The air cooled down noticeably as we descended the trail between giant rocks the size of houses. It smelled of damp moss, flowering oak, and that indefinable smell of spring. My children scrambled into a crack and started climbing, while my wife and I slowed down to see the different wildflowers growing in the rocks.

One of the best things about social restrictions has been having a chance to explore more of Warren County with my family. We have gone to some of our favorite places, but also started exploring new places that we had never noticed before.

Rock cities are one of our favorite places to explore. You can hike, climb, explore, and play all in one little area. Warren County has a lot of rock cities. The Allegheny National Forest has a couple that are really well known.

Jakes Rocks is a rock city that is now a hub of mountain bike trails. We make at least one yearly trip up there to play on the rocks and see the Mountain Laurel in bloom. The kids have, over the years, learned how to safely push their limits on these rocks and now leap over gaps and climb like mountain goats.

Rimrock is another huge rock city with a staircase that curves down through a narrow crack. At the bottom, you can hike the trail to Kinzua beach or explore around the edges of the rocks. Rimrock is home to a giant rock that we call the rocking rock. This rock is balanced so perfectly that even a tiny child can make it rock back and forth.

Minister Creek has some amazing rocks to explore along the trail just a short distance from Warren. Photo by Jeff

We’ve been exploring the rock cities closer to our house as well, with names like Gardner’s Rocks and South Rocks, where you can climb and explore on land owned by various timber companies that allow hiking and hunting. Some cities have no name that we have learned, but just loom out next to the road with a sign that says it’s okay to explore.

Unfortunately, as exciting as these rock cities are, we needed to expand and look for new places. Forays into the Allegheny National Forest led us to new places to visit. We discovered a rock city right off the road at a gated pull off in the forest.

Rock cities reveal their secrets slowly. Each crack, crevice, and tunnel has the ability to open up into a magically hidden valley or narrow into a porcupine cave. Part of the fun is that you never know what to expect. The cities are full of hidden animals and flowers that are not always obvious on a one time visit.

The area is full of them, looming along the road or found on a three mile trek up a trail into State Game Lands. One of the advantages of living so close to such wild country is that there are so many places to explore that are only a short drive away.

Audubon has often taken groups of teens on road trips to visit some of the more interesting parts of the area.

Take advantage of it. Hiking and exploring is a fun, virtually free way to spend time. Warren County has some beautiful areas to explore that many people rarely stop to visit.

If you have kids or grandkids to take with you, it can be even more interesting. Not only do kids approach a new adventure with exuberance and excitement, they also notice things many adults walk right past, like toads, tadpoles, and tiny flowers. Kids also learn to push their limits and what they are capable of doing, they learn how to balance and coordinate in ways that have nothing to do with sports or playgrounds.

If you are one of the many people with extra time right now, take some of it to explore the area and discover some of the simply beautiful places it has to offer. You might be surprised by all that is out there.

Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are still open from dawn to dusk as is Liberty, the Bald Eagle. Though the Nature Center is currently closed, including restrooms, due to COVID-19 restrictions, drive-thru sales are available from the Blue Heron Gift Shop. More information can be found online at or by calling (716) 569-2345.