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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Google image of the Leigh Meadows.