Finding Local Hidden Gems

Outdoor enthusiasts will tell you that half the fun of hiking and biking is finding new places. While we love our home trails, it’s fun to explore your surrounding area and farther away.

Two of My Local Gems

  • Merli-Sarnoski County Park

One of my favorite local gems is Merli-Sarnoski Park in Lackawanna County. Named after two Congressional Medal of Honor recipients who hailed from that county, this park is 840 acres of pristine wilderness you can enjoy year-round.

Merli, as the locals call it, offers 15 miles of hiking and biking trails. The Main Trail meanders through the forest taking you on a tour of most of the lovely scenes available here. The secondary trails form loops that connect back to the Main Trail. They sport fun names like Squeeze Play, Handlebar, and Wienie Shortcut. I think I need to take our dachshund for a walk on that last one.

Marked separately on the map is the Lake Loop Trail. It circles Mountain Mud Pond for some of the best lake photography opportunities you could want. It is especially beautiful in autumn during the foliage change. 

Merli also offers all the typical park amenities like playground areas, bathrooms, picnic tables, and charcoal grills. With the beach area, bathhouse, and boat launch Merli has something for everyone. It is a perfect place to make a family day trip.

The beach area
  • Varden Conservation Area

Another favorite local gem is the Varden Conservation Area in Lake Ariel, PA. This 444-acre area in Wayne County was donated by Dr. Mead Shaffer to preserve a natural space for future generations. Promised Land State Park manages the property. 

The Varden CA exists in two tracts of land. You can access one on Mid Valley Road and the other on Tannery Road. I’m more familiar with the Tannery Road section. There is a small fishing pond and hiking trails there. The pavilion, picnic tables, and bathrooms make it an ideal location for a family picnic. We enjoyed an impromptu outdoor family photo session there a few years ago. 

Doing a nature scavenger hunt at Conservation Day

Varden Conservation Day, put on by The Friends of Varden, takes place the second weekend in September. They host a kid’s fishing derby and an animal presentation by DCNR. It is a fantastic learning opportunity and a way to support the Conservation Area. 

How do you find hidden gem parks and trails?

Ask your friends. When close to home, ask your fellow trail families where they like to hike and bike. I’ve realized that we can explore almost endlessly without traveling far. Between all the Rail Trails and parks we can visit new trails anytime.

Ask around when you travel. We often travel to places where we know people. That is how we found Powers Park in Lyndonville, VT. You can also ask the person at the checkout counter or hotel concierge. Even better to ask at the local bike shop or trail office.

Searching online can be slightly tricky. Sometimes small municipalities and outdoor associations don’t have great websites or only have a section inside a larger affiliation. Searching for the chamber of commerce or visitor’s bureau usually gets you where you want to go. For instance, put “Lackawanna County Visitor’s Bureau” into your Google search. If the place you visit has another name for their organization, the search will usually get you to the right site anyway.

Final Thoughts

I hope these three tips on how to find local hidden gems are helpful for you in exploring your own region and beyond! Share your adventures with us on Instagram. Tag us @trailfamilylife and use #trailfamily and #trailfamilylife

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