in the morning, we had made it onto the lake on my dad’s pontoon boat. We were taking our own boat tour of FJ Sayers Lake at Bald Eagle State Park. The lake offers 20-plus miles of shoreline and is almost 8 miles long. Aside from a few fellow boaters and some birds, we had the lake to ourselves. It was a quiet lake, although I can only imagine the bustling weekends that must occur during the summer months.

FJ Sayer Lake

As we motored across the lake, we saw a partially submerged tree laying in the water. Double-crested Cormorants decorated the log and stretched out their wings as we passed. Fish splashed out of the water and birds soared in the sky above. The mountains provided a stunning view to cap off the peaceful experience.

When our boating adventure was complete, we headed to a nearby town to pick up some supplies. On the way, we stopped at the Foster Joseph Sayer Monument that overlooks the lake’s dam. Foster Joseph Sayer was a WWII soldier who received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery and sacrifice during battle. The monument is a beautiful and well-kept memorial to honor FJ Sayer. The lake and dam are also named in his memory.

Foster Joseph Sayer Monument

We continued on to Mill Hall, a little town not far from Bald Eagle State Park. I had been thinking about our next stop all week – The Ice Shack. The Ice Shack is a small ice cream shop that also sells some amazing pretzels. A favorite of mine is the pepperoni pretzel log, only complete with a chocolate milkshake! The Shack has picnic tables outside that are dog-friendly so that Peter could indulge in tasty treat too.

After retrieving the necessary supplies from a local Walmart, we headed back to the campground. Rain began to drizzle onto the truck’s windshield. Little did we know how much the rain would impact Day 4 and 5 of our trip.

Bald Eagle State Park: Day 2

Peter waited patiently as I slipped on my sneakers. I presented his harness to him and he ducked his head into the gear. He was ready! We stepped out of the camper together and were met with the cool, crisp air. I took a deep breath. Ah, the perfect temperature for a run. Peter seemed to agree as he set a quick pace for our warm-up walk.

We walked through the campground towards West Launch Road. Suddenly, the running app on my phone chirped “Begin Running”. Our warm-up walk was over. I decided that we would run to the marina and back to the campground. I wondered if anyone else would be out and about as we jogged passed the environmental center.

As we approached the marina, the fog that covered the sails and canopies of the boats started lifting off the lake. Suddenly, a Double-crested Cormorant took flight. It was a breath-taking view. The cormorant swooped through the mist and out of sight. I briefly thought of ending our run to sit on the docks but we continued back to our temporary abode.

The morning run left me energized and inspired. It was the most wonderful start to the week! In the afternoon, craving more adventure, we took a hike to see some of the features of Bald Eagle.

Swamp Oak Trail

As we entered the trail head of Swamp Oak Trail, we were almost immediately greeted by a massive tree. The swamp oak is the largest tree in the park, measuring 18.5 feet in circumference in 2021. It may also be one of the oldest trees in the area. Peter posed politely in front of the tree. He looked like a little acorn compared to the massive hardwood.

After enjoying the swamp oak, we hiked to Skyline Drive Trail. The trail weaved through the trees and up to a ridge. The forest seemed dense but there was little underbrush, which allowed us to move off the trail for a pair of fellow canine hikers. Peter was in his glory. He scampered through the woods with his tail swaying back and forth like a metronome. The physical challenge and array of scents appeared to enliven the little hound.

Peter on Skyline Drive Trail

When we reached the end of Skyline Drive Trail, we scurried across the road to Butterfly Trail. We began our descent along the steep, grassy decline. Lush wildflowers lined the trail and created a dense border of color. Monarchs fluttered across the trail, from flower to flower. Smaller butterflies flew ahead as if to guide us along the trail towards Frog Pond.

Butterfly Trail

When we reached Frog Pond, it was difficult to tell where the field ended and the pond began. The small pool of water was covered by lily pads. In fact, there was little to no water to be seen! We stopped briefly to give the dogs a drink of water and take in the views. Peter sniffed through the foliage as I took pictures of the scenery. We soon proceeded back the way we came and arrived at the campground in time for a post-hike snack and some rest.

Frog Pond

In the evening, Peter was ready for one last walk so we walked along West Launch Trail to reach the boat ramp. The trail offered charming views of the lush fields and grand mountains. The boat ramp had multiple picnic areas and lots of parking spaces for trailers. We made plans to go boating the next day and got some much needed sleep after a busy day.

Bald Eagle State Park: Day 1

Bald Eagle State Park is a park nestled in northcentral Pennsylvania. Named for a Native American chief, Woapalanne, the park features almost 15 miles of hiking trails, a 1700-plus acre lake, loads of picnic areas, and a campground with dog-friendly sites. Between the awe-inspiring beauty of the park and the variety of opportunities to enjoy nature with dogs, this park has easily become a favorite of mine!

In September of 2021, I had the opportunity to camp at Bald Eagle with Peter Pan, my parents, and their pup. After a couple hours drive and a few stops for quick walks, we arrived at the park office. I walked into the lobby with my dad and we grabbed a few maps and other materials. Then, I reached for the door handle to go into the main office and pulled. THUD! The glass door jolted against the lock. I checked the time. It was only 3:30 PM in the afternoon. A bit confused, I reached for the door again as if expecting a different result. THUD!

The ranger inside must have heard the noise and came to the door to unlocked it. He informed us that the office closed at 3 PM but graciously took the time to answer a few questions and direct us to our campsite. My dad parked the boat we had in tow and we all went to set up the camper. Once everything was in order, we took the dogs for a long walk to explore the campground.

Dog laying on a raised bed
Peter at the campsite

Bald Eagle has a rustic campground and a modern campground. The modern Russell P. Letterman campground offers sites with full service, electric hook-up, and access to a nice restroom and bathhouse. There are two different loops to the campground. The Oak Loop is not pet-friendly. However, the Sycamore Loop has over 40 campsites, a yurt, and a cottage that all allow dogs.

As we walked, I noticed that each campsite had things about it that I liked. Some campsites provided a bit more privacy with brush in-between the campers. It created a “hidey-hole” feel. Some campsites had more open areas to allow for watching new visitors roll passed with their RVs.

How well did it suit canine campers? The campground offered lots of prime grassy spots and walking areas for pups. The “hidey-hole” campsites looked great for dogs who need visual barriers from people and other dogs. The open campsites seemed to work well for dogs who are more comfortable seeing walkers and bicyclists coming from a distance. There are some trails and shortcut paths throughout the campground. A site with a nearby trail may not be beneficial for a dog who needs some extra space from people or other dogs. Overall, the campground offered lots of great spaces for dogs, including pups with special needs.

It was fun exploring the campground that first evening. After our walk, we had dinner and got ready for bed. As Peter snuggled next to me that night, I made plans for an early morning run to the lake. I couldn’t wait to see what adventures were in store.

Sunflower Adventures

As autumn begins in Pennsylvania, sunflowers offer wisps of color to the landscape. Yellows, reds, and oranges blend with green fields and blue skies at many farms. Local farmers often use sunflowers in crop rotations to rejuvenate the soil and attract pollinators such as bees to the farm. These sunflower fields may also offer fun adventures for you and your pup!

Living in rural Pennsylvania, sunflower fields are easy to find. Peter Pan and I are lucky to live within 30 minutes of a local gourd shop that sells handcrafted gourds. When a particular field isn’t used to grow gourds, the shop plants sunflowers. The community is allowed to enjoy the blooming fields by walking the many paths throughout and picking sunflowers to take home.

The best part? It’s dog-friendly! Visiting the sunflower fields at the gourd company has become a tradition for Peter and I. It’s a fantastic opportunity for a gorgeous walk! I love taking pictures of Peter with the sunflowers. Peter loves the exercise and enticing scents along the paths. This year was extra special because Peter and I got to explore the fields with my sister and her dog, Ruger!

Two dogs sit together at a sunflower field
Peter Pan and his buddy, Ruger, pose at the sunflower field

If you are looking for an autumn adventure with your pup, consider looking for a dog-friendly sunflower field in your area that is open to the public. It’s such a fun excursion that it is bound to become a yearly tradition!

Warming Up and Cooling Down for the Outdoors

Just like people, dogs need to warm up before exercise and cool down afterwards. Warming up helps prepare the dog’s body for exercise including increasing blood flow to muscles. Cooling down prepares the dog’s body for rest by decreasing the dog’s heartrate and breathing. No matter what type of outdoor activity you and your dog are about to enjoy, it’s important to implement both to prevent your dog from suffering an injury. So, how exactly do you do a canine warm up and cool down? Check out “Warm Ups and Cool Downs for Your Dog” for more information!

Pennsylvania Wilds: Full of Adventure and Wildlife

When people think of Pennsylvania (PA), they often think of cities like Philadelphia or Pittsburgh, which have lots of wonderful parks to explore. But the state also has over 100 state parks, acres of state forests, and plenty of state game lands! It lives up to the “woods” in it’s name!

I feel so fortunate to live in an area where I can easily access some of these recreational areas. Peter and I love to walk, hike, kayak, camp, and boat throughout Pennsylvania! One of our favorite places to camp is in the Pennsylvania Wilds. The wilds is a northern portion of PA that has over 2 million acres of public land. It’s a great place to truly get away and enjoy nature. It also lends itself to wildlife encounters. During a camping trip last year, I saw a fisher cross the road. It was the first and only fisher I’ve seen!

Luckily, Peter and I have never had a scary encounter with wildlife. We just steer clear of the other animal and leave the area if we see something. On one of our trips, I was able to video some wildlife from the truck. Check out the video below!

Yoga Mat + Treats = Rainy Day Fun

I absolutely love rainy days. The melody of the rain bouncing off my metal house roof is simply beautiful. Everything glistening with water makes the world sparkle! As an added bonus, rainy days seem more peaceful outside without the hustle and bustle that sunny days often bring.

I wonder what Peter thinks of rainy days. Although he seems to enjoy the rain, it often means we aren’t going on adventures (unless I feel inspired to enjoy a rainy walk or hike). I make a point to give him some fun enrichment throughout the week, especially on days we cannot get some exercise in. One of our new favorites is “Cookie Yoga”. Although it may lead to my yoga mat getting slimmed by dog drool, it’s totally worth seeing Peter’s problem-solving skills! Check out the video below to learn how to play with your dog!

When the Unthinkable Happens: Your Injury Recovery

Injury and illness can easily stop us in our tracks and make it more difficult to enjoy the outdoors. When I was growing up, I was an active child who loved exploring the forest. I had my fair share of bruises, cuts, and even broken bones but I could still enjoy nature with the minor bumps.

When I joined the military in 2010, I thought my active lifestyle would just improve by the amount of exercise I was getting. But my health and military career were derailed by a serious injury that took years to recover from. When I was able to be more active, I started focusing on hiking. I was able to take things slow at my own pace and enjoy nature with my late-Beagle, Oliver. That time in the woods with Oliver helped me heal both physically and mentally.

Then the unthinkable happened – I experienced a fall that resulted in a brain injury. The first few weeks, I thought it was a normal concussion that would resolve as my other injuries had. This was my third concussion and I expected it to heal, just like the last two. However, the symptoms seemed to get worse rather than better. It was scary!

My road to recovery has been long and looks differently than my past injuries. This time, I really wanted to focus on still getting those important doses of nature in my day. Check out “Ways to Enjoy Nature During Your Injury Recovery” to learn how I accomplished it!