Day One | Day Two
Norma and I decided to do a last minute getaway on October 17 and 18, 2015 as a belated anniversary celebration. I suggested Ricketts Glen State Park.
Ricketts Glen State Park is home to the challenging Falls Trails named "Best Hike in Pennsylvania" as part of Backpacker Magazine's 2009 Reader Choice Awards. Ricketts Glen is one of the most scenic areas in Pennsylvania.
- from "tournepa.com - 2015 Fall Foliage Driving Tour Brochure" (broken link as of 2018)
I had first heard about this park about five years ago from Mike J. who describes three nice hikes out there on Mid-Atlantic Hikes. It had been on my "bucket list" ever since then.
Norma and I have always liked waterfalls. Who doesn't like them? We have fond memories on March 12, 2011 of seeing Overall Run Falls which has the highest drop of all the waterfalls in Shenandoah National Park. Of course there is also Swallow Falls State Park which has Muddy Creek Falls, the highest free-falling waterfall in Maryland at 54 feet. There is also Cunningham Falls State Park which has Cunningham Falls, the highest cascading waterfall in Maryland at 78 feet. Autumn isn't necessarily the best time to see waterfalls in the mid-Atlantic area because water levels tend to be low. But we did have a big rain about a week or two prior so we didn't expect them to be too bad. But the best reason for an autumn hike (in my opinion) is to see the colorful leaves.
Day One, Saturday, October 17, 2015
Norma and I drove out in the morning. It was a long drive. We stopped in at a restaurant that definitely had a Pennsylvania-Dutch influence. Food prices were amazingly low. On our drive, we often had a nice view of the mighty Susquehanna River.
We discussed where we would want to live once we retire. Staying in Savage is not out of the question but it is expensive living where we are and over time, the already densely populated area will only get more dense. I love the Chesapeake Bay but Norma isn't too fond of the flatlands. To make a long story short, we felt that Cecil County, Maryland might be a good compromise. It isn't flat, it is near the Bay, land prices are cheaper than where we live, and it isn't much further from her family than where we already live.
Norma and I drove for about 3 hours and 45 minutes and took another hour for lunch and to inquire about lodging in and around the town of Benton. Apparently, a lot of people were drawn to the town that weekend so many places were booked up.
We finally arrived at Ricketts Glen in the mid-afternoon.
Ricketts Glen is one of the most scenic areas in Pennsylvania and is comprised of 13,050 acres which it shares between Luzerne, Sullivan and Columbia counties. The Falls Trail is located in the Glens Natural Area [and is] comprised of 21 free flowing waterfalls ranging from just over 11 feet to its highest resident waterfall of 94 feet; Ganoga Falls. Falls Trail is 7.2 miles long when doing both the upper and lower sections and is rated as difficult. An easier and shorter route of 3.2 miles is available and allows you to view most of the waterfalls including Ganoga Falls. This trails runs directly alongside the waterfalls, so picture taking is plentiful and the vistas are spectacular. Well worth the effort. Good hiking shoes are strongly recommended. This area is also the meeting ground of the southern and northern hardwood types, creating an extensive variety of trees. Many of the magnificent trees in this area are over 500 years old and ring counts on fallen trees have revealed ages as high as 900 years. Diameters of almost four feet are common and many trees tower to 100 feet in height. In 1993, the Glens Natural Area became a State Park Natural Area and will be protected and maintained in a natural state.
- from "tournepa.com - Backpacker Magazine Recognizes Ricketts Glen State Park" (broken link as of 2018)
The park ranger that greeted us said there was no entry fee. He gave us a free map of the park that resembles Falls Trail System Map. We asked about lodging and he gave us Lodging near Ricketts Glen. We figured we'd do the hike and then continue looking for lodging after.
We drove to Lake Rose Trailhead Parking. This is a big lot, however, Ricketts Glen is also a very popular place so the lot fills up quickly. But we were getting a late start so it had already begun clearing out.
By 1500, we were walking in the Glens Natural Area.
The trails within the Glens Natural Area (which together make up the Falls Trail system) are home to 22 scenic waterfalls.
- from sign in park titled "Hike Smart - Hike Safe, Ricketts Glen State Park"
Norma and I wouldn't have enough time for one of Mike J.'s hikes so instead we did a shorter loop hike recommended by the ranger. We walked east on the Highland Trail and enjoyed seeing the fall colors. The temperature at Ricketts Glen is, on the average, cooler than in the Baltimore area so the leaves were looking more vibrant than in our area.
First photo, first column: Yellow leaves contrast with the evergreens.
Second photo, first column: Ready for some hiking.
Third photo, first column: A variety of colored leaves on the ground.
Fourth photo, first column: Norma at the edge of a steep drop off.
There were a lot of people out hiking. I expect they were wanting to see the fall colors as much as us.
Eventually, we came to the Midway Crevasse. See fifth and sixth photos, first column. This is a
narrow passageway between large blocks of Pocono sandstone conglomerates that were deposited throughout this area by glacial movements. At least three times in the last one million years, continental glaciers buried this land under hundreds of feet of ice.
- from "A Pennsylvania Recreational Guide for Ricketts Glen"
We left the Highland Trail and turned south at Kitchen Creek. This put us in Glen Leigh.
...the ruggedness of Glen Leigh requires several bridges to cross the streams, a couple of short walks through the woods, and even a stone staircase that’s carved right into the rock.
This makes the hike along Glen Leigh a bit more interesting than hiking the other parts of the Falls Trail.
Uncovering PA - The Waterfalls of Glen Leigh (beautiful photos)
Soon, we came to our first waterfall, the 15 foot Onondaga.
Seventh photo, first column: Looking down from near the top of the falls.
Eighth photo, first column: Onondaga Falls.
Ninth photo, first column: A rocky cascade.
Our next stop was F.L. Ricketts, a 38 foot tall waterfall.
Tenth photo, first column: A gradual drop.
Eleventh photo, first column: The falls and I.
The trail that connected the various waterfalls was extremely well maintained. See twelfth photo, first column. I'm guessing they probably have a lot of volunteers that are eager to work so that they can help maintain such a lovely environment.
After a little walking, we came to Shawnee, a 30 foot tall waterfall.
Thirteenth photo, first column: Norma at the top of the falls.
Fourteenth photo, first column: Looking down.
Fifteenth photo, first column: The waterfall!
I figured that with all the water changing elevation (like Savage), there must have been a mill. I was right.
The town of Ricketts was a major lumber town named after civil war veteran and Gettysburg hero Colonel Robert Bruce Ricketts of Wilkes-Barre. After the war, Ricketts purchased 65,000 acres of virgin forest land in Sullivan, Wyoming and Luzerne counties. He leased large tracts to the lumber firm of Trexler and Turrell in 1890.
The town boomed after the Bowman's Creek Branch of the Lehigh Valley Railroad was completed through the region in 1893, with lines connecting Ricketts to the town of Lopez and the Ricketts summer estate at Ganoga Lake.
Mill operations ceased in the summer of 1913 and the town was abandoned. The area is now part of Pennsylvania State Game Lands No. 57 and No. 13. Other Ricketts land holdings became the core for Ricketts Glen State Park.
- from sign in park titled "The Town of Ricketts 1890-1913"
The trail in this area was extremely scenic, even when there wasn't a waterfall.
Sixteenth photo, first column: Me on the high ground.
Seventeenth photo, first column: Big rock.
Eighteenth photo, first column: Lots of yellow leaves.
Shortly after Shawnee, we came to Huron, a 41 foot tall waterfall.
Nineteenth photo, first column: Norma by the falls.
Twentieth photo, first column: Stone stairs made for an easy ascent/descent to the top/bottom of the falls.
Not all parts of the trail near the falls were steep. There were a few relatively flat sections. See twenty-first photo, first column.
After some walking, we saw the 60 foot tall Ozone waterfall.
Twenty-second photo, first column: It's a loooooong way down.
Twenty-third photo, first column: The mighty Ozone!
Twenty-fourth photo, first column: A view from afar.
During our little hike, shadows from vertical rock formations cast darkness that contrasted sharply with the whiteness of falling water and the autumn leaves. See twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth photos, first column.
Our next waterfall was R.B. Ricketts, where water dropped a total of 36 feet.
Twenty-fifth photo, first column: Looking down from the top.
Twenty-sixth photo, first column: Norma near the base of the falls.
Twenty-seventh photo, first column: This waterfall can use a little more water.
First photo, second column: Norma was experimenting with the settings on her camera to produce more interesting photos.
Second photo, second column: Norma leaving the R.B. Ricketts area.
Slightly downstream, we came to B. Reynolds, a 40 foot tall waterfall. Does 'B' stand for Burt? No.
B. Reynolds Falls is named after Benjamin Reynolds. Reynolds was the brother of R.B. Ricketts’ wife and was a banker in Wilkes-Barre around the turn of the century.
- from Uncovering PA - The Waterfalls of Glen Leigh
A little more of B. Reynolds.
Third photo, second column: A steep drop.
Fourth photo, second column: Colorful leaves at the base.
Fifth photo, second column: Just the two of us.
Our next stop was Wyandot, a 15 foot tall waterfall. See sixth photo, second column. When Norma and I saw this name, the first thing we thought of was the breed of chicken with this same name. But this waterfall took its name from a different source.
Wyandot Falls was named for the Wyandot Tribe that once inhabited Ontario. Also known as the Huron, they were largest [largely?] wiped out by disease and war with the Iroquois in the mid-17th century.
- from Uncovering PA - The Waterfalls of Glen Leigh
Two creeks met at a place called Waters Meet (sometimes referred to as Water Meet). Here, Norma and I started walking west on a new creek as we entered Canoga Glen.
Unlike the other areas of the park, all of the waterfalls in Ganoga Glen except for one are named after Native American tribes that once lived near Ricketts Glen State Park. The exception, Ganoga Falls, is named in a native language.
When R. Bruce Ricketts was naming the waterfalls, he named Ganoga Falls after a word in the Seneca language that meant “water on the mountain.” However, it now appears that Ganoga is actually a word in the Cayuga language that means "place of floating oil."
- from Uncovering PA - The Waterfalls of Canoga Glen (beautiful photos)
Seeing all the rugged rocks made me wonder what the area was like long ago.
Approximately 15,000 years ago, glaciers moved through the area, carving gorges through the bedrock. As the glaciers melted, loose rock and soil filled old valleys, creating lakes and swamps.
- from sign in park titled "The Power of Water and Ice - Waterfalls of Ricketts Glen State Park"
Our first stop in Canoga Glen was at Erie, a 47 foot tall waterfall.
Seventh photo, second column: Seeing down below.
Eighth photo, second column: Me at the top.
I never ceased to be amazed at how much work went into building the trail that took us along the falls. Rocks were carefully positioned to create steps that provided a scenic view along the way. See ninth photo, second column.
We came to Tuscarora, a 47 foot tall waterfall.
Tenth photo, second column: While claiming to be quite tall, this waterfall clearly made several drops over a distance.
Eleventh photo, second column: A more colorful view of Tuscarora.
Later, we came to the smaller Conestoga, a 17 foot tall waterfall.
Twelfth photo, second column: As the sun got lower in the sky, shadows became more harsh.
Thirteenth photo, second column: Looks like that log is sticking right out of my head.
The distance between the falls was never significant. I'm thinking it was greatest (about 1200 feet) between Conestoga and Mohican, a 39 foot tall waterfall.
Fourteenth photo, second column: The trail always kept us within close view of the falls and the creek.
Fifteenth photo, second column: Autumn leaves around Mohican Falls.
Sixteenth photo, second column: A close-up with Norma's Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1 camera.
Our next stop was Delaware, a waterfall that fell 37 feet.
Seventeenth photo, second column: Not much water compared to the photos in the map.
Eighteenth photo, second column: Looking down from the top.
There are an awful lot of things and places named Seneca, especially in the eastern half of the country. So it only makes sense that a waterfall should also take this name. In the nineteenth photo, second column, we see the 12 foot tall Seneca.
At 94 feet, Ganoga is the tallest waterfall in the park. It is taller than any waterfall in Maryland.
Twentieth photo, second column: Norma and I at the mighty falls.
Twenty-first photo, second column: Deep in thought.
Twenty-second photo, second column: "It's a long way to the top if you wanna rock 'n' roll."
The smallest named waterfall in the park is Cayuga at 11 feet.
Twenty-third photo, second column: The tiny Cayuga.
Twenty-fourth photo, second column: Half side view.
The Cayuga made me wonder what the threshold was to distinguish between a waterfall and a rapid. I checked a few sources but got a lot of subjective answers from folks that don't know any more than me. But after some searching, I did find the following which is compiled by members of the Western New York Waterfall Survey. A waterfall is defined as
Any sudden descent of a stream over a very steep slope or precipice in its stream bed. Characterized by the stream dropping vertically, or very nearly so. The water must drop a minimum of five feet to be considered a true waterfall. The term is collectively applied to three types:
Cascades: The sudden descent of a stream primarily over a very steep slope in its stream bed. Characterized by the stream rushing down the slope somewhat smoothly or in a series of small individual drops, or any combination of these. The steepness of the descent is greater than that of rapids, but less than that of a horsetail falls. A cascade must have a minimum drop of five (5) vertical feet.
Falls: The sudden descent of a stream primarily over a vertical or extremely steep section of its stream bed. Characterized by the stream dropping freely through the air, or very nearly so, during its descent. It must have a drop of at least five (5) vertical feet.
Cataracts: The descent of a very large volume of water over any combination of rapids, cascades, and falls, often through a narrow gorge.
- from Glossary Of Waterfall Terms
Our next stop was Oneida at 13 feet.
Twenty-fifth photo, second column: A view from the southwest side.
Twenty-sixth photo, second column: Full frontal.
Twenty-seventh photo, second column: Just a little of the falls but quite a view of some dramatic colors. This photo by Norma looks like an oil painting to me.
Much of the trail work looked like it was done by professionals. See twenty-eighth photo, second column.
Our final waterfall of the day was Mohawk, which fell 37 feet. See twenty-ninth photo, second column.
We walked a total of 4 miles on the trails that day, finishing as the light started getting too dim to take good photos with our cameras.
After our little hike, we continued calling about lodging. Having called the bigger motels, Norma started calling the smaller places. She found a vacancy at Country Farms Bed and Breakfast. It wasn't far from the park. It was in the middle of nowhere at an old farm. We were greeted by our hosts, Ron and Alice. They were both very friendly. The house was charming and our rooms were neat and clean. The price was also reasonable. We asked about dining and were told about Strevig's Family Restaurant in Benton. So that is where we ate that night. Like everything else in the area, it was inexpensive.
That night, Norma and I played a board game called Camel Up. After a few rounds, we were pretty evenly matched.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
Day Two, Sunday, October 18, 2015
Norma and I ate a good old fashioned country style breakfast prepared by Ron and Alice. Such a meal gave us plenty of energy for the rest of our busy day full of discovery.
After packing up and saying farewell to our hosts, we explored some of the trails on their farm which appeared to be old logging roads.
First photo, first column: View of Ron and Alice's farm from the trailhead into the woods.
Second photo, first column: A wide road through the woods.
Third photo, first column: It was cold. We had a few flakes of snow falling.
Fourth photo, first column: Walking down towards Little Fishing Creek, we saw more pines.
Fifth photo, first column: Several ferns lined the trail.
First photo, second column: An individual fern.
Second photo, second column: Red maple leaf.
Third photo, second column: Red and yellow leaf.
Fourth photo, second column: Me with ferns.
Fifth photo, second column: Some of the ferns were turning brown.
After exploring the trails near the farm, we headed back to Ricketts Glen State Park to see more waterfalls.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
Today's walk in the park started on the south side of route 118 between Tripp Road and Bethel Hill Road. We parked at Evergreen Parking and caught the Evergreen Trail which ran near Boston Run.
Almost immediately, we came to Adams Falls, a 36 foot tall waterfall. Check out Uncovering PA - Adams Falls for some better photos than I could ever take.
First photo, first column: Looking down from the top.
Second photo, first column: Me with the falls in the background.
Third photo, first column: Rocky landscape around the falls.
Fourth photo, first column: It wasn't easy to get a clear view of the waterfall.
Fifth photo, first column: This was about as good of a look as we could get without donning our swimsuits.
Sixth photo, first column: During the summer, this would surely make a nice wading area.
Norma and I resumed walking on the Evergreen Trail. Closer to the falls, there were dramatic rocky structures. See seventh and eighth photos, first column.
As we got further from the falls, the landscape became more woody as we entered an old growth forest.
What is the difference between "old growth" and other forests? This is a "climax" forest, dominated by hemlocks and white pine, with some shade tolerant trees such as oaks, maples, ash, and beech, in between. Some common characteristics of an old growth tree are that they are over 30 inches in diameter, 25 feet more more in height, and 200 years old or more. There is little undergrowth in this type of environment. However, there is a rich humus floor, which helps hold rainwater and nutrients for the roots of these trees. This all ensures a healthy recycling system. The thick humus also holds in heat produced by the saprophytes (fungi, bacteria, snails, etc.) and helps to maintain a warm environment known as a "micro-climate." This, in turn, provides a warmer shelter for many animals during the cold winter months.
- from sign in park titled "Stop #2: Welcome to an Old Growth Forest"
There were lots of colorful leaves (ninth and tenth photos, first column). We also saw numerous tall trees (eleventh and twelfth photos, first column). Some of these trees were hemlock.
The majestic hemlocks, our [Pennsylvania's] state tree, were being cut down in the 1860s through 1920s and their bark stripped off for the tannin (tannic acid) - the chemical in the inner bark of the tree, which was used for tanning leather products. This deep reddish-brown bark was also used to make a rich, red dye. A tea can be made from the needles and twigs. The seeds and needles are also eaten by ruffed grouse and squirrels, while the twigs are eaten by deer and rabbits in winter.
- from sign in park titled "Stop #4: The Hemlock Temple"
At one point along the trail, we spotted something strange growing on a tree. See thirteenth photo, first column.
The unusual formation on this tree is called a conk or burl. This large growth is produced by a fungus, which enters the tree from a wound and begins to infect it. The tree will naturally defend itself from intrusion by forming a circle of bark around the wound site. Layer after layer is formed in this manner, eventually producing a swirled effect on the inner portion of the bark, and an unusual growth formation on the outside, thus saving the tree's life.
- from sign in park titled "Stop #8: Oddities in Nature"
Norma really loves trees. Some might call her a "tree hugger" (fourteenth photo, first column).
We looked for wildlife but did not see any. But we knew there were animals in the area.
Throughout these woodlands, you will encounter several trees with damage to the lower bark areas. These are gnawing marks from porcupine. They need to chew on wood as part of their diet, much like the beaver, in order to keep their teeth down. However, if this chewing encircles the tree (girdling), the cambrium layer is severed, and the tree will eventually die.
Look up in the surrounding trees for possible porcupine sightings. These little characters are called the "pin cushions of the park."
- from sign in park titled "Stop #9: Porcupines"
After completing our walk on the Evergreen Trail, we crossed over route 118 and then caught the Falls Trail. This is the same trail on which we walked yesterday but we didn't get this far. The plan was to walk it from this end up to near where we walked yesterday. That would enable us to see the remaining named waterfalls in the park.
Norma and I followed the trail along the west side of Kitchen Creek.
Fifteenth photo, first column: Kitchen Creek was looking pretty shallow here.
First photo, second column: Norma on one of the drier parts of the trail.
Second photo, second column: Another view of Falls Trail.
Third photo, second column: Norma at a wider section of Kitchen Creek.
Fourth photo, second column: A few sections of the trail seemed less defined near the water. Some of these comprised the Lower Trail, an alternate route to the easier Upper Trail. We did the prior walking to the falls and the latter on the return.
Fifth photo, second column: Striking fall colors.
We had three named waterfalls left to see that day. To see some spectacular photos of them, check out Uncovering PA - The Falls below Waters Meet.
After a good bit of walking, we came to Murray Reynolds, a 16 foot tall waterfall.
Sixth photo, second column: A view from afar.
Seventh photo, second column: Getting closer.
Eighth photo, second column: The falls winds around a bit so it is hard to see the whole thing.
Some parts of the trail had scenic falling water that wasn't quite big enough to be a waterfall. See ninth photo, second column.
After seeing the twisted view of Murray Reynolds, it was nice to get a more direct look at Murray's brother, Sheldon Reynolds, a 36 foot tall waterfall. Murray and Sheldon were brother-in-laws of R.B. Ricketts.
Tenth photo, second column: Sheldon in your face.
Eleventh photo, second column: Someone worked hard to make these stairs that led up the waterfall.
Twelfth photo, second column: Long drop, big splash.
Thirteenth photo, second column: Looking down from above.
Our final waterfall was the 27 foot tall Harrison Wright.
Fourteenth photo, second column: This was a good end to our waterfall adventure.
Fifteenth photo, second column: One final shot of the two of us.
Sixteenth photo, second column: Looks like a great swimming hole.
Having viewed all the named waterfalls in the Falls Trail System, we had a pretty good sampling of the different types that one might encounter.
Although each waterfall is unique, look for two main formations as you hike the trail:
"Wedding cake" falls, formed by water falling over thick sandstone, descend in a series of steps. Water falling in steps or layers identifies F.L. Ricketts Falls as a "wedding cake" waterfall.
"Bridal veil" falls drop vertically over hard sandstone ledges. Look for plunge pools and caverns in the soft red shale below. The vertical falling water of Harrison Wright Falls is typical of "bridal veil" waterfalls.
- from sign in park titled "The Power of Water and Ice - Waterfalls of Ricketts Glen State Park"
There wasn't much wildlife. I think we saw a deer and a heron. The most interesting thing we saw was a hickory tussock caterpillar. See seventeenth photo, second column. One might be tempted to touch their long hairs but experts say you should not.
Contact with the poisonous hairs or spines of the Hickory tussock moth caterpillar can cause skin rashes or even a hypersensitivity reaction in some cases.
- from Hickory tussock moth caterpillar poisoning
By the mid-afternoon, we completed walking 4.75 miles in the park.
There was a chance of rain today but that never materialized. We were fortunate. Just a few flakes of snow.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
Our last stop for the day was the Pumpkin Festival at Ol' Country Barn Grounds. This was between Ricketts Glen State Park and Benton. We walked around, bought some produce, looked at various crafts, and ate some apple dumplings with ice cream. Most of the crafts were "country kitchen" stuff which we don't much care for.
It was a long but scenic drive home.
Click thumbnail to enlarge.
There were three unnamed waterfalls in the park on Little Cherry Run Trail that we didn't see. These are listed at Hall of the Hemlocks-Cherry Run Circuit.
I thought about other waterfalls that Norma and I hadn't yet seen. Vince recently told us about Raymondskill Falls, the highest waterfall in Pennsylvania. He also mentioned Ridley Creek State Park and sent us nice photos of both.
Then I read about Crabtree Falls, the tallest waterfall in Virginia.
The set of waterfalls is often credited with being 1200 feet high, but topographic maps show the total drop to be closer to 1000 feet. Crabtree Falls is a series of cascading waterfalls, with five major cascades, the tallest of which drops about 400 feet, and several smaller cascades, all over a total distance of approximately 2500 feet horizontally. The cascade with a 400-foot drop also gives Crabtree Falls the title of tallest vertical drop in a waterfall east of the Mississippi River.
- from Wikipedia - Crabtree Falls
A couple of weeks later, I read about a beautiful place called Kilgore Falls in my Chesapeake Bay Foundation magazine. We'll have to add that to our "must see" list too although this is described not just as a waterfall but also a popular swimming hole so we might want to visit when it is warm. It is close enough to be a day trip.
Maryland's second highest free-falling waterfall is located on the Falling Branch of Deer Creek in northern Harford County.
Falling Branch passes through a steep gorge known as Kilgore Rocks, where the falls have developed in relatively erosion-resistant Prettyboy Schist.
The Falling Branch Area of Rocks State Park is a 67 acre parcel of land which is home to Kilgore Falls. This non-developed, environmentally sensitive area has a serene hiking trail (Kilgore Falls Trail) leading back to the waterfall.
- from Maryland Geological Survey - Falling Branch, Harford County
Norma and I both enjoy hiking quite a bit. But seeing a waterfall on a hike is even better. It is good to know we've got plenty of options for future adventures.