Beginner Backpacking Trip on the Pinchot Trail

The group on the trail.

The group on the trail.

I recently lead a beginner’s backpacking trip on the south loop of the Pinchot Trail in the scenic Lackawanna State Forest.  This event was scheduled through the Keystone Trails Association.  A total of eight people attended.  We met at the main trailhead and made our introductions.  After a discussion about how to pack a backpack and distributing some gear, we went for a quick walk to check out the views from Big Pine Hill.  A short drive later, we were at a parking area to start the south loop.

The Pinchot Trail is a 24 mile loop that nearly bisects itself, creating a north and south loop.  The south loop has easy terrain, diverse forests, scenic streams, fine camping, and meadows.  It is an ideal trail for beginners.  Sections of the trail are rocky, and the trail can be wet, as we were to find out.

Mountain laurel in bloom

Mountain laurel in bloom

The forests were covered with the blooms of mountain laurel, it was impressive.  Heavy white and pinkish blooms hung from the branches.  In places, the forest understory was filled with white blooms.  It was beautiful.  Fly Poison, a white flower, also made a frequent appearance.  The trail meandered through tunnels of mountain laurel and rhododendron, which was just beginning to bloom.  We crossed a meadow with the dark pink blooms of sheep laurel.  Conditions proved to be ideal, there were few bugs and virtually no ticks.

I enjoy the south loop due to its diversity, with a wide variety of forest types and habitats.  In places it resembles a rain forest, with its thick spruce, laurel, and rhododendron.   A wide variety of moths, dragonflies, and butterflies danced across the trail, some with incandescent colors.  We also saw hummingbirds zipping through the forest, making stops at the mountain laurel blooms.

Hikers enjoying Choke Creek Falls

Hikers enjoying Choke Creek Falls

We reached Butler Run where we stopped for lunch.  I took the group off the trail for a short hike to Choke Creek Falls.  Everyone enjoyed the waterfall, and the creek had a lot of water in it.  Several butterflies swirled around the falls.  We continued on the trail, as our hike returned to Choke Creek where we passed some campsites.  I needed to find a larger site for everyone, and I found one on an island around which the creek flowed.  The higher water ensured some wet feet.  Everyone set up their tents and enjoyed the sound of the water.  My plan was to hike seven miles the first day, but we ended up hiking over nine.  The group did a great job and finished the day in good spirits.  As night approached, it began to rain and I crawled into my tent.  The sound of the creek quickly put me to sleep.

Choke Creek Falls

Choke Creek Falls

Heavy rain fell overnight, but by morning, the showers passed and the sun even broke through the clouds.  The trail was inundated with water as we hiked up along Choke Creek through thick brush.  Two tiers of beaver dams created ponds where ducks bobbed for food.  Our feet sloshed through the water on the trail.

Cotton candy forest

Cotton candy forest

The trail returned to the mountain laurel with the endless blooms that covered the trail and spread throughout the forest.  We hiked through thick laurel, and tunnels of rhododendron.  Spruce and hemlock trees rose overhead.

Beaver dam on Choke Creek

Beaver dam on Choke Creek

We reached the forest road, which we followed back to the cars.  Everyone seemed to have a good time and enjoyed each others company.  They were a great group of people and I hope this trip will be the start of many more backpacking trips for them.

Everyone survived!

Everyone survived!

More videos and pictures.

Trail information from PA Hikes.

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5 thoughts on “Beginner Backpacking Trip on the Pinchot Trail

  1. Good morning! Any chance you could point me to where Choke Creek Falls would be located in relation to the trail? I’m heading out tomorrow morning to do some backpacking on the trail and would like to add this to the itinerary. I am going with one other person who has never been backpacking before so I figured this would be a relatively easy route to choose for a first trip.

    From what I can gather, there are multiple “established” campsites along Choke Creek and it is also a nice place to set up camp.

    I’m debating if I want to try to tackle both loops, the South loop only or some combination thereof.

    Any tips, suggestions, etc. would be greatly appreciated!

    • If hiking the south loop clockwise, cross Butler Run and reach the end of a meadow to the left. Hiked to the far end of the meadow. Follow a faint footpath into the woods. After a few hundred feet, turn left on an old jeep trail for a short distance . Before reaching Butler Run again, follow obvious trail to the right that goes to the falls in a few hundred yards.

      I think the south loop is more diverse. The north loop is more isolated. Choke Creek is very scenic with about four campsites. Rhododendron and laurel may be blooming. View from Big Pine Hill is worth seeing. Have fun.

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