Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

View from the South Lookout

View from the South Lookout

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary straddles a notch in Blue Mountain, through which hawks, eagles, and countless other birds fly when they migrate.  As late as the 1930s, people would come here to hunt hawks and eagles, killing thousands.  The visitor center has old photos with hundreds of dead birds on the forest floor.  Such senseless killing motivated people to create the sanctuary, the first of its kind in the world dedicated to the protection of birds of prey.

I first visited Hawk Mountain several years ago and decided it was time to return.  This is a private sanctuary, but the public is welcome.  It costs six dollars to hike the trails.  While paying to hike is not something most people are used to, in this case, the money goes to a good cause.

View from Hawk Mountain

View from Hawk Mountain

Crusty snow covered the high ridge as an easy trail took us to a series of vistas.  To the south were a series of ridges that ended at the famous Pinnacle and the Appalachian Trail.  The Appalachian Trail passes to the south of the sanctuary.

The vistas were impressive as we looked over distant farmlands and foothills that culminated with the long, forested ridge on which we hiked.

The trail became more rocky and we entered some historical remains of sand quarrying with ancient culverts and grades.  The trail passed through a grotto surrounded by ledges and hemlocks.  A series of steps soon brought us to more views, the finest being the North Lookout.

North Lookout

North Lookout

We were treated to superb views across both sides of the mountain.  To the north were series of ridges that rose to a distant plateau.  To the south were farmlands.  In the middle, the lookout offered a view right down the crest of the ridge.  A brisk wind swept over the ridge as bright sunshine painted the deep cobalt skies.

Hawk Mountain offers several miles of trails, from easy to difficult.  These trails also tie into the Appalachian Trail.  At the bottom of the ridge is the River of Rocks, a series of boulder gardens that serve as the source of Kettle Creek.  The sanctuary has a visitor’s center and offers many events throughout the year.  In the fall, Hawk Mountain becomes very crowded, not only for the foliage, but also for the bird migrations.  During the migration season, over a hundred birds of one species can be seen in a single day.

Series of ridges.  The Pinnacle is on the furthest ridge.

Series of ridges. The Pinnacle is on the furthest ridge.

And as luck would have it, just before we began to walk back to the car, I saw a hawk flying over the bare trees.

More information:  Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

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North Woods Trail, Lackawanna State Park

Lake Lackawanna

Lake Lackawanna

Whenever I look for a place to go for a quick hike, I often find myself at Lackawanna State Park.  It doesn’t disappoint.  The park features a beautiful lake and miles of trails that create an extensive system that has grown considerably over the last few years.  Although the park doesn’t feature expansive vistas or waterfalls, it does offer a surprising diversity of scenery with deep ravines, hemlock forests, meadows, streams, pine plantations, and old stone walls.

My favorite trail in the park is the North Woods Trail, probably named because it has the feel of a northern forest.  We recently hiked this trail in conjunction with the Orchard Trail, creating an enjoyable loop.  A similar hike can be found as Hike No. 7 in Hiking the Endless Mountains.

We began at the boat launch parking area and enjoyed views across the frozen lake.  Swirls of snow and contours of ice glistened on the frozen surface.  Along the shore, the ice was melting, yet we saw people ice fishing in the middle of the lake.  One ice fisherman looked at the melting ice on the shore and was confused how to get on the ice.  He asked us if we knew how the others got on.  We didn’t.

Hemlock forest along the North Woods Trail

Hemlock forest along the North Woods Trail

We descended to the South Branch Tunkhannock Creek and followed the North Woods Trail.  This is a wonderful trail that explores a deep hemlock forest along a small stream.  The hemlocks appear to be fairly healthy.  The trail meandered gradually up hill and we passed a few other hikers.  The forest also had yellow birch and maple.  The highlights were two giant, old growth beech trees.  They were among the largest I have seen.  They towered through the forest, their branches spread far above the canopy.  One of them had fungus growing on its bark, but it still appeared to be alive.

One of two giant beech trees

One of two giant beech trees

The trail left the hemlocks, crossed two roads and descended to Trostle Pond, a new addition to the park thanks to the Countryside Conservancy.  Our hike re-entered a hemlock forest and crossed scenic Whites Creek.  We continued along the Orchard Trail with many views across the lake before returning to the parking area.

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Upper Mehoopany Creek and Mythical Falls

Creveling Pond

Creveling Pond

My exploration of SGL 57 continued as my focus turned to an area south of Mythical Falls.  Google satellite showed an area of extensive meadows that caught my eye.  So, on a brilliant blue winter day, I made my return.  This journey explores a similar area described in Hike No. 15 of Hiking the Endless Mountains.

Powdery snow draped the high plateaus, but with only a few inches, snowshoes were not necessary.  We walked down a slick game commission road past Wild Fowl Pond and then veered left on another forest road that ended at beautiful Creveling Pond.  This pond was surrounded by bare trees and thick blueberry thickets, covered with ice and patches of wind blown snow.

The morning began brisk, but soon began to warm.  The original plan was to head north along Bellas Brook and then proceed south across the plateau to Creveling Pond.  Since we stopped at the pond first, we decided to hike in reverse.

We began to head north.  The thick blueberry bushes receded in the forest as snow covered the rocks.  Small boulder fields dotted the terrain; the jumbled boulders were difficult to traverse with snow covering them.  We followed a gradual ridge and then descended into a small valley featuring a rock ledge and a huge boulder, creating a crevice or cave.  Icicles descended from the rock.  We fought through the brush in the crevices and reached the top.

We continued north and it soon became clear that the “meadows” I was searching for were meadows of impenetrable blueberry bushes.  We stayed in the forest, following ledges and passing a couple of rounded boulders that seemed out of place.  We ate lunch at another ledge and boulder area.  The forest was filled with life, and the snow unmasked the footprints of coyotes, snowshoe hares, and deer.  Much of the forest was hardwoods, with the occasional spruce or hemlock.

Our hike soon brought us to a spaghnum moss bog that we forded and we continued onto a series of small rock balds and spruce forests.  This brought us to the edge of the plateau, with large ledges, cliffs, and boulders.  The Mehoopany Creek roared far below.

A descent brought us to this beautiful creek, and almost directly to Mythical Falls.  The falls are named because they are isolated and hard to find, so you may begin to doubt their existence.  Columns of icicles surrounded the cascade.  We decided to change our plans and hike upstream along the creek to Splashdam Pond, saving Bellas Brook for another hike.

Mythical Falls

Mythical Falls

The falls were beautiful in its winter splendor.  We continued up the creek, passing smaller cascades and deep pools with frozen foam lilypads that would circle in the eddies.

Frozen foam in the shape of lilypads

Frozen foam in the shape of lilypads

It soon became clear the highlight of this hike was the Mehoopany Creek as it tumbled over ledges and waterslides, framed by deep spruce forests and ice slicked ledges.  Its amber water slid over exposed bedrock as the outlet of Lake John tumbled over its own waterfall.  It felt like a place far removed, hidden by the forest.  We left the creek for a short detour where we explored some cliffs and ledges, offering some views across the valley and the spruce forests in the distance.  We descended back to the creek.

Just ahead was a deep swimming hole, the dark amber water absorbed the winter’s light as a deep spruce forest stood guard.  A gradual stairstep waterslide fed the pool.  It was a stunning place.  I promised myself that I would return.

We finally began to near Splashdam Pond when we noticed we had not been alone.  Fresh bear tracks preceded our own.  I was surprised it had not been hibernating.

Fresh bear tracks

Fresh bear tracks

Splashdam Pond is a beautiful place.  We hiked along an old logging path that treveled the length of the pond, its surface frozen and unbroken, except for a beaver lodge.  The sun began to set as the shadows of trees grew longer.  The trail became more interesting as it followed the Mehoopany Creek once again under thick hemlock, passing the remains of an old railroad bridge, and the stone walls of some old building.  We reached PA 487 and walked the short distance back to our cars, bringing an end to a perfect, and exhausting, day in these isolated forests that have guarded their secrets with isolation and the passing of time.

Splashdam Pond

Splashdam Pond

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Ricketts Glen State Park- Leigh Meadows

Leigh Meadows

Leigh Meadows

On a frigid morning, I met Wes and Ryan at the Ricketts Glen State Park office.  It was a balmy 19 degrees.  The goal was to explore a new area of the park- a series of meadows that extend north of the breached Lake Leigh dam.  While 99% of people come to the park to hike the famous Falls Trail, this large park features many other places worthy of exploration.  In particular, the park features a large forest along its northern half with virtually no trails.

The recent snows made the forests look beautiful.  Over a foot of powder draped the woodlands, in places drifts were up to our thighs.  We proceeded down to the breached dam and caught a glimpse of a falls below the crumbling concrete dam.  We continued a short distance further on the Cherry Run Trail before bushwhacking north along the meadows.  Luckily, I brought snowshoes.

The wet meadows exist where Lake Leigh used to lie, but also continue further north.  A pristine stream meanders through the meadows, which are guarded by blueberry thickets, hemlock forests, and giant cherry trees.  We attempted to hike in the meadows, but it proved too difficult with the thick grass and deep snows.

Small beaver pond

Small beaver pond

We sought shelter in the incredible hemlock forests that were deep and green.  Ancient, tangled mountain laurel bushes appeared, near the meandering meadows.  Some of the hemlocks appeared to be old growth.

We continued through the heavy snow in a winter wonderland.  Wes and Ryan found a nice spot to relax in the sun along the babbling stream.  Shafts of sunlight pierced the thick forests to reveal carpets of powdery snow.  The dogs played in the water and laid down in the snow.

Snowy forests

Snowy forests

While the meadows were what brought us here, the forests continued to be the true highlight.  Animal tracks darted in different directions and we found several places where deer had bed down for the night.

The meadows became more and more narrower, fed by seep springs naked of snow.  We reached one large spring filled with beds of watercress.  Soon thereafter, we retraced our steps, our hike made easier by following our path in the snow.  Wes and Ryan were ahead and were crossing another meadow with a small stream.  In the water they found dozens of salamanders swimming around.  It was something we had never seen before on such a frigid day.

On the return hike, the forests became even more beautiful.  Hemlocks were powdered with snow.

Winter wonderland

Winter wonderland

After another break, we came across a massive black cherry tree, probably the largest I have ever seen.  It was well over a hundred feet high.

Huge black cherry tree

Huge black cherry tree

The forests revealed several more old growth hemlock.  We then headed west and reached Lake Jean, frozen over and dusted with snow.  It was easier to simply walk on the frozen surface back to the car, instead of trudging through a snow-filled forest.  A brisk wind swept across the lake as a few people were ice fishing.  I spoke to a lady whose husband was ice fishing.  Apparently, this year was the latest the lake had frozen in many years, even later than last year’s balmy winter.

We reached the cars.  It was great to explore this hidden place in one of our most popular state parks.  In the future, I hope to explore the thick primeval forests in the isolated northern areas of Ricketts Glen.

More pictures.

Google image of the Leigh Meadows.