Beginner Backpacking Trip on the Pinchot Trail

The group on the trail.

The group on the trail.

I recently lead a beginner’s backpacking trip on the south loop of the Pinchot Trail in the scenic Lackawanna State Forest.  This event was scheduled through the Keystone Trails Association.  A total of eight people attended.  We met at the main trailhead and made our introductions.  After a discussion about how to pack a backpack and distributing some gear, we went for a quick walk to check out the views from Big Pine Hill.  A short drive later, we were at a parking area to start the south loop.

The Pinchot Trail is a 24 mile loop that nearly bisects itself, creating a north and south loop.  The south loop has easy terrain, diverse forests, scenic streams, fine camping, and meadows.  It is an ideal trail for beginners.  Sections of the trail are rocky, and the trail can be wet, as we were to find out.

Mountain laurel in bloom

Mountain laurel in bloom

The forests were covered with the blooms of mountain laurel, it was impressive.  Heavy white and pinkish blooms hung from the branches.  In places, the forest understory was filled with white blooms.  It was beautiful.  Fly Poison, a white flower, also made a frequent appearance.  The trail meandered through tunnels of mountain laurel and rhododendron, which was just beginning to bloom.  We crossed a meadow with the dark pink blooms of sheep laurel.  Conditions proved to be ideal, there were few bugs and virtually no ticks.

I enjoy the south loop due to its diversity, with a wide variety of forest types and habitats.  In places it resembles a rain forest, with its thick spruce, laurel, and rhododendron.   A wide variety of moths, dragonflies, and butterflies danced across the trail, some with incandescent colors.  We also saw hummingbirds zipping through the forest, making stops at the mountain laurel blooms.

Hikers enjoying Choke Creek Falls

Hikers enjoying Choke Creek Falls

We reached Butler Run where we stopped for lunch.  I took the group off the trail for a short hike to Choke Creek Falls.  Everyone enjoyed the waterfall, and the creek had a lot of water in it.  Several butterflies swirled around the falls.  We continued on the trail, as our hike returned to Choke Creek where we passed some campsites.  I needed to find a larger site for everyone, and I found one on an island around which the creek flowed.  The higher water ensured some wet feet.  Everyone set up their tents and enjoyed the sound of the water.  My plan was to hike seven miles the first day, but we ended up hiking over nine.  The group did a great job and finished the day in good spirits.  As night approached, it began to rain and I crawled into my tent.  The sound of the creek quickly put me to sleep.

Choke Creek Falls

Choke Creek Falls

Heavy rain fell overnight, but by morning, the showers passed and the sun even broke through the clouds.  The trail was inundated with water as we hiked up along Choke Creek through thick brush.  Two tiers of beaver dams created ponds where ducks bobbed for food.  Our feet sloshed through the water on the trail.

Cotton candy forest

Cotton candy forest

The trail returned to the mountain laurel with the endless blooms that covered the trail and spread throughout the forest.  We hiked through thick laurel, and tunnels of rhododendron.  Spruce and hemlock trees rose overhead.

Beaver dam on Choke Creek

Beaver dam on Choke Creek

We reached the forest road, which we followed back to the cars.  Everyone seemed to have a good time and enjoyed each others company.  They were a great group of people and I hope this trip will be the start of many more backpacking trips for them.

Everyone survived!

Everyone survived!

More videos and pictures.

Trail information from PA Hikes.

Roger Hollow

View of Roger Hollow

View of Roger Hollow

The High Allegheny Plateau spreads across Pennsylvania and reaches its eastern end in a most beautiful fashion.  Narrowing into a meandering ridge, it descends to farmlands just west of the Susquehanna River in Wyoming County.

From the Susquehanna River to the top of the plateau illustrates one of the highest topographical reliefs in the state.  Valleys, known as hollows, are embedded into the plateau and ridges, shaped like bowls.  These hollows, such as Sugar Hollow, Bowman Hollow, and Roger Hollow are locally famous for their scenic beauty.   Well tended farms inhabit the hollows, as steep forested ridges rise above in a graceful upward slope.  This is some of the finest scenery in the Appalachians.

A friend recently invited me to hike Roger Hollow.  Although it is privately owned, my friend had permission to hike to some beautiful vistas.  I had never been to this hollow, so I was eager to go.  The gravel road leading up into the hollow soon revealed incredible views of rolling farmlands and forested mountains.

We reached the ridge with a view down the hollow.  New York was on the horizon.  We enjoyed the 30-40 mile views.  The mountains of Bradford County rose to the northwest.

Roger Hollow view

Roger Hollow view

Our hike continued around the hollow until we reached another dramatic view, looking more to the northeast.  We sat there, absorbed by the beauty.  We descended from the view and reached the fields, which revealed the wind as its invisible currents bent over the tall grass, revealing the silver in their stems.  Wildflowers dotted the meadows as puffy white cumulus clouds paraded across the sky.

More pictures.

Pole Bridge Run and Rusty Falls Loop – Loyalsock State Forest

Pole Bridge Run

Pole Bridge Run

When I was writing the first edition of “Hiking the Endless Mountains”, I remember hiking the Pole Bridge Trail.  Although it was short, it was a hike that stuck with me due to the beauty of its forest in a deep glen with moss, ferns, ledges, pools, and cascades.  I always intended to return.  I didn’t, until this past weekend.

Since my first hike, it appears the state forest had abandoned the Pole Bridge Trail since it is no longer on the maps.  My hope was to create a long loop by using the Pole Bridge Trail, bridle trails, some grades, and the Link Trail.  This loop was one I had not hiked before, and would feature diverse forests, scenic streams, meadows, Rusty Falls, cascades, and beautiful glens.

I parked at Shanerburg Road, just off of PA 154.  I hiked a short distance up PA 154 and turned right at the driveway of a leased cabin.  The grade of the Pole Bridge Trail was just up the slope, and I climbed through a thicket of hemlock.  Soon the grade cleared and the trail was still in existence, with a perceptible footpath and red blazes.  I was on my way.

The weather was perfect.  The sun was crisp and bright, it was cool and a steady breeze kept the bugs away.

The trail stayed high above the creek, but the height offered great views of the forest.  It was impressive.  Hemlocks, birch, maple towered high with a carpet of moss.  It almost appeared to be old-growth.  There was some nice-sized hemlock, which looked healthier with new growth thanks to our frigid winter.  The trail was an excellent hike as it parsed ferns.  The forest smell was sweet, reminding me of the Adirondacks.  I veered off the trail to inspect the creek with its pools under a grove of hemlock.  It is surely one of the most scenic forests in the area.

Beautiful forests along Pole Bridge Run

Beautiful forests along Pole Bridge Run

The trail crossed the creek and proceeded up the mountain.  The trail was a little less established, but I could still follow it.  The red blazes continued to make an occasional appearance.  I reached the top where the trail ended at a new logging road, marked by a cairn.  This road was also the red blazed bridle trail.  I turned left and followed the road as it gradually ascended along meadows and then descended along a narrow grade.  I turned left along Shanerburg Run,  still following the bridle trail.  The hike up along Shanerberg Run is very beautiful, with thick hemlocks and several stream crossings.  I reached the large meadow as the breeze swept across the grass like waves.  What a beautiful spot.

Meadow along Shanerburg Run

Meadow along Shanerburg Run

The trail re-entered the woods along some cascades on the creek.  I followed the trail to Rusty Falls, a 10-15 foot falls in a hemlock glen.  My hike continued on the bridle trail to Shanerburg Road, and I left the bridle trail.  I followed a gated grade through a forest where I saw a deer and grouse with chicks.  I soon returned to the bridle trail where I passed a scenic glen with small waterfalls and another beautiful hemlock forest with a bog.  The bridle trail made a sharp, partially hidden turn and climbed through another beautiful forest.  I descended to the Link Trail, where I turned right for the steep descent back to Shanerburg Run and my car.  However, I first walked out to Flat Rock on the Loyalsock Creek to take in the warm sunshine and sparkling water.  The sunlight and breeze were effervescent.  I passed two men backpacking the Loyalsock-Link Loop.  They seemed to be enjoying themselves.  How could they not?   Another great day in the Loyalsock State Forest.

Pictures and videos.

Gillespie Point and Bohen Run Falls

View of Pine Creek Gorge from Gillespie Point

View of Pine Creek Gorge from Gillespie Point

It had been a couple of years since I hiked in the Pine Creek Gorge area (other than the Golden Eagle Trail) and it was time for me to return.  This region is so beautiful with a vast array of trails that lead to glens, waterfalls, and vistas.  It is a special place and has a wild feel to it.  The pine trees seem to grow taller, the forests more aromatic.  It is a hiking wonderland.

I decided to check out Gillespie Point with its breathtaking views and a side hike to Jerry Run and Bohen Run Falls, near the beautiful village of Blackwell.  Gillespie Point is notable for being a peak in a region of plateaus.  Surrounded by towering plateaus along the pristine Pine Creek, Blackwell offers no shortage of natural beauty.

We parked in Blackwell and hiked through the village, following the Mid State Trail south.  The trail left the forest road and made a steady climb up to Gillespie Point.  The day was sunny and warm, and soon we were sweating.  The climb wasn’t too steep, and a breeze offered some comfort.  The trail turned left and became steeper.  Soon it leveled off before making one more climb to the summit, where we were treated to amazing views.  The rolling ridges and plateaus, covered in deep green, with blue skies, white clouds and brilliant sunshine made for a memorable sight.  We sat in the sun as the breeze washed over us.  I could see the village of Blackwell far below.  Simply incredible.  I didn’t want to leave, but we forced ourselves to get back on the trail.  Two other hikers reached the summit as we left.

We were treated to a smaller view to the north and then the trail descended through scenic woodlands above a small stream.  We reached the road and left the Mid State Trail, following the forest road back to Blackwell.

After getting a bite to eat, we took to Bohen Trail into the Pine Creek Gorge to see two waterfalls- Jerry Run and Bohen Run Falls.  It had been years since I had seen these falls, and I really wanted to get to the bottom of Bohen Run Falls.  The trail was beautiful as it climbed into a scenic forest of pine, hemlock, spruce, and laurel.  Jerry Run Falls soon came into view as we looked into its glen.  The trail passed the top of the falls and continued onto Bohen Run Falls, where it parsed thick laurel.  Bohen Run Falls soon appeared, but the trail was high above it.  I took the blue side trail down under giant white pine trees and reached what appeared to be a small, old quarry.  I bushwhacked down to the stream, avoiding all the trilliums that were coming up.  The mosquitos soon arrived as I walked up the stream to the falls.  Bohen Run Falls is a beautiful sight, set into a deep, mossy glen, surrounded by ledges and cliffs.  It is primeval.

Bohen Run Falls

Bohen Run Falls

We retraced our steps back to Blackwell, passing blooming phlox.  The sun was beginning to set across the gorge.  We looked down to see the clear waters of Pine Creek as Fork Hill and Gillespie Point rose prominently above us.  My prior absence had been too long, I need to get back here again.  Soon.

More photos and videos.

Hike as described on PAHikes.

Return to the Waterfall Gorge, SGL 57

Highest falls in the Waterfall Gorge

Highest falls in the Waterfall Gorge

The plan was to hike up Caitlin Brook to see its waterfalls and then hike across the balds of Bartlett Mountain to White Brook.  However, we weren’t able to do that route.  So, I decided to show Raymond the secret Waterfall Gorge that I had explored a few weeks prior.

The forests were now green and the creek still had water despite the dry weather, although the flow was lower.  We bushwhacked for a couple miles through the woods and reached the unnamed creek as it tumbled down a steep bed of boulders to the first falls.  From the top of the highest falls, I could look down the steep and rugged gorge with its cliffs and boulders.  It was great to be back, this is truly a special place as the creek has carved a narrow gorge down to the bedrock with many slides, cascades, and four nice waterfalls.  There is even a pool right above the highest falls, a feature I have rarely seen.   Car-sized boulders were throughout the gorge as fractured cliffs rose overhead.

The bright sun illuminated the forests with fluorescent light as it glowed through the leaves.  Looking up to the highest falls was a gorgeous sight as a ribbon of water tumbled down the polished rock to a shelf, only to cascade down again.  The entire falls might be 40 feet tall.  The creek than slid along red bedrock to a small falls that fed a pool.  I stood on a large boulder above the pool and looked up the gorge to see the falls.  Another falls, about ten feet tall, was just downstream.  We hiked out of the gorge, looking for rattlesnakes, but we did not see a single one.  The deerflies, however, did find us.

This hidden gem is one of several in SGL 57.  With its balds, cliffs, views, caves, rock outcrops, spruce forests, gorges, gorgeous streams, and numerous waterfalls, SGL 57 rivals any state park.  It could be a national park.  It features a diversity that may be without peer in the Mid-Atlantic.

More photos.

A video of the gorge.

Bowman Hollow Falls

Bowman Hollow Falls

Bowman Hollow Falls

Just outside the scenic village of Forkston is a beautiful waterfall, Bowman Hollow Falls.  I’ve known about it for several years, but I never found a way to see it.  I once drove up along the road and was able to look into the gorge below, only to see the top of the falls.

While waterfall hunting in SGL 57 with Raymond Chippa, who has the Pennsylvania Waterfalls website, he offered to show me.  We parked along the road and took a path into the gorge.  What a beautiful place.  The creek slid over bedrock flumes and cascades as large trees towered overhead.  I saw one large tulip poplar tree, which can grow to be the tallest hardwood in the east.  The gorge walls surrounded us as shafts of morning light illuminated the mist and flies rising from the water.  The falls soon came into view and the setting is impressive.  The 40 foot falls were surrounded by a towering amphitheater of cliffs, carpeted with moss and lichen.  Red bedrock adorned the creek.  Springs trickled from the cliffs.  I sat there to take it all in. We walked back out and explored another falls that sinks into a narrow chasm and then feeds a pool followed by another cascade.  Sometimes a quick walk is as rewarding as a long hike.

The falls are on private land, which is not posted.  The falls have been described in books and on websites, and appear to be a local landmark that is regularly visited by the public.  As always, please treat such places with respect and thanks to the landowner for allowing the public to see the falls.

More photos and a video.

Austin Dam

Ruins of the Austin Dam

Ruins of the Austin Dam

September 30, 1911.

On that date, the Bayless Pulp and Paper Co. dam above the town of Austin burst, sending a torrent of water into the town, and killing 78 people.  It is one of the worst dam disasters in the history of the country.

The dam was only two years old at the time it failed.  Built in 1909, the concrete dam was 534 feet long, 50 feet high, and held 250 million gallons of water.  At the time, it was the largest concrete dam in the state.  It was built to provide a water supply for the paper plant.  However, soon after its construction, it became apparent that the dam was seriously flawed.  The dam failure was not a complete surprise as there were serious concerns about its integrity.  Ominous old photos showed the dam beginning to bow out in the middle, and the top of the dam was even notched to lower the water level.  It was not enough.

After heavy rains, the dam failed.  Its waters damaged, but did not destroy, the plant that was the reason for the dam’s existence.  Others were not so lucky.  State and federal laws regarding dam construction and inspection were finally passed after the disaster.

Today, a small local park contains the impressive ruins of the dam, weathered over the last century.  Massive blocks of cement have been pushed and twisted in unbelievable ways.  The road down to the dam is rugged and rutted.  There are plans to improve it.  Regardless, it is worth the drive.  The park also has the remains of an old earthen dam, and a small primitive campground.  It also hosts a musical festival.

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The paper plant met a similar fate.  Although the plant continued to produce paper until a fire in 1944, it is now an abandoned, collapsing concrete ruin with twisted rebar and vegetation growing through cracks.

Ruins of the Bayless Pulp and Paper Co.

Ruins of the Bayless Pulp and Paper Co.

I drove through the small, quiet town of Austin, now a fraction of its former size.  I decided to check out Prouty Place State Park and took the East Fork Road at Wharton.  While the park was nothing more than a sign, old field, and rutted road, the drive to it on the East Fork Road was very beautiful.  I highly recommend it.  Rolling mountains, dusted with white serviceberry blooms, surrounded a gorgeous, isolated valley with well-kept farms and cabins.  It was Appalachia at its best.

I drove out along PA 44 under bright sun and taking in some more nice views across the forested wilderness of Northcentral Pennsylvania.  I descended into the impressive Pine Creek Gorge as the mountains rose in the vivid sunlight, glowing with the new fluorescent Spring foliage.

More pictures.

Location of the dam.

Information about the Austin Dam Memorial Park, with historical photos of the disaster.