Since it is almost that time again — warm — and since Ricketts Glen State Park is truly one of PA’s most beautiful sites — I dug up an old article
on the park that I wrote for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette more than a decade ago. You can tell it’s old because there wasn’t a way to post it to FB! They have also posted an online ID guide to all the park’s plants so I’m in hog heaven!
By BOB QUARTERONI
PARK A TREAT FOR THE SENSES
To be able to ascend bodily into heaven and still be back down in time for supper isn’t just a beautiful dream: It’s a reality at Ricketts Glen State Park, arguably the crown jewel of Pennsylvania’s park system.
The park, a 13,050-acre mountain expanse in the northeastern part of the state (in Luzerne, Sullivan and Columbia counties), includes the Glens Natural Area, which has been a National Natural Landmark since 1969.
If you go…
To check out when the colors peak at Ricketts Glen State Park, visit www.fallinpa.com
and click “Fall Foliage: The Big Pennsylvania Fireworks Show.” Six camcorders around the state take live photos all fall. Then the photos will be put into a time-lapse movie, and armchair hikers can watch the fall unfold from their living rooms.
For information on Ricketts Glen State Park, call 570-477-5675 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information is also available from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Web site at www.dcnr.state.pa.us.
To get general state park information or reserve a campsite, cabin or an organized group tenting area, call toll-free 888-727-2757.
The park truly is magic, a mountain paradise of waterfalls, old growth trees, mist-scented air and plentiful wildlife.
To reach the park, which is 30 miles north of Bloomsburg and 30 miles west of Wilkes-Barre, take Interstate 80 east to Exit 236: Lightstreet/Bloomsburg, and follow Route 487 north. A bonus is that you’ll travel over the Twin Bridges on Route 487. This covered bridge crosses Huntington Creek and was built in 1884 for $720, which might get you a toy bridge these days. You can check out Twin Bridges — and all 23 of the state’s covered bridges — on the Web at www.columbiapa.org/coveredbridges.
Stay on 487 north until you come to the intersection with Route 118. (It is 233 miles from Pittsburgh to the intersection of Routes 487 and 118.) Here, you have a choice: Right and the option of a relatively easy hike into heaven, or straight ahead, and a drive up a very steep hill (I had to downshift to second gear in my 2001 Nissan truck to make it) to the main park headquarters, Lake Jean and trailheads that allow you to hike down the mountain trails.
Whichever way you go, you’ll be charmed by the glens, where two branches of Kitchen Creek cut through the twin gorges of Ganoga Glen and Glen Leigh, unite at “Waters Meet” and then flow through Ricketts Glen, with its giant pines, hemlocks and oaks.
Many of the magisterial trees in the area are more than 500 years old, and ring counts on fallen trees have revealed ages as high as 900 years. Diameters of almost five feet are common, and many trees tower to more than 100 feet in height. The area is the meeting ground of the southern and northern hardwood types, creating an extensive variety of trees.
As magnificent as the trees and as abundant as the wildlife, it’s the magic and the mystery of the 22 wild, free-flowing waterfalls, each cascading down rocky mist-filled cliffs, that prove most irresistible.
Each waterfall has its own charm and story to tell. The falls range from towering Ganoga Falls, at 94 feet the highest in the park, down to little 11-foot Cayuga Falls. Some flow quietly, and others roar. A few are aggressive. And almost all are wonderful for sitting near any day of the year, especially on those hot muggy days when the cool mist transports you elsewhere. Goose bumps in summer can be a very special form of magic.
While each fall has its own personality, there are two general types. Where the creek descends over thick sandstones, “wedding cake” falls result. These are the type that gradually descend a slope.
“Bridal-veil” falls, on the other hand, plunge straight down and generally have a recess at the base of the falls, along with a large pool, complete with native brook trout.
We’ve been sitting at the intersection of Routes 487 and 118 long enough. Let’s go right on Route 118, and in a mile or so we’ll reach the park entrance at the base of Red Rock Mountain.
This approach allows you to wander up into the heavenly falls or, if you aren’t up to that, it provides for a splendid — and very easy — mini-visit.
If you choose the latter, park at the first parking area on the south side of the road and walk a few feet to the half-mile Evergreen Trail, which offers a splendid view of 36-foot Adams Falls as it meanders through a majestic stand of hemlocks and white pine.
If Adams Falls is the most accessible falls in the park, it may also be the most beautiful. At Adams Falls, Kitchen Creek plunges over three cascades of 18, 20 and 25 feet. Between the individual falls, the stream rushes through deep, narrow gorges that are fluted with numerous potholes. Below the middle and lower falls are large pools eroded by the enduring water.
For the full falls experience, cross the road and hike upstream on the aptly named Falls Trail, which is actually a five-mile series of trails paralleling Kitchen Creek as it courses through the glen.
There are trail maps at a box as you head upstream. Make sure you get one and it will make your day far easier and you will be far more enlightened.
The trail starts off flat and easy and gradually turns hilly. It is rocky and muddy, and care needs to be taken.
As you hike, you’ll pass three gorgeous falls before arriving at “Waters Meet.” Many hikers choose to go this far and then turn around.
The adventurous who decide to proceed are now faced with a trail that forks into a Y. Left is Ganoga Glen, and right is Glen Leigh. Both will pass stunning waterfalls on their way to the top of the mountain, and the main park complex surrounding Lake Jean.
Halfway up both trails is the Highland Trail, which links the two glens.
There are 10 falls along Ganoga Glen Trail, and eight falls along Glen Leigh Trail.
It’s 1.8 miles from Route 118 to Waters Meet. Waters Meet to (dry) Lake Rose on Ganoga Glen Trail, near the trailhead, is 1.4 miles. Waters Meet to Mountain Springs Trail on Glen Leigh Trail is 1.4 miles and then it’s another quarter of a mile or so to a trailhead. Highland Trail, linking the two trails, is 1.2 miles long.
With all these options you can do the entire loop or several variations. All are spectacular, but be sure to allow plenty of time.
Another good choice, for groups that have more than one vehicle, is to leave one on top of the mountain and then hike up and drive back to the other vehicle at the base of the mountain. The other option is to go straight at the intersection of Routes 118 and 487 and drive to the main park entrance on Route 487, at the top of Red Rock Mountain and hike downhill.
Once there, on the trail from dry Lake Rose down, the first waterfall, 37-foot Mohawk, is less than a quarter of a mile from a trailhead.
Driving to the top of the mountain also means cooler and crisper air and allows you to take advantage of all the other park opportunities, including Lake Jean where you can swim, fish or boat.
Because of the perpetual mist from the falls and the muddy and rocky nature of the trail, this can be a hard, and downright dangerous, hike. In fact, the Ricketts Glen State Park Recreational Guide lists the Falls Trail as “very difficult,” and warns that “hikers on the Falls Trail should be in good physical condition, wear sturdy boots and use caution due to slippery/wet conditions and steep trail sections.”
This is especially important when traveling in the more remote sections of the park or when hiking during bad weather or in the spring or winter, when the trail can be muddy or icy.
If all this sounds too challenging, there are nine other named trails in the park, ranging from “easy” Beach Trail at 0.8 miles to 4.6-mile Cherry Run Trail, rated “moderate” and blazed with orange triangles.
And you aren’t restricted to hiking at Ricketts Glen, which is a full-service park, with everything from 120 tent and trailer campsites, some available year-round, 10 modern rental cabins and a 150-person organized group tenting area open from April to October.
Swimming is available at Lake Jean at its 600-foot beach during the summer while the park remains active in winter with cross-country skiing opportunities, snowmobile trails, ice climbing, ice fishing and winter camping.
There’s even a nine-mile network of bridle trails that horse owners will enjoy.
Not bad for a park started by a former private!
In 1861, Robert Bruce Ricketts enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army and fought for the Army of the Potomac, famously leading Battery F during the Battle of Gettysburg. Ricketts rose rapidly through the ranks and was discharged as a colonel.
Col. Ricketts at one time owned or controlled 80,000 acres of land in the area. His heirs gradually sold their holdings to the state, and recreational facilities were first opened in 1944.
The original plan was for a national, not a state, park, and the area was approved as a national park site in the 1930s.
World War II brought an end to that plan, but not the beauty of the falls, which can be enjoyed any day of the year.
However, the falls are clearly at their most beautiful during the flaming fall foliage season, in mid-October, and this is no secret. If possible, plan your visit for a weekday, when crowds are likely to be significantly smaller.
Bob Quarteroni is a free-lance writer from Upper Montclair, N.J.