Why hasn’t anyone told me about this place before?
On a beautiful, warm, sunny Spring day I scoured my maps for a place to hike. I wanted someplace new. When my maps failed to reveal a destination, I turned to the trusty internet. My fingertips stumbled across this preserve, and I knew I found the place I was hoping to find.
Ironically, I was here a few years ago, but at the separate Dry Land Hill Parcel. The hiking there wasn’t too exciting. I’m guessing the Shades Creek Parcel’s trails weren’t completed at the time.
Both parcels make up the impressive Bear Creek Preserve, owned by the Natural Lands Trust. The preserve covers over 3,400 acres and was a generous gift from the Haas family. Thanks to them, this gem is open to the public and will preserve this gorgeous landscape for generations to come. What is even more impressive is that the Bear Creek Preserve is a part of a system of state forests, state game lands, state parks, conservation easements, and other preserves that protect over 150,000 acres!
We reached the trailhead off of PA 115 and followed the red trail through a forest of hardwoods, laurel, and pine. Next was the grey trail that descended to Shades Creek and crossed it via a footbridge. The trail along the creek was beautiful as it tunneled through rhododendron jungles above the creek filled with rapids and pools. The trail crossed a side stream with its own waterfall and some giant old growth hemlock.
Soon we reached another falls on a tributary across Shades Creek, nearly concealed by rhododendron. This place would be breathtaking when the rhododendron blooms in July.
The forests were truly scenic and serene with a combination of hemlock, pine, laurel, and rhododendron. Carpets of moss covered wet areas. The trail dropped closer to the creek which reminded me of West Virginia’s famed Otter Creek. There were more rapids and pools over the bedrock. The creek tumbled over waterslides and entered a small gorge with a deep pool. Absolutely beautiful. The trail then entered a majestic forest with some old growth white pine.
The grey trail became a little harder to follow with some infrequent blazes, but we found our way. The sublime scenery continued with more views of the creek. The trail returned to the rhododendrons along sloping bedrock rapids in the creek. The blazes stopped and the trail appeared to cross the creek, but it was too high for us. Just downstream was a powerful five foot falls into a deep pool. We retraced our steps.
I was very impressed by this hike and I plan to return soon to explore the remaining trails. Right now, there are over 20 miles of trails, and more are planned. Some of the blazes were infrequent and crossing Shades Creek in high water would be dangerous. Trail junctures did not appear to have signs.
This preserve is one you can’t miss. Be sure to put it on your hiking list. Another gem in Northeast PA.