Hawk Mountain Sanctuary
2,600 acres — 9.0 miles of trails
What’s to love
Fun fact: Hawk Mountain was one of the most-requested additions to Philly Day Hiker. “It’s too far away,” I’d claim, but in reality you can make it from Philly to this raptor sanctuary near the Appalachian Trail in under 90 minutes.
The story behind “the world’s first refuge for birds of prey” is an interesting one: in 1929, Hawk Mountain was a spot where the locals would gather to watch birds of prey migrate through the area and the men would, well, shoot them for sport. And cash. Eventually, New York conversationist Rosalie Edge swooped in (har har) and put a stop to it by leasing the mountain and setting up a hawk refuge. Today, the sanctuary features excellent lookouts where you can spot up to 16 different kinds of raptors, including the Golden Eagle and the Peregrine Falcon.
The park offers some interesting hikes, as well, including the Skyline trail down a rock-face from the North Lookout, and the River of Rocks trail, which meanders over rough terrain past two boulder fields. You’ll need to pay an admission fee of $10 to visit Hawk Mountain, but its well worth it for the amount of work the staff does; check out the website for tons of events (owl prowls??), trail maps with pictures, educational resources, photography contests, camps for kids, and more.
Tips and quirks
- The weather makes a huge difference in your enjoyment of Hawk Mountain. Relatively windless days—like the day I chose for my visit—produce few raptor sightings. Apparently, the birds need a breeze to stay airborne.
- According to the Sanctuary weather website (which I clearly should have checked ahead of time), “cold fronts, which are often accompanied by northwesterly winds and followed by cold, fair weather, produce some of the best hawk flights. Visitors are encouraged to call the Info Line at 610-756-6000 x6 after 6 pm to hear the day’s hawk flight, a weather report, and a prediction for the next day’s flight.”
- There is an ADA accessible path to the South Lookout.
- No pets at the sanctuary, sorry!
- If you take the River of Rocks trail, note that you are not actually supposed to cut through the boulder fields, like uhhhhhh I may have done. You’ll end up having to find your own way to the trail on the other side.
- The owl at the North Lookout is not real. It is stuffed. It fools everyone at first, though! Don’t feel bad.
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Last updated: April 16, 2021