Hyner View State Park

View at daybreak, above the clouds

View at daybreak, above the clouds

After hiking Clendenin Branch and Lower Jerry Run Natural Area the day before, I slept well in my tent as owls hooted in the night.  I had a plan for the following morning- to get up early and drive to Hyner View to check out the views.  My hope was that there would be fog in the valleys, offering views above the clouds.

My plan worked.  I awoke and was in my car before 6 a.m.  The air was chilly.  The valleys were concealed in fog and a heavy dew covered the grass and my tent.  I drove to Hyner View on a winding road.  I reached the top and was treated to an amazing view above the clouds as the plateaus rose into the distance.  I also noticed the temperature was noticeably warmer than down in the valley.  As the sun rose, color spread from the sky with pink, orange, and yellow.  The clouds illuminated and slowly rolled, concealing lower ridges, and then revealing them with wisps of mist.  A window in the clouds would form, offering a view of the mountains and hills.

The sun cast the tops of the mountains in a golden glow and soon electrified the clouds.  Streams of fog and mist flowed from the valleys and glens, swirling into the clouds above the river.  It was phenomenal.

I eventually returned to my car.  I had this spectacle all to myself, and some goldfinches.  I drove down the mountain and re-entered the clouds.  I stopped to look at them.  They were moving like waves in slow motion, as light, feathery mist would rise from the top of the cloud layer and dissipate into the air.  Pure magic.  I continued my descent into the foggy, milky underworld as my next hike in the Quehanna Wild Area awaited.

More photos.

More information about the park.

Lower Jerry Run Natural Area

Sometimes a place defies your expectations and enriches you with the experience of seeing it.

After hiking Clendenin Branch, we set off across the Sproul State Forest along scenic PA 120.  We traveled the bottom of canyons as forested plateaus rose steeply in the summer heat.  Our first destination were the views off of Jerry Ridge Road.  We took in the impressive scenery.  Deep, endless green clothed the mountains with its tiers of ridges the defined glens, canyons, and gorges.

County Line Vista

County Line Vista

Two in our group headed back to their campsite at Hyner Run State Park.  We, however, had another destination in mind- the old growth forest of Lower Jerry Run Natural Area.  This natural area covers 892 acres and is very isolated.  It protects several old growth forests (Google Earth appears to show four or five old growth forests) with hemlocks that are almost 120 feet tall.

We didn’t know what to expect, and my expectations were fairly low.  We found the small trailhead and followed the yellow blazed trail along a forest road with open hardwoods and ferns.  The trail turned right and followed a powerline swath; this caused some confusion.  The trail followed the swath itself until the second tower, where it returned to the woods, turning left.  The trail followed an old grade under more hardwoods and ferns.  I began to think this was going to be a dull hike.

The grade began to descend along the slope of a gorge and became covered with ferns, a faint pathway and yellow blazes were our only guide.  We passed some large hemlocks, including one with a crack down the middle.  My spirits lifted since I could see some large trees further down into the gorge.

We waded through the thick ferns as the sun began to set.  The forest became more beautiful with towering hemlock, pine, maple, and oak.  The hemlocks were battling the adelgid, but the giant trees were still alive.  The grade turned left and entered the heart of the old growth.  We were surrounded by giant, towering trees as shafts of sunlight angled to the forest floor.  We were all impressed.  What made this place so special was how isolated it was- it felt wild and untamed.  There were no noises or sounds.  It was as if we were transported back in time when forests such as these covered the state, and were just as silent.  We were seeing a place as it has always been.  That is so rare.

Entering the old growth forest

Entering the old growth forest

The trail ended in the old growth forest and I knew Lower Jerry Run had more secrets, however, our time was in short supply.  We retraced our steps, leaving this hidden realm and returned to a world of roads, cars, and noises.  This is a place I will not soon forget.

Among the ancient hemlocks

Among the ancient hemlocks

More photos.

Brochure and map of the natural area.

Hiking Clendenin Branch, Sproul State Forest

Hiking Clendenin Branch

Hiking Clendenin Branch

I returned to the Sproul State Forest for the Keystone Trail Association’s Prowl the Sproul hiking event.  I was going to lead a hike to Round Island Falls, however, my group preferred a hike along Clendenin Branch, which they had not done before.  We were soon in our cars, driving deep into the state forest.  Our hike began at the end of Shoemaker Ridge Road.  The first half of the hike follows the top of the plateau along an old forest road.  As we hiked the scenery steadily improved as we followed the crest of a narrow, forested ridge.  At the end of the ridge was a view at a powerline swath; not the best view, but it offered a panorama of the surrounding terrain.  Shoemaker Branch flowed below, hidden in its canyon.  That is one stream I’ve wanted to explore and hope to do so in the future.  We backtracked a little bit and descended along an old grade to Clendenin Branch.  This creek is what makes the hike worthwhile, it is absolutely beautiful, and the scenery only improved as we hiked up the creek.   The creek was flowing well, so we all got wet feet from the numerous stream crossings.  The unmarked trail was fairly easy to follow as it traversed an old grade or forest road.  We passed huge white pine trees and some large hemlocks.  Rhododendron crowded the creek as bright red bee balm caught the sun.

At the juncture with Benjamin Run is a rhododendron jungle and a nice campsite.  We continued upstream, as the trail became more narrow and the creek tumbled over moss covered boulders into deep pools.  We took a break at a gorgeous spot where the creek cascaded over large boulders with ferns and moss.  The forest had a deep, primeval feel to it.  We sat on the large rocks and just took in the scenery, taking pictures and videos.  Our trek continued as the trail threaded around more huge boulders, hemlocks, and carpets of moss.  The creek featured more hidden pools and rapids, the sound of the water echoed off of the large boulders concealed by the forest.

Lots of bee balm along the trail

Lots of bee balm along the trail

After a final stream crossing, we left Clendenin Branch and hiked past more bee balm.  We reached the top of the plateau and returned to the cars.  Everyone enjoyed the hike as we sat in the sun, talking.  This is a truly beautiful gem in the Sproul State Forest.

I mentioned to the group I planned to explore the old growth forest at Lower Jerry Run Natural Area, although it would be a long drive since it is at the other end of the vast state forest.  Two hikers decided to join me, and the other two followed us to see the views off of Jerry Ridge Road.  We were soon in our cars to continue our journey…

More photos.

Old Growth Hemlocks of Salt Springs State Park

Old growth hemlocks

Old growth hemlocks

There is something beautiful, if not magical, about an old growth hemlock forest.  The dark, furrowed trunks rise over 100 feet, holding a galaxy of mosses and lichens.  The massive trunks stand guard, living for over 300 years, but so susceptible to the saw or the tiniest insect.  The needles of these massive trees are so green, light, if not feathery, as they dance in the breeze.  Their size comes with the price of time- hemlocks grow very slowly.  And forests like these are rare, few remain, having fallen to man, or now being killed by the wooly adelgid.

After visiting Endless Brewing, we naturally had to visit nearby Salt Springs State Park.  This park is one of the gems of Northeast PA and has evolved into an outdoor recreation destination, attracting people from all over.  The parking lot revealed a car from Massachusetts.

Boardwalk above the gorge

Boardwalk above the gorge

We didn’t have much time, so we decided to walk up the waterfalls and return via the boardwalk above the gorge through the old growth forest.  People were relaxing in the cold water, trying to find relief from the heat.  We climbed alongside the falls, catching their spray.  The trail climbed from the creek and entered the forest.

Falls at Salt Springs

Falls at Salt Springs

This is truly one of the finest old growth hemlock forests in Northeast PA.  Some trees have been documented to be over 500 years old, and over 130 feet tall.  Large fallen trees cris-crossed the forest floor, harboring ferns and saplings.  Thanks to the frigid winters, the hemlocks at Salt Springs have been given a new lease on life since the wooly adelgid cannot survive very cold temperatures.

Temple of trees

Temple of trees

A distant thunderstorm grumbled with thunder as clouds spread from the horizon.  We hurried down the trail and returned to the car.  Salt Springs never grows old, even if its trees do.

More photos.

More info about the park.

Millersburg Ferry and Shikellamy State Park

Crossing the river.

Crossing the river.

The Susquehanna River between Sunbury and Duncannon is one of the most beautiful large rivers in the country.  In places, the river is over a mile wide and has hundreds of islands and islets.  It is a world onto itself.  The river is surprisingly undeveloped as it cuts through rolling green ridges and slanted cliffs.

The Millersburg Ferry is the last on the Susquehanna River and the only rear wooden paddlewheel ferry in the country.  It began in 1825 when boats were poled across the river.  I had to get across the river to visit a friend, and I wanted to try something other crossing the bridge at Duncannon.  I drove through the scenic town of Millersburg and soon found the ferry.  The ferry was pulling out just as I got there and waited for its return.  The ferry returned and I pulled onto it with two other cars and some motorcycles.   The fare was $8.

We slowly made our way across the river, which we were told was about six feet deep.  The river was beautiful with its islands.  Ducks and ducklings swam in a line as herons flew overhead.  Kayakers dotted the surface.

Islands of the Susquehanna

Islands of the Susquehanna

We reached the other side of the river.  On the way home, I drove along the river to see dozens of resplendent white egrets sitting in the trees and coves of the islands, looking for their next meal.  The rapids of McKee’s Half Falls soon came into view; the whitewater stretched like a line across the river.

I stopped by Shikellamy State Park and drove up to the lookout to see the two branches of the Susquehanna meet.

View from Shikellamy State Park

View from Shikellamy State Park

More photos and videos.

Ned Smith Center and Weiser State Forest

Ned Smith Center

Ned Smith Center

Located outside of the scenic village of Millersburg is the Ned Smith Center, named for a well-respected wildlife and outdoors painter who was born in the town.  Ned Smith’s paintings graced many magazine covers, and he also once worked for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.  He passed away in 1985 and his paintings now sell for over $60,000.

The center is committed to the study of nature and art.  It features two galleries, one of them being the paintings of Ned Smith.  There are wildflowers and several miles of trails, not to mention the Wiconsico Creek.

I drove to the center to be greeted by an amazing display of blooming false sunflower and bee balm.  I toured the exhibits and saw the impressive paintings.  I then headed onto the trails as I walked down to the creek, passing large tulip poplar trees.  A large footbridge crossed the creek and began a loop that required a climb up to the ridge.

The trail system is extensive, and a little confusing.  The trails do not seem to correlate exactly to the map, but the map is fairly accurate.  The trail took me to a fine rail-trail and I followed the Mountain Laurel Trail to the Deer Run Trail.  The trails were fairly well established, although a little brushy in places.  The forests were exclusively hardwoods.  Along the way I passed an Eastern Box Turtle.  I next followed the Lenker Trail to Berry’s Mountain Trail, which was an old woods road on the crest of the ridge.  I followed this to a powerline swath with views to the north and south.  The south revealed the Susquehanna River and Peters Mountain, which hosts the Appalachian Trail.

The trail descended very steeply down the swath to the rail trail, which I followed back to complete the loop.  While the hike was nice, the forests on the North Trails (north side of the creek) seemed to be more scenic.  The North Trails, however, are quite short.

The Ned Smith Center hosts numerous events and programs, making it an ideal destination for those who love art and nature.

View from Berry Mountain

View from Berry Mountain

While in the area, I decided to check out a vista in the nearby Weiser State Forest.  I drove to the end of Wolf Pond Road and hiked past a gate into a large meadow at the rim of the mountain.  The view was spectacular, featuring farms, rolling ridges and mountains that faded into the summer heat.  It would be a remarkable place to see a sunset.

View from the Weiser State Forest

View from the Weiser State Forest

I then drove back to Millersburg.  My plan was to see a friend who lived in Newport, on the other side of the river.  But how would I cross the river?  I could drive down to Duncannon, or take the Millersburg Ferry across the river.  I chose the ferry, and a new adventure awaited…

More pictures.

More information on the Ned Smith Center.

More information on Weiser State Forest.

Return to Ricketts Glen State Park

Harrison Wright Falls

Harrison Wright Falls

I began my hiking “career” at Ricketts Glen State Park.  I had long heard about it, but then the day came when I finally decided to check it out myself.  I hiked up the trail, climbing stone steps slicked with springs.  I saw Sheldon Reynolds Falls, hiked up to the top, only to be greeted by the broad curtain of Harrison Wright Falls.  I couldn’t believe a place so beautiful could be so close.

Ricketts Glen is one of the most beautiful state parks in the country, and was once even considered to become a national park.  Various hikes in this large park are described in “Hiking the Endless Mountains”.

Initially, I would hike the famous and popular Falls Trail frequently.  As the years passed, I spent less time in this iconic park.  I was too busy exploring the other beautiful places in Pennsylvania’s vast state forests and game lands.  On a misty weekend, I decided it was time to return.

Recent rains swelled Kitchen Creek into a powerful torrent.  Adams Falls pulsated with the force of the water.  Water was everywhere, dripping from rock, absorbed by moss, hanging onto leaves.  A veil of mist hung in the air, fading the forest.  I like to start from PA 118 so I can see the glorious old growth forest.  Massive hemlock and tulip poplar trees rose through the canopy.  From the trail, through the forest, I could see a particularly gigantic tulip poplar.

The creek roared down the glen.  I saw a family walk down the trail who excitedly told me a doe and fawn had just crossed the creek.  There was waterfall after waterfall.  I reached Waters Meet with waterfalls up each glen, glistening white.  I reached Ganoga Falls, the sight was stunning with the tremendous force of the water.

Ganoga Falls

Ganoga Falls

I hiked the Highland Trail to Glen Leigh and descended along the creek.  Concaved ledges rose over the water, creating amphitheaters that echoed the falls.  One of my favorite spots is looking up to Ozone Falls to see a series of cascades and slides leading up to the base of the falls.  R.B. Ricketts Falls waited just downstream, as two falls plummeted into a pool.

Ozone Falls

Ozone Falls

I returned to Waters Meet and headed back to the car.  I left this timeless gem of the Appalachians with its waterfalls, glens, and big trees.  It will always be there.

More pictures and videos.

More information on the park.