The Wilds of State Game Lands 57- The Cliffs of Flat Top

Morning mist over Stony Brook

There are times when you have been fortunate enough to see or experience a place so special, that you know the experience will not soon leave you.  I had such an experience this weekend.

State Game Lands 57 is a special place.  Over the years I have been slowly exploring more and more of this vast area, and my appreciation for it has only grown.  It features forests, landscapes, and habitats so rare in Pennsylvania.  I have known for a few years of a series of cliffs on the west side of Flat Top, a name given on topographical maps to a prong of the plateau above Stony Brook.  This weekend I decided to see it for myself.

I met Ryan and his wonderful dog at around 8 a.m. on a cool, misty morning as Mehoopany Creek’s current announced its presence.  The tops of the white pines disappeared in the flowing mist; the sunlight was making a valiant effort to break through.

We decided to climb Flat Top from the south, avoiding a hike along flood-torn Stony Brook.  We climbed along a very narrow ridge with mountain laurel and teaberry.  Soon we reached the first view looking up Stony Brook as a breeze blew down the creek; it smelled sweet with mist and budding trees.

We continued our hike, all off trail.  The terrain leveled off, but then grew steep and rocky as we made our ascent.  The sun was trying to pierce the morning clouds.  Despite it being cool, and being March, I began to sweat.  We slowly made our way up, following old deer trails over loose rock.  Upon reaching a level area, there was a large boulder resting flat on a smaller rock, resembling a balance rock or mushroom.  Above were large rock outcrops and crevasses with scat and worn game trails.  We could only imagine how many animals silently listened to us as we stumbled away.

We decided to head west along the contour of the plateau where we entered a beautiful hardwood forest with huge, majestic oak trees.  We soon reached the west side of the Flat Top plateau, where we turned north, staying close to the edge.

We reached a laurel thicket that sliced my legs; although there were cliffs and rock outcrops, there were no views.  We pushed on, passing small springs.  Ryan was ahead and thought he saw an opening.  No luck, there was only a minor view.  To avoid the laurel, we scaled the side of the outcrops, holding onto roots and small ledges.  Ryan soon told me to hurry up.  I soon found him sitting on a dramatic rock outcrop- Pedestal Rock.

Pedestal Rock

The view from Pedestal Rock was breathtaking as it looked down Big Deer Run’s gorge and into Stony Brook.  The shadows of the lifting clouds drifted across the mountainsides.


View from Pedestal Rock

Although Pedestal Rock was impressive, I knew it wasn’t the cliff I was hoping to reach.  We continued north, and climbed to higher elevations.  I soon spied massive boulders through the trees above us.  We grew excited as we pushed up the mountain.  We reached an incredible boulder city.  But above was a prominent wall of cliffs towering through the trees.  We reached the cliffs.

We scrambled to the southern end of the cliffs with some views to the south.  Boulders were everwhere, bleached white from the sun.  The rock was a type of pebbly conglomerate.  We pushed north along the cliffs with more smaller views through the trees.

We entered an amazing balsam fir forest that was incredibly dark and green.  These trees are usually found in the Adirondacks, New England, or Canada.  We pushed through the thick forests, as the bare, sharp branches scraped and punctured my skin- the price of admission.

The scenery and terrain only became more impressive as we worked our way north along the cliff line.  Massive overhanging cliffs jutted out above the trees; thick green firs grew over the top.  The scenery was so unique.  And soon we were treated to some amazing views.

Views from the cliffs

It just kept on getting better.  We passed a narrow crevasse that lead to the base of the cliffs; just further was a huge outcrop where we decided to eat lunch.  The sky was a deep blue and the sun was warm and vivid, bringing out the colors of the sky and the green fir forest.  The views were amazing- no houses, no development, no traffic, no sounds.  It was completely untouched.  A lone plane went by- it was the only sound we heard.  Turkey vultures kept an eye on us and I saw an odd, reddish insect crawl across the outcrop.

The scenery was amazing, I could not believe what I was seeing.  But we were not the first ones here- hidden near the fir trees was a small fire ring, now covered with moss.  We have probably been the first visitors in many years.

Enjoying the views

We continued along the cliffs, parsing the fir trees and reaching more cliffs that offered more views to the south, looking into the Mehoopany Creek Gorge.

View of the Mehoopany Creek Gorge, in the distance

We left the fir forest and entered a hardwood forest with gnarled, wind torn trees and meadows of ferns.  The cliffs soon returned, with columns of weathered stone and a final, dramatic view to the south as the ridges of the plateaus layered away through the sunlight.


We descended to a small stream and followed it down the Big Deer Run, which has no official name on the maps, but that is what I call it since it drains Big Deer Swamp.  There is a hidden glen and falls along this creek under thick hemlocks.

We continued to explore the plateau, with incredible rock outcrops, crevasses and caves.  There were impressive hemlock forests that appeared unaffected by the wooly adelgid.  There was also a lot of bear activity, with bear trails and bear prints.  This section had incredible biodiversity.

We made our way back down to Stony Brook along a very steep descent over loose rock and a landslide.  Stony Brook was torn apart from the floods; the devastation was beyond description.  Trees were thrown like matchsticks; mounds of cobblestones were deposited throughout the forest.  The floods tore a gash over the old streambed, ripping through the forest.

We reached the cars, exhilarated from our incredible journey.  Ryan suggested we do a quick hike along an unnamed stream on the east side of the Mehoopany Creek, where there were some waterfalls.  I agreed.

We drove a little ways and parked along the road.  We hiked down the Mehoopany along a vast bed of sand and cobbles under a brilliant blue sky.  We hiked up along the small no-name creek where it carved mini-gorges into the red bedrock with small slides, pools, and cascades.  It was very beautiful.  The bedrock was sculpted and smooth.  We soon reached the main falls- it was only about fifteen feet high, but it showered down from a notch in the red cliffs into an intimate pool.  It was rather impressive.  To the side, springs erupted from cliffs clothed with moss.  I sat there as the falling water filled the air and the sun began to set over the mountains.

Hidden falls on the no-name creek

We hiked back down the creek as it glistened in the sunlight.  We soon reached the cars, bringing an end to an amazing day.

It is my hope that this area will be included in Phase 4 of the proposed Endless Mountains Trail.

The beauty that lies in our backyards is often the most overlooked.  We dream of far-away places, while ignoring what exists right here, hiding in plain sight.  I’ve hiked in many places and in many states, but this will remain as one of my most memorable hikes.  It is not out of bias, sure I grew up and live in Wyoming County, but to find a place such as this that can bring the same joy and wonder as a national park visited by millions, is something that I will always cherish.

I only hope that places such as this will be protected for not only future generations, but also this one.  We cannot afford to lose a place so special, unique, and beautiful.  I hope someday you will see it for yourself.  Trust me, it will be well worth your time.

For more pictures of this amazing place, click here.

For a Google satellite image of the southern section of the cliff line with the balsam fir forest, click here.


Coal Mine on Dutch Mountain

Entrance to the abandoned coal mine

This past weekend we visited the abandoned coal mine on the top of Dutch Mountain.  We drove to the top of the mountain and parked at the juncture with a game commission road that leads back to the mine.  The game commission road is not in very good shape, so we decided to walk it.  The sun was bright and warm, and even at these higher elevations, the trees were beginning to bud.  Small streams and springs glistened in the sunlight as they meandered down through the forests.

We soon reached a large opening with gravel from the mining era; at the top is the old mine.  It isn’t much to see, but it is an intact mine shaft; you can walk back into it, but there is water flowing from within it, so it is wet.  The shaft is very shallow and just under the surface of the top of the mountain.  The mine shaft appears to be under a layer of conglomerate or sandstone.  The mine is a unique historical feature and a remnant of the mining that once occurred on top of these isolated mountains, which are now slowly returning back to forest.

Nearby is Red Brook, a more interesting hike featuring a gorge with boulders, old grades, and two waterfalls.  Old grades also explore the top of the mountain where there are vast bogs, swamps, and hemlock and balsam fir forests, which harbor incredible biodiversity and several rare species.

For a Google satellite image of the mine area, click here.


Brook Kedron and Lost Lake Swamps

Hemlock forests along trail route

I returned to the Loyalsock State Forest to scout a route for the Endless Mountains Trail (EMT).  You couldn’t ask for a nicer day- warm and sunny.

I began at the Mead Road trailhead for the Loyalsock Trail and proceeded along the old Dushore Road, a grade through the woods.  It was a nice route.  It crossed a swath and went behind the new forestry buildings along US 220.  I followed another grade to the north and then left the grade, entering a hemlock grove and bog.  I kept on the south side, left the grove, and angled northwest through some hardwoods.  I soon returned to the hemlocks with some rather large trees.  I headed north, but was stopped by a spaghnum moss bog, so I headed a little west and crossed a small stream.  I continued northwest until I reached an old woods road, which soon reached one of the branches of Brook Kedron.   There were many different trails cut for seismic gas testing, some right across wetlands and creeks.

I’ve been told about Brook Kedron, and although the EMT will only follow a small part of it, I decided to explore all of the brook down to the old railroad grade that goes to the Haystacks and the Loyalsock Trail.  I’m glad I did, this is a stunning creek.

Falls on Brook Kedron

The EMT will not follow Brook Kedron down to the Loyalsock Trail because it is too far out of the way, however, a side trail is envisioned to connect the two trails, making a grand loop including the Haystacks.  What an amazing hike that would be.  There is an unofficial trail of sorts along Brook Kedron, on the east side of the creek, with some hatchet or saw marks on the trees.

I crossed Mead Road and continued down the brook.  It carved itself into these mini-gorges with many slides and cascades.  No falls were higher than 10 feet, but it was still incredibly beautiful.  Big rocks adorn the creek and some large trees grew overhead.  Despite the warm day, it was still cool along the brook.  The September floods left their mark on Brook Kedron, the brook left its banks and deposited debris 10-20 feet away from it.

I reached the culvert and old railroad grade after a steep series of cascades.  On the grade are the popular trails to the Haystacks.  People hike that grade without knowing the wonders of this brook.  There is a stone culvert under the grade, still in good shape, but the floods surely put the culvert to the test.  The workmanship is impressive.  It is possible to crawl through the culvert in low water.

I retraced my steps and followed the brook upstream, exploring some of the mini-gorges.

I reached Mead Road and headed southwest, back into more hemlocks, and I soon reached the large branch of Brook Kedron as I followed it to its headwaters.

The forest was deep, cool, and mysterious.  Moss covered the forest floor and logs, water seemed to be everywhere.  Springs surged from the earth, pooled, and joined Brook Kedron along carpets of bright green moss.

I reached the first bog, an area known as Lost Lake.  It was thought there was once a lake here.  Soon after was another bog from which Brook Kedron flowed.  It oozed along bright green moss.

Lost Lake swamps and headwaters of Brook Kedron

I decided to circumvent this bog to the southwest, that was a mistake.  I eventually reached the state forest boundary, but it crossed the swamp, so I had to fight through the brush on the bog, jumping from log to tussocks of vegetation.

I angled southeast and reached US 220 where the EMT will cross.  Reaching my goal, I headed back to the car.  I followed a large ditch the drained a swamp to the south.  I circumvented the same bogs and swamps through deep hemlock and moss forests with every shade of green.

I reached one of my waypoints and decided to check out another old woods road that was further north of the route on which I previously hiked.  It wasn’t a bad route, but my first route was nicer.

I returned to the old Dushore Road and reached the swath.  I went back to the Mead Road parking area along the west side of the swath, which is rockier but a little nicer for a trail since it is further from US 220.  I picked up an old trail and reached the parking area.

This will be an incredible route for the EMT, offering streams, bogs, swamps, and impressive forests of hemlocks and moss.  The diversity is impressive.  This route will also enable a longer, and far more scenic, hiking loop incorporating the Haystacks and beautiful Brook Kedron.

For more pictures of the hike, click here.

For a map of the Haystacks trails, which show the location of Brook Kedron, click here.



White Gold Circuit

View of Mountain Springs Lake

View of Mountain Springs Lake

This past weekend I decided to visit one of my favorite loops for a dayhike, what I call the White Gold Circuit.  It was warm and sunny at my house, but once we climbed up the plateaus north of Ricketts Glen, it was still sunny, but not as warm.  Mountain Springs Road was covered with snow, as were much of the forests.  What a different elevation makes.

The name of this hike comes from the ice industry which was once prevalent here.  The region had lakes at higher elevations, making them ideal for the creation of ice before the age of refridgeration.  What appears to be a wilderness now was once home to towns and factories for the processing of ice.  This hike passes Beech Lake, a natural lake at the highest elevation that was the first to be used for ice.  Two other lakes were dammed at lower elevations along Bowmans Creek, one was drained, and the other still exists as Mountain Springs Lake.  Today, you can find old foundations, grades, and cribworks from this forgotten era.

This loop follows unblazed and unofficial trails through State Game Lands 57.  The trails are easy to follow and well established, but do not expect signs or blazes.  There is a web of these trails, and they offer some of the finest hiking in the state.  Together, SGL 13, SGL 57, and Ricketts Glen State Park make up the finest block of public lands in the eastern Mid-Atlantic with dozens of waterfalls, backcountry ponds, beautiful streams, big rocks, views, gorges, and impressive isolation.

This is a great hike because of its diversity- it offers views so much.  And since the descents and climbs are gradual, it isn’t that hard.

We parked at The Meadows, also known as Bowmans Marsh, under a crystal clear blue sky.  About 4-5 inches of wet snow covered the trails; without snowshoes, this made it a harder hike.  The trail wound through beautiful hardwoods with some spruce trees and carpets of ground pine, a common feature in these forests.  Wind whipped the treetops on these high plateaus.

The trail lead to a rim of cliffs offering views to the west, including ice-covered Mountain Springs Lake.  We dropped from the top of the plateau, passing cliffs and huge boulders.  We crossed a lonely dirt road and I hiked down to one of the former locations of the ice dams, now a vast meadow, where there was a deep pool and backwater from beautiful Bowmans Creek.  We followed the trail closely along the creek and the scenery was excellent with thick hemlocks, rhododendrons, and deep pools.

Bowmans Creek

The September floods also affected Bowmans Creek.  One feature of this hike was an old, wooden railroad trestle; it was completely wiped away by the floods.  Remnants of the trestle were embedded against trees, further downstream.

The trail left the creek and made a gradual climb up Wolf Run, where we passed two mountain bikers.  We decided to make a side trip to Coyote Rocks, which are exposed cliffs with a superb view looking up Bowmans Creek.  What makes this view so notable is that there is no sign of human development.

View from Coyote Rocks

The next goal was Bean Run and to get there we had to cross over the plateau with more snow.  The forests were beautiful.  There was a profusion of animal tracks, including deer, turkey, coyote, bobcat, and fox.

Upon reaching Bean Run, we crossed paths with two people looking for places to hunt.  I’ve never come across so many people on this trail before.  We followed the creek down, which is known for its cliffs and angular boulders.  The trail then climbs back up the plateau along a branch of Bean Run with many small waterfalls.

The next highlight was the last- Beech Lake.  The lake is untouched and can only be reached by hiking.  A natural lake, it was once used by the ice industry, and it is about a third of a mile long.  It is a beautiful, serene place.  We followed a trail along the south side of the lake, which was frozen over and crossed with animal tracks.

Beech Lake

We returned to the car at The Meadows as the sun was setting, marking the end of another great hike.

For pics from my August, 2010 hike, click here.

For more pics from this hike, click here.