Blackberry Falls- SGL 13

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Just outside of the tiny hamlet of Jamison City, a pristine mountain stream tumbles down a beautiful gorge.  Blackberry Run begins in SGL 13, gathering water on the 2,000 foot plateau, and then it becomes a waterfall wonder on its way to the valley.  I have long known that there was a waterfall on Blackberry Run, I just didn’t know how many.  It was time to see what was in that deep gorge.

Of course, it couldn’t be too easy.  Private land blocks the bottom of the gorge along the road, although the waterfalls are on the state game lands.  So I had to hike around the private land.  It was a very steep climb over slippery, loose rock and sodden leaves.  I reached a moss covered ledge with an overhang.  In the overhang was freshly excavated rock and dirt that revealed a hole into an inner chamber- an active bear den.  I hiked up further and looked at the ledge from the side, revealing the profile of a face.

The forests were veiled in mist, creating a spooky setting.  The steep climb continued until I reached a tier of cliffs with little caves and openings.  The jagged rim of the cliffs faded into the mist.

It turned out I climbed much further than I needed.  I carefully descended to Blackberry Run, and right to the falls, which were embedded in a glen.  The falls are no more than 20 feet high, but are very scenic.  Ice flows and icicles adorned a spring-slicked ledge to the right.  Below were more slides over smooth bedrock.  It was very beautiful.

I decided to hike upstream.  I’m glad I did.  The creek had several large boulders and countless cascades.  I followed an old grade under massive ash trees (big ash trees!), the largest I have ever seen.  They were well over 100 feet high and had massive trunks.

Rain began to fall, but I pushed on, crossing the crystal clear stream a few times.  My gut told me there was something more.  And there was.  I reached a gorgeous twisting waterslide that surged into an amazing swimming hole.  What a place to be on a hot summer day.  Above, the creek flowed over steps of bedrock.  I looked up to see another falls, about 15 feet tall.  It was a beautiful waterfall.  I wanted to go further, but with the rain and fading light, I decided to turn around.

Another falls on Blackberry Run

Another falls on Blackberry Run

I walked down the stream, surrounded by the beauty of the gorge.  I looked down to see someone had built a small cairn in the water.  Someone else likes it here, too.

The old grade took me above Blackberry Falls.  I dropped down to the creek  and looked upstream.  The view was stunning.  Tiers of waterfalls led up to Blackberry Falls, creating a continuous gown of white.

Stunning view looking up to Blackberry Falls

Stunning view looking up to Blackberry Falls

I climbed out of the glen and hiked around the private property.  Fog lifted in the valley below.  I reached my car, wet but happy to see another gem in the Endless Mountains.

More pictures.

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I began at the game commission parking area east of Blackberry Run.  No trail leads to the falls on the game lands.  A steep climb (with some picky barberry bushes), and then a steep descent to the falls is required to bypass private land.   The hike is short, but the terrain is difficult.  The falls is roughly a quarter mile upstream of the game lands/private property boundary.

Location of Blackberry Run.

Where I parked.

Somer Brook Falls and High Knob Trail (SGL 57)

Ryan, Wes, and Ed at the bottom drop of Somer Brook Falls

Ryan, Wes, and Ed at the bottom drop of Somer Brook Falls

As you can tell by the posts in this blog, I spend a lot of time in SGL 57.  It is not just close and convenient, it is also one of the most unique and beautiful places in Pennsylvania.  It features vast, elevated plateaus with balds, deep spruce forests, rimrock cliffs, and hidden glens with waterfalls and bedrock cascades.

I recently learned the High Knob Trail was cleared, so I decided a hike was in order.  I last hiked the trail about 10 years ago and it was in rough shape.  I also hoped to find a series of cliffs I remembered from my last visit.

Wes, Ryan, and Ed joined me and we met up at the stone cabin.  We decided to check out Somer Brook Falls, which is a couple hundred yard east of the cabin, off the trail.  We soon reached the top of the falls which was covered in ice.  It was a beautiful sight.  The falls are between 75-100 feet tall and have a couple of drops.  We hiked to the bottom of the falls and Ryan led us on an old railroad grade.  We followed the grade and then reached Southbrook Road, where we turned left.  We walked up the road a short ways and then turned right onto another old grade, the start of the High Knob Trail.  If hiking from the stone cabin, the trail will be on your left.  The trail did not have a sign, but there was a small sign post.  The trail had faded yellow and white blazes.

The trail was easy to follow as it kept to an old forest grade.  We passed through a meadow and forests of hemlock.  Much of the forest was beech saplings and some huge cherry trees.  The trail began to head south as we wrapped around the north end of the loop.  I kept my eyes on the right, to see if there was any sign of the cliffs.  I noticed what appeared to be a drop off and some large mountain laurel bushes.  After a quick walk off the trail, we reached the rim of cliffs and boulders.  What an impressive place.  There were caves, crevices, maze of boulders, and massive overhangs.  We got a bite to eat as we enjoyed the scenery.

Massive overhang off of the High Knob Trail

Massive overhang off of the High Knob Trail

Our hike continued on the trail, which passed through four deer fences in areas that were logged.  We hiked across a meadow and soon reached a gravel road.  The trail crossed the road and soon entered a deep and beautiful spruce forest.  The emerald green was a stark contrast to the bare, gray woods.  The High Knob Trail crossed another gravel road and we made our way around the southern end of the loop.  This was once a railroad grade and there were many ties still in the trail.  The trail through here was narrower, but we were still able to follow it.  This would be a great place to hike in July due to all the blueberry bushes.

Spruce trees still accompanied the trail, but most of the forest was hardwoods.  We reached another deer fence, which we followed to the right.  The perimeter of the fence soon brought us back to Cider Run Road, which we followed back to the car.  If hiking the High Knob Trail clockwise, it can be difficult to tell where the trail begins off of Cider Run Road.   The entire loop, not including the falls or cliffs, is roughly 7 miles long.  The trail is easy with virtually no climbing.  Everyone had a great time and I’m sure it won’t take 10 more years for me to hike it again.

More pictures.

Location of the trailhead.

Location of the stone cabin.  Somer Brook Falls is located just east of the cabin, off the trail.  The High Knob Trail leaves Southbrook Road, to the left, on an old grade north of the cabin.

 

State Game Lands 57- Vistas and Caves of Flat Top

One of the views from Flat Top

One of the views from Flat Top

A few weekends ago I returned to SGL 57 and Flat Top.  I wanted to see if there was any fall color remaining at the higher elevations.  It had also been a year since I was at Flat Top, and it was time to return.

Wes joined me and we made the hike up from the White Brook parking area.  The sky was overcast.  On the hike up, we saw a bear and two or three cubs higher up the slope.  We made our way to Flat Top Vista and the clouds retreated, revealing blue skies.  Yellow and gold clung to the valley, but the higher elevations were mostly bare of color.

We bushwhacked up the plateau, reaching some cliffs and ledges.  We followed these ledges with their small caves and crevices.  Soon we reached the largest cave.  Wes went in, travelling deep into the rock and the darkness, his headlamp offering the only light.  He went a ways back and soon returned, reporting the cave continued even further.  I presumed any bear would be out feeding instead of sitting in a cave, but I still didn’t feel like entering the dark void.  Maybe some other time.

Our hike continued along the rim of cliffs and soon we were at a fascinating rock house where a narrow shelf of bedrock creates a roof over a “room”.  Another overhang was nearby.  I dropped down into the crevasse to explore the rock house and stepped on a large boulder.  The boulder wobbled with ease and I scurried off as soon as I could.  I had visions of the boulder shifting and trapping my foot.  I wasn’t quite in the mood for having my foot trapped and entertaining the thought of gnawing or amputating it free like that guy had to do with his arm in Utah.  Thankfully, I had someone with me.

We entered the rock house and it was a very scenic place.  Cushions of moss and draperies of ferns covered the rock.  A spring dripped nearby.  These rocks had been separating for eons, and will continue to do so.

Entering the rock house

Entering the rock house

From there we made our way around the rim of the plateau, exploring more of the boulders and crevices.  We pushed through the forest and soon reached the western rim and a series of cliffs and deep spruce forests that mark the beginning of several vistas of the Endless Mountains.  The views were beautiful as ridges and mountains disappeared into the Mehoopany Creek valley.  There was no sign of development, everything appeared untouched.  This place seems so wild and primeval.  The sun glistened in the deep blue sky, chilled with a constant wind.

We hiked down to the creek and took a break at a waterfall.  The hike brought us through hemlock forests and across one of the balds.  We were soon back into the hemlocks before reaching the headwaters of White Brook.  The understory in the forest still had a lot of color with various shades of yellow.  The long descent down the brook followed as the sun set across the Mehoopany Creek valley.

The northern part of SGL 57 is among the most scenic and diverse places in the entire Mid-Atlantic.  I can only hope it remains that way.

More pictures.

Part of this hike is described as Hike No. 14 in Hiking the Endless Mountains.

Rusty Falls and Shanerburg Run Loop – Loyalsock State Forest

Top cascade of Rusty Falls

Top cascade of Rusty Falls

I’ve been spending a lot of time in New York, working on my next book, so I haven’t done much hiking in Pennsylvania.  However, I stayed home this past weekend and decided to do some hiking in the Loyalsock State Forest, one of my favorite areas.

The state forest covers over 114,000 acres and combined with the surrounding state game lands, is one of the most scenic, diverse, and impressive areas of public lands in the Mid-Atlantic.

We decided to do the 5 mile Rusty Falls and Shanerburg Run Loop.  This is hike no. 40 in Hiking the Endless Mountains.  This is a wonderful hike, not hard at all, that features pristine trout streams, diverse forests, a meadow, and Rusty Falls.  The hike begins off of Shanerburg Road and follows an old forest grade.  The forest is very diverse with pine, hemlock, and spruce.  The trail crosses Shanerburg Run several times; the run is a pristine trout stream.  We hiked across a meadow with some old apply trees.  This was the site of a homestead.  Tunnels through hemlock saplings soon followed.  The trail then followed the creek, passing some slides and small pools.  We entered a hemlock forest and climbed to a logging road.  The road was in good shape and we took a side trail to the left that went to Rusty Falls.  There are two drops, no more than a total of 20 feet high.  The falls are very scenic.

We walked out to Shanerburg Road and returned to the car.

Next we ate at the Forksville Inn and then took a drive to High Knob Overlook, stopping by beautiful Dry Run Falls along the way.  As I took pictures of the falls, another car drove by, backed up to see what I was looking at, and then the driver and passengers got out to enjoy the falls.

The overlook was impressive.  Rain showers passed overhead as deep, dark clouds contrasted against the yellow fall foliage.  The foliage was past peak, but it was still beautiful.  Shafts of sunlight glowed in the distance against the veils of mist and rain.

More pictures.

Views from Big Pocono State Park

View south from Big Pocono State Park

View south from Big Pocono State Park

While driving home through the Poconos on a clear September day, I couldn’t pass up a chance to do a little exploring.  So we made the drive up to Big Pocono State Park to take in the views.  I was there several years ago on a hazy spring day, so it was nice to see the views on a clear day.  I was impressed to be able to see the Catskills, about a hundred miles away.  I could also see a vast section of the Appalachian Trail, from New Jersey all the way to the Hawk Mountain area near Port Clinton.  The top of the mountain has a stunted forest of trees.  The views are truly vast.  With Autumn quickly approaching, this is the place to go to see the foliage.

The state park has 8 miles of trails, many of them are also open to mountain biking.  The park is only open during the day.

More info on the park.

More pictures.

Prowl the Sproul 2014 – Clendenin Branch/Shoemaker Ridge Loop

Trail along Clendenin Branch

Trail along Clendenin Branch

Holy Sproul!

After years of hiking in countless destinations, sometimes I feel a little jaded on the trail, as if experiencing something new becomes more and more rare.  What was so great about hiking in the Sproul State Forest was that I realized there is still so much to see, so much that remains hidden.

On my second hike in the Sproul, I led a larger group to the Clendenin Branch/Shoemaker Ridge Loop.  After the exceptional hike to Round Island Run the day before, I didn’t think this one could top it.  It proved to be equally beautiful.  This loop is about 6 miles in length.

This area of the Sproul is isolated, located at the eastern end of Shoemaker Ridge Road.  The Chuck Keiper Trail passes a couple miles to the west.  Here, numerous streams have carved gorges and glens down through the plateau as they flow to the West Branch Susquehanna River.  The beauty of the Sproul is its streams, which are often pristine and feature spectacular forests of hemlock, rhododendron, and laurel.  They felt primeval.  These forests have cool, moist micro-climates and are home to great biodiversity.  On this hike alone we passed many different kinds of mushrooms.

Starting this loop was a little confusing but we soon found our way, following an old forest road through a scenic and diverse forest of pine and hardwoods with an understory of blueberry.  This trail was also unblazed, but the route was obvious.  The trail followed a narrow ridge under a nice pine forest.  It was interesting to see both sides of the ridge fall away through the forest. The trail led to the end of the ridge with a view from a powerline swath.

We backtracked to another obvious grade, now on our right.  The grade descended into a beautiful gorge with lots of rhododendron.  We soon reached Clendenin Branch at a campsite.  The air was moist, cool, and had a sweet smell.  What a beautiful place.  The trail turns upstream, following an old grade along this gorgeous stream.  There were many stream crossings, and some large pine and hemlock trees.  We passed through a short section with stinging nettle, but they were not much of a problem.  Soon thereafter was a patch of bright red bee balm.

Bee balm

Bee balm

As we followed the creek, the scenery became even more beautiful as rhododendron crowded the trail with bright white blooms.  These blooms covered the hillside.

At Benjamin Branch there was another campsite in a stunning location, surrounded by streams, hemlocks, and more rhododendron.  The trail continued upstream with multiple stream crossings.  The gorge narrowed with larger moss covered boulders and cascades.  The narrow trail threaded its way around boulders and logs in a jungle of green.  In places, the trail hugged the side of the gorge above the rushing creek.  We reached a small waterfall with a deep pool.  The trail only got better as it entered a jungle of rhododendron passing a large boulder the size of a small house and a secret pool fed by a cascade.

Cascade and pool

Cascade and pool

Clendenin Branch was simply stunning with its sublime scenery.  We followed the trail up a steep climb away from the creek and reached the top of the plateau where we completed the loop.  I will not soon forget this hidden gem deep in the Sproul State Forest.

Clendenin Branch

Clendenin Branch

 

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This trail is unblazed but is relatively easy to follow since it uses old forest grades.  Keep in mind there are several stream crossings without bridges.  I highly recommend hiking this loop counter-clockwise.  A hike in early to mid July offers amazing rhododendron blooms.  There are also two very nice campsites if you are looking for a short overnight backpack.  Snakes are a common sight on the trail, although we did not see any on our hike.  Stinging nettle was not a problem on this hike.

More pictures.

Location of this hike.

Description from PAHikes.com.

Prowl the Sproul 2014 – Round Island Run

View over Sinnemahoning Creek

View over Sinnemahoning Creek

Every July, the Keystone Trails Association (KTA) hosts the Prowl the Sproul hiking weekend outside of Renovo where a variety of dayhikes are offered in and around the Sproul State Forest.  I attended this year’s event, which is held at a local hunting club.  Sproul is the largest of Pennsylvania’s state forests, covering over 300,000 acres.  And as I would soon see, it is one of the most beautiful.

I had spent time in Sproul State Forest several years ago, hiking the Chuck Keiper Trail and parts of the Donut Hole Trail.  However, I knew there was more to see.  As it turns out, Sproul has some beautiful hidden gems.

I was helping the KTA by leading two of the hikes.  The first was to Round Island Run and its waterfall.  I had known about the falls for a few years, but never had the chance to visit since it is located in a very isolated corner of the state forest, about an hour from where we were camping.  We drove through Renovo along PA 120 and turned off in the isolated hamlet of Keating.  Keating is a forgotten place, yet it is in a scenic spot, surrounded by mountains as the large Sinnemahoning Creek joins the even larger West Branch Susquehanna River.  The group I was leading was filled with people who were interesting, fun, and excited to explore a new place.

After parking our cars, we began by hiking down lonely Jerry Ridge Road to its end where there were two excellent vistas overlooking the canyons and steep plateaus.  It was overcast, so the mist was rising, or hanging in the distant glens.  It made the views  spectacular.  I was there the day before to scout the trail when it was sunny, so the change between the two days made it interesting.

We began the loop by hiking the unblazed Jacobs Hollow Trail.  The trail was easy to follow through ferns.  Along the way we passed a huge garter snake that was about 2 1/2 feet long, the longest I have ever seen.  I saw that same snake the day before.

The trail reached the stream in the hollow and went down along an old grade.  The hollow was very beautiful with cascades, hemlocks, and rhododendrons.  Everything seemed lush, green, and covered in moss.  Everyone commented on the beauty, but the best had yet to come.

We reached the bottom and ate lunch at a pool fed by a small cascade.  Blooming rhododendron surrounded us.  George, one of the members in the group, found a heavy, circular piece of cast iron in the water.  We couldn’t figure out what it was.

Our hike took us up along Round Island Run and the beauty became incredible as we were surrounded by blooming rhododendron.  White blossoms were everywhere, contrasting the deep, moist green of the forest.  As I was walking, I looked down just in time to see a rattlesnake coiled up.  It didn’t rattle or hiss.  We tried to walk around it in the brush, but it soon slithered down the slope towards the creek.

Round Island Run was simply gorgeous.  It cascaded over moss covered rocks and ledges, framed by blooming rhododendron and green hemlocks.  Brook trout sprinted in the clear waters below the trail.  The place almost seemed primeval, as if we were on the set of Jurassic Park.

Incredible rhododendron blooms

Incredible rhododendron blooms

As if things couldn’t get any better, we reached a place where the white blossoms covered the mountainside, reaching as far into the forest as the eye can see.  Stunning.  I had never seen anything like it.

A side trail took us down to Round Island Run Falls, which drops about 25 feet.  A few of us stood behind the falls.  A campsite was near the falls.  It was a beautiful spot, but the whole hike was so scenic, it is hard to call the falls the highlight.

Round Island Falls

Round Island Falls

The trail continued upstream as hidden cascades tumbled in the rhododendron jungles below.  We followed a trail as it climbed the steep slope, leaving the lush forests along the creek for the drier oak forests on the plateau.  The trail became hard to follow, but we were able to make our way to another unblazed trail, where we turned left.  The level trail meandered through meadows and ferns under hardwoods.  We soon returned back to the cars.

On the drive out through Keating we saw a sign that said “Nudist Crossing”.  You have to love Keating.

Despite the isolation, this trail is worth the drive.  It is best to hike this loop clockwise.  While the trail is not blazed, most of it is fairly easy to follow, with the exception of the southern part of the loop where the trail climbs from the stream and then turns left back to Jerry Ridge Road.  This juncture is very easy to miss if hiking the loop counter-clockwise.  As a point of reference, if you do hike this loop counter-clockwise and pass a wide ledge about ten feet tall, followed by thick blueberry bushes, you went too far.

I was very much impressed by the beauty of this place.  While the hike is scenic all year, it is particularly so when the rhododendron is blooming in July.

My next hike in Sproul State Forest was to the Clendenin Branch/Shoemaker Ridge Loop, and it was not to be outdone.

Location of the hike.

More pictures.