Clarion River Natural Resources

Landscape and Vegetation

The Clarion River watershed is divided into two physiographic sections. The upper half of the river valley (above Cooksburg) is within the "High Plateau Section" of Pennsylvania, and is characterized by rounded to flat uplands having deep, angular valleys and is moderate to high in elevation (max. 2360 ft.). The soil of this section consists of sandstone, siltstone, shale and conglomerate with some coal. The lower half of the Clarion River watershed flows through the "Pittsburgh Low Plateau Section," and is characterized by an undulating surface with narrow, relatively shallow valleys. The section has low to moderate relief (max. 2340 ft.). The soil of this section includes shale, siltstone, sandstone, limestone and coal.

Although much of the region was logged at some point in the past, some old growth forests remain in Cook Forest State Park. Portions of the state park include massive white pine trees, 3-5 ft. in diameter and 200-ft. tall. There is one particularly impressive area known as the "cathedral forest." The Cook family protected this area. The old-growth forest in Cook Forest State Park is a registered National Natural Landmark and adds significantly to the visual quality of the river corridor.

Most of the forest along the Clarion River consists of mature, second growth mixed hardwoods. The upper section, below Ridgway, is predominantly oak forest, and the lower section, towards Clarion, is mostly northern hardwoods. Conifers are often found on the steep slopes: hemlock and rhododendron often on northeast slopes, and white pine on southwest slopes. Common tree species are red, white, and chestnut oak, red and sugar maple, yellow birch, black cherry, white pine, hemlock and sycamore in the floodplains. The old-growth forest (white pine/hemlock/beech) in Cook Forest State Park is of ecological and scenic significance. Understory species include pin cherry, sassafras, dogwoods, mountain laurel, witch hazel, rhododendron, and alder and willow at the river edges. Both forested and non-forested wetlands are found in the river corridor.


The land and water along the Clarion River Water Trail is home to numerous species of wildlife and a magnificent display of nature. Below is a list of some species you may find along the trail. Look for them in the areas below. A deciduous forest contains broad-leaved trees that shed their leaves in winter.

Mature Deciduous Forest - An old forest where the average diameter of the trees is over 12 inches.

  • Four-toed salamander
  • Northern spring peeper
  • Wood turtle
  • Goshawk
  • Wild turkey
  • Pileated woodpecker
  • Black capped chickadee
  • Virginia opossum
  • Red bat
  • Southern flying squirrel

Regenerating Deciduous Forest - A young, dense forest that is regrowing.

  • Northern brown snake
  • Ruffled grouse
  • Willow flycatcher
  • Blue-winged warbler
  • Indigo bunting
  • Big brown bat
  • Short-tailed shrew
  • New England cottontail
  • Southern bog lemming
  • Gray fox

Mature Mixed Hemlock Deciduous Forest - An old forest where the average diameter of the trees is over 12 inches. This mixed forest includes hemlocks that have distinctive, flat needles are glossy green above, and pale green with two white lines below.

  • Red-tailed hawk
  • Wood duck
  • Barred owl
  • Yellow-bellied sapsucker
  • Hermit thrush
  • Purple finch
  • Northern flying squirrel
  • Big brown bat
  • Black bear

Old Growth Conifer Forest - A forest with mature cone-bearing trees.

  • Great blue heron
  • Hooded merganser
  • Great horned owl
  • Southern red-backed vole
  • White-breasted chickadee
  • Brown Creeper
  • Winter wren
  • Solitary vireo
  • Masked shrew
  • Porcupine

Regenerating Hemlock Forest - A young, dense forest of hemlocks that is regrowing Hemlocks have distinctive, flat needles are glossy green above, and pale green with two white lines below.

  • Magnolia warbler
  • Veery
  • Swainson's thrush
  • Snowshoe hare
  • Canada warbler
  • Chipping sparrow
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Brown-headed cowbird
  • Smoky shrew
  • Deer mouse

Riparian Area - Habitat found along rivers and streams.

  • Long-tailed salamander
  • Pickerel frog
  • Northern leopard frog
  • Midland painted turtle
  • Queen snake
  • Green heron
  • American bittern
  • Belted kingfisher
  • Muskrat
  • Long-tailed weasel

Permanent Forest Openings

  • Pickerel frog
  • Smooth earth snake
  • Northern harrier
  • American kestrel
  • Mourning dove
  • Red-headed woodpecker
  • Eastern bluebird
  • Purple martin
  • Pine vole
  • Woodchuck

You may also see a bald eagle or osprey. Bald eagles are making a comeback along the Clarion River corridor. Bald eagles are easily disturbed by human activities, so use binoculars instead of trying to get closer. This is especially important for nesting eagles. Ospreys have been spotted along the river recently as well.

The Clarion River Water Trail region is home to 13 rare species of dragonflies and damselflies, such as the green-faced clubtail dragonfly, which is presently no longer known from any other site in the state. Common names of some of the other rare species are: superb jewelwing, resolute damsel, harpoon clubtail, zebra clubtail, moustached clubtail, and rapids clubtail.

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