Castle Vista, Midnight Madness and Blackberries: Ole Bull State Park, Potter County, Pa.

Castle Vista edit

View from the summit of Castle Vista, the site of Ole Bull’s home in the New Norway colony.

I’d like to share with you a little bit about the last stop we made on the Pennsylvania Park Hop back in the summer; on our last full day, we paid a visit to Ole Bull State Park in Potter County.

There are quite a few hiking trails that run through the park, several of which are also graded as snowmobile trails in the winter. (In fact, in this part of Pennsylvania, you’ll see quite a few road signs marking snowmobile trails.)

The park is included in the Susquehanna Trail System – it’s an entire network of hiking trails running through the Susquehanna River Valley in Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania. So you’ll find one of the trails (orange-blazed) running through the park, one of the longer walks here. There are a number of shorter walks, including the Castle Vista Trail, the Daugherty Loop and the Beaver Dam Nature Trail, all three of which we checked out.

Who, then, was Ole Bull? He was the leader of a group of mostly Norwegian settlers to the area in the 19th century, establishing a colony called New Norway. Now, with a name like Ole Bull, you’d expect some kind of big, burly outdoors guy. Actually, Bull was an artistic sort of person, a violinist and a composer.

There’s a monument to Bull and the other settlers in the park today, near the foot of the Castle Vista Trail, with the U.S. and Norwegian flags.

Kettle Creek, a branch of the Susquehanna River, flows down the center of the park. Part of the creek is cordoned off to make a swimming area for the campground.

One of the first things we saw when we arrived was the bikers. Lots and lots of bikers. Not motorcycles, mind you, but mountain bikes, road bikes, and lots of people kitted out in Lycra and super-aerodynamic helmets.

Midnight Madness edit

The Tioga County Ridge Riders saddle up for the Midnight Madness ride.

On this particular day, the park was hosting the Tioga County Ridge Riders and their Midnight Madness charity bike ride. It’s a 12-hour biking marathon, where the riders ride as many laps as they can around the race route from noon until midnight. We spent a few minutes chatting with some of the bikers and the families and spectators, and were there when the start-of-race horn went off.

Regarding Castle Vista: is there a castle up there? Well, depends on your interpretation. You will see a large pit up at the trail summit; that is where Bull had started to build his log cabin (his “castle,” according to the interpretive sign), before harsh conditions and privation drove him and the rest of the settlers to pull up stakes and start afresh elsewhere. Either way, the view of the mountains is pretty nice.

Blackberries edit

Ripe blackberries along the Castle Vista trail.

There were a lot of blackberry canes growing wild along the sides of the trail – we snacked on a few berries on our descent.

Had a picnic lunch before checking out the Beaver Dam Trail, a nice little amble along the banks of Kettle Creek. On the day we visited, parts of the trail were cordoned off because of swampy conditions. But it’s definitely a nice easy walk, worth checking out; you’ll see lots of wildflowers, different types of fungi.

Played a quick round of horseshoes near the campsite playground before heading on to take a quick look at the Daugherty Loop trail running behind the campsites. And after that it was time to call it a halt for the day. But this visit to New Norway and Ole Bull’s old stomping grounds definitely yielded a good day’s worth of wandering, so it’s likely we’ll come back in the future and check out the longer trails.

For further reading:

Ole Bull State Park: Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Categories: Biking, Camping, Ecology, Hiking, History | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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