Site Guide: Canoe Creek State Park

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See also our Checklist of Birds of Canoe Creek Watershed Important Bird Area

view of Canoe Creek lake in the winter
Swimming is not permitted in the winter
Canoe Creek State Park encompasses 960 acres in Turkey Valley, between Brush Mountain and Lock Mountain in the ridge and valley portion of Blair County. It is a relatively new park, having been dedicated in 1979, and is composed of former farms and woodlots. Elevations range from 880 feet above sea level where Canoe Creek flows out of Brumbaugh Dam to 1,360 feet at the crest of Moore’s Hill.

The central feature of the park is 158-acre Canoe Lake. The bottom of the lake slopes gently to a depth of 20 feet. At the northeastern end of the lake there is a 30-acre area of partially submerged stumps. Here, Canoe Creek’s cool waters flow into the lake. The creek originates in the forested valley composed of the 7,000 acres of the eastern portion of State Game Lands 166. Along the creek within the state park there is a beaver dam complex complete with lodges forming an extremely interesting wetland near the mouth of Canoe Creek at the lake. This area is frequented by belted kingfishers, swamp sparrows, green-backed herons, great blue herons, black-crowned night herons, and wood ducks.

Prior to entering the lake, Canoe Creek is a fast-moving, cold-water stream continuously shaded by oaks, hemlocks, hickories, and beeches from its source 9 miles northeast of the park within the game lands to the point where it enters the lake. Louisiana waterthrushes nest along its banks, and the calls of Acadian flycatchers burst forth from hemlock-bedecked limestone outcroppings along the adjacent trail. Large numbers of American redstarts, cerulean warblers, and yellow-throated vireos inhabit this riparian community.

Another interesting forested wetland exists just below the Brumbaugh Dam in an area with many pin oaks and sycamores, where migrating blackbirds and wood-warblers often are found.

Osprey at Canoe Creek
Osprey at Canoe Creek
Two other significant streams in the park are Mary Ann’s Creek, which enters the northwestern cove of the lake in a marshy area, and New Creek, which unites with Canoe Creek below Brumbaugh Dam. The area at the mouth of Mary Ann’s Creek is dominated by many interesting wetland plants: sedges, rushes, cattails, and beautiful marsh marigolds in spring. Rusty blackbirds, Virginia rails, and least bitterns have been seen in this habitat.

New Creek flows through a wide, flat area at the western end of the park that is dominated by grasses and shrubs with some interspersed trees. Kestrels and red-tailed hawks often hunt this area with great success. Northern harriers and rough-legged hawks have been observed here. This area also is a good place to see willow flycatchers and prairie warblers.

The vegetation of the rest of the park is divided equally between open, grassy/shrubby areas and woods. The largest block of forest is on Moore’s Hill, the rocky northern and western portions of which slope steeply down to Mary Ann’s Creek. Wood thrushes, red-eyed vireos, and ovenbirds are easily seen and heard here. The eastern slope is less steep as it goes down to the banks of Canoe Creek. Wild turkey and ruffed grouse often are seen foraging in this area. Oaks, beeches, and hemlocks provide food and cover for birds inhabiting this eastern slope. Screech-owls, barred owls, and great horned owls frequently are found roosting there. Just north of this area is a shrubby woodland with large numbers of redbuds whose pink blossoms make spring days here absolutely delightful. Eastern towhees are abundant among the hawthorns and crabapples. Brown thrashers can be reliably seen here. Where grassy openings exist, golden-winged warblers can be found.

Flowering dogwood
Flowering dogwood at Canoe Creek SP
The southern slope of Moore’s Hill is the gentlest, easing down to the shore of Canoe Lake. Most of this area is open fields with old hedgerows and woodlots. Numerous bluebird houses, kestrel boxes, and wood duck houses have been placed in this area and have been very productive. The shrubby and grassy areas abound with field sparrows in summer, and the strange calls of yellow-breasted chats often are heard here on foggy mornings. Cooper’s hawks frequently are seen hunting the woodlots, while calls of distant waterfowl drift up from the lake. Orchard orioles nest in the scattered trees around the old house foundation. Several pairs of golden-winged warblers nest in the shrubby areas along this slope.

Birding is easy in this park, thanks to the outstanding trail system. A comfortable, flat, bicycle trail runs through the open southeastern portion of the park and joins the Lower (rhymes with power) Trail along the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River. Marsh Trail allows good birding through the wetland near the mouth of Mary Ann’s Creek and often allows good views of waterfowl such as coot, bufflehead, canvasback, ring-necked duck, red-breasted merganser, pied-billed grebe, horned grebe, tundra swan, and green-winged teal.

Yellow lady's-slippers
Yellow lady's-slippers
Limestone Trail follows Mary Ann’s Creek into a steeply sloping valley where many migrating warblers may be found on spring days. Moore’s Hill Trail allows easy birding, even on the steep northern incline of Moore’s Hill. This trail traverses the hill, passing through a variety of habitats such as oak-hickory woods, grassy fields, shrubby hillsides, abandoned limestone quarries, and an old limestone kiln complex, then skirts the beaver dam wetlands near the entry point of Canoe Creek into the lake. Plant enthusiasts will be thrilled by the many fascinating specimens along this trail — among them: yellow ladies slipper, wall rue, sharp-lobed hepatica, maidenhair fern, trilliums, and bloodroot.

Beaver Pond Trail provides excellent views of the wetlands formed by the beaver dams along Canoe Creek. This location is outstanding for observing woodcock displays in March.

Fisherman’s Path allows one to walk along the forested, steep southeastern shore of the lake. The path provides good views of waterfowl due to the elevated vantage point close to the water’s edge, shaded cover, and very good morning and mid-day lighting.

Sugarloaf Trail traverses a hill with many conifers at the western end of the lake, adjacent to Brumbaugh Dam. Belted kingfishers nest in the steep banks below the trail.

 Great Egret
Great Egret at CCSP
Birding focal points of the park are the northeastern end of the lake for waterfowl (27 species) and herons; Mary Ann’s Creek and Marsh and the beaver dam complex for wetland and riparian species; Moore’s Hill for woodland birds (36 species of wood-warblers); and the western end of the park for birds of shrub and grassland, as well as hunting raptors.

Anyone taking advantage of the excellent birdwatching opportunities at the park also may want to take part in the many outstanding environmental educational programs given by state park environmental interpreters during the summer months. In addition to a large variety of birds, Canoe Creek State Park hosts what was once the largest maternity colony of little brown bats in Pennsylvania at the Turkey Valley Church, purchased for the park by Pennsylvania’s Wild Resource Conservation Fund. This was the first property purchased by the WRCF to protect a plant or animal habitat. As if this were not enough, the only known hibernaculum of the federally endangered Indiana bat in Pennsylvania is in a deep limestone mine on Moore’s Hill. White-nose syndrome has unfortunately decimated these populations of bats in recent years.

If you want to study the park in greater depth, you may want to stay at one of its eight beautiful, modern cabins overlooking the lake. Within a 15-minute drive from the park is State Game Lands 166, which offers 11,000 acres of excellent forest, wetland, and riparian birding, and the 16-mile Lower Trail along the Juniata River’s Frankstown Branch for outstanding river-valley birding.

Both the Canoe Creek Watershed and the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River have been designated as Important Bird Areas by the Pennsylvania Biological Survey. More than 220 species of birds have been documented in these two IBAs, including 15 Species of Special Concern in Pennsylvania.

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