Moraine State Park: Sunken Garden Trail, Pleasant Valley Trail, Five Point Trail, and Hill Top Trail

Moraine State Park in Butler County, Pennsylvania spans 16,725 acres, and offers a myriad of recreational activities, whether on the water (boating, swimming, and fishing) or land (hiking, biking, horseback riding, disc golfing, sledding, cross-country skiing, and picnicking). You can watch for wildlife too. With 29.2 miles of hiking trails, Moraine State Park will be my place to explore again and again.

In the last two weeks, I have visited the park 4 times and hiked a total of 9.8 miles (plus some if you count all the walking back and forth to find my keys I’d dropped in the snow). I consider Sunken Garden (long loop 3.6 miles), Pleasant Valley (1.9 miles), Five Points (1.3 miles), and Hill Top (long loop 3 miles) all to be very easy hikes. You could even do Pleasant Valley, Hill Top, and Sunken Garden in the same day if you wanted because the trails connect. In the winter, you’ll not find any of the blooms or as many of the birds that draws many visitors into the park, but the hikes are really fun in the snow. You also won’t find any other visitors. 🙂 At least I didn’t see anyone–just their stories in the snow. 🙂

Sunken Garden : The trail leads you through coniferous forest, along a bit of Lake Arthur shoreline, and through the wetland. Even on this cold day, I saw waterfowl on the lake, not yet frozen over, and plenty of birds in the desiccated reeds and surrounding trees. I had the pleasure of spotting dozens of Eastern bluebirds with their brilliant flash of blue in flight and the diminutive red-capped downy woodpecker.

Pleasant Valley: In winter, this trail doubles as a hiking and cross-country ski trail. However, a skier would have to step over tree debris on the trail in some sections. You’ll follow the blue-blazes through a mixed forest along this trail. While I enjoyed the serene forest, I’d say the highlight of this hike happened to be a sight I couldn’t capture with my camera. A weasel in its greyish-white coat scampered across the path in front of me!!! Again, I saw a couple Eastern bluebirds (starting to think Eastern bluebirds are the robins of Pennsylvania) and a male and female cardinal. They flitted away too quickly for pictures too. Thank goodness the trees stood still. 😉 Dryads and Ents are known to walk about. 😉

Five Points: Shane joined me on this short jaunt in the woods. Good thing, because he has four-wheel drive, and we’re not even sure we parked in a lot with all the snow. A cross-country skier had recently (that morning, day before?) taken advantage of the thick powdery blanket, their tracks cut perfect parallel lines along a portion of the trail. We’d opted to hike the short loop because we had other things to do on his only day off, but this loop intersected the Glacial Ridge trail, which the cross-country skier favored. Luckily we didn’t keep following the parallel lines into a parallel universe. Unfortunately the Five Points trail is not very well marked with the yellow blazes, and we did wander off trail because everything was white. However, I used my All Trails map of the trail, and we kept to it, despite all the different ways we could’ve gone. We could’ve played disc golf if we wanted–the course intersects the trail as well. It’s probably a prettier hike in the spring.

Hill Top: I started on the short loop because I’d already spent an hour in the below zero temps enjoying the sunrise on Lake Arthur. However, since few interesting sights stopped me, I made excellent time coming back to the trailhead and decided to continue on the long loop. I’m glad I had my poles with me because I felt like I could ski in my boots on the slight inclines. 🙂 You’ll unfortunately see US 422 at the edge of the area this trail courses. So you won’t be able to completely escape the hum of the human world.

They weren’t the prettiest of hikes, if compared to McConnell’s Mill Park. Still, I enjoy them for the activity, for the brief time in nature, and considering it’s winter and I don’t have a four-wheel drive vehicle, I can access the roads and parking lots. Not to mention, since snow covers the trail, and they’re not steep or rocky, I can march along like a happy-footed Antarctic penguin. 🙂

Lake Arthur, frozen over. View over US 422 bridge.