Backpacking the Ketchum Run Gorge Loop

Cottonwood Falls, Worlds End State Park

South of Worlds End State Park, the Loyalsock Trail (LT) intersects with a variety of state park trails, state forest trails, and bridle and cross country ski trails, providing numerous opportunities to create loop hikes.  One of my favorites is the Ketchum Run Gorge Loop, which is described in Hiking the Endless Mountains.  While the Loyalsock-Link Loop has become popular, this circuit offers more isolation and enables backpackers to experience one of the scenic highlights of the Loyalsock Trail- Ketchum Run Gorge- without backtracking or having to shuttle cars for a linear hike.

Tim and Ryan accompanied me on this hike.  The route we followed is a little different from the one in Hiking the Endless Mountains.  All told, this loop was about 17 miles.  Because there are many different trails you must follow, this circuit is best for experienced hikers.

We began at Worlds End State Park under overcast skies with an occasional ray of sunshine.  We followed the LT west as it climbed steeply out of the park to a narrow view and an old grade known as Pioneer Road, the original road through the canyon.  It is hard to imagine that horse drawn carriages traversed this treacherous terrain.  The LT descended to Double Run, where a short side hike took us to Cottonwood Falls.  Although not very high, the falls tumbles into an impressive aquamarine pool that was crystal clear.  A grotto of spring-slicked ledges encompassed the falls.

We hiked down, and then up the other branch of Double Run, a stream known for its beauty with many cascades and slides.  The mist in the forests seemed to make the air that much more humid.  The overcast skies really brought out the deep green of the forests.

We climbed to Canyon Vista and enjoyed the view as we spoke to a man who moved to Pennsylvania from North Carolina.  He was out exploring the parks in the region, with his next destination being Ricketts Glen State Park.  We told him to check out Cottonwood Falls.

The hike brought us back to the LT along a beautiful treadway through a deep hardwood forest; cliffs and ledges loomed off to the left.

On the Loyalsock Trail

The loop required us to leave the LT as we followed a series of side trails through dense woodlands and hemlock forests; past mossy wetlands and streambeds reduced to a trickle.  Some of these are bridle trails, so we had to clomp through the mud created by horses.

We reached Fern Rock Nature Trail, a beautiful loop that is ideal for kids.  This trail meanders through a forest with every shade of green- from the canopies of hemlocks to moss and lichens on the rocks.  It was a trail we all enjoyed.  A short bushwhack followed along Ketchum Run, where there are two off-trail waterfalls and grottos of cliffs.

Our loop returned us to the LT for the final time as it followed Ketchum Run.  We camped at a large site along the creek as it babbled over rocks.  A woodpecker hammered a tree in the distance.  The sun shone briefly, but the clouds filtered the evening light until it became dark.  An owl hooted in the darkness.  It felt as if we were far from everywhere.

Lee’s Falls

A few light showers passed through the early morning, so I zipped up the fly on my tent.  I woke to a moist world with dew glazing the forest.

We continued down the trail, entering Ketchum Run’s impressive gorge.  Another group were camping near Lee’s Falls, with its curtain of white over ledges carpeted with moss.  We hiked down the now-abandoned RX-4 trail along the creek.

The gorge was impressive with deep pools and several small waterfalls.  The LT climbed the side of the gorge on a new re-route, and then descended to Rode’s Falls and its ladder.

Rode’s Falls

We rested for a few minutes at the campsite below the falls before the climb out of the gorge and to Lower Alpine Vista.  This view is from a large cliff, offering a panorama down a forested valley veiled with mist.

Cali and Tim at Lower Alpine Vista

Another steep climb followed before the trail followed the rim of the gorge, with another view.  Once on the plateau, we hiked through deep, emerald hemlock forests before leaving the LT to continue on the Worlds End Trail.  This trail featured nice woodlands and a pine plantation with a great campsite.  Since hiking it a few years ago, the trail is much better established.

The final descent was very steep, as white and green colored cliffs rose overhead.  We soon were back at Worlds End just before it began to rain.

It was great to see several other people backpacking.  There was a man and his young son, a man and his young daughter, and a group of about ten teenagers.  There was also a couple dayhiking Ketchum Run Gorge; they were from Iowa and New Jersey.

The map of the area where we hiked can be found here.  The approximate sequence is as follows from Worlds End: LT-30-26-25-24-22-21-Fern Rock Nature Trail-bushwhack along Ketchum Run-LT-6-10-11-14-12-Worlds End State Park.

With its combination of vistas, numerous waterfalls, mountain streams, scenic forests, great camping, and fairly good isolation, it would be tough to find a better one night backpacking loop.

More pictures.




3 thoughts on “Backpacking the Ketchum Run Gorge Loop

  1. Hi,

    I recently (10/5/12 – 10/7/12) did a similar hike through this region. I started at World’s End SP and came off High Knob Overlook via the Holtzauer Trail. I saw so many interesting cliff faces/formations that I’d like to explore (especially around Ketchum Run and the Holtzauer Trail). I almost always hike alone (well, with my dog), but I’m looking for people who can handle the rigors of techinical backpacking. In my opinion, the rock/cliff exploration I’m considering is too dangerous for a solo hike. If you ever want to go back there and check some of the cliffs out, please get in touch. Thanks for the trail diary!

    • Thanks for the invite, I never hiked the Holtzauer Trail, but would like to do so. I love the pond up there. If you like cliffs, check out McIntyre Wild Area and SGL 57 where there are extensive cliffs, big rocks, caves, and crevices.

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