Lehigh Gap-Appalachian Trail

Open ridge top along the proposed Appalachian Trail re-route.

Open ridge top along the proposed Appalachian Trail re-route.

The Lehigh Gap is the perfect example of the power of recovery.  Decades of zinc smelting killed the forests on the mountainside, resulting in a depressing and desolate moonscape devoid of vegetation, inhabited by bare, sunbaked tree trunks.  After years of rehabilitation efforts, the Lehigh Gap has found new life.  Meadows and fields with grasses and wildflowers cover the mountainside as trees are sprouting on the ridge.  Green now covers a land that was once a lifeless, rocky brown.

The venerable Appalachian Trail traverses this ridge and a plan is in place to re-route the trail to take advantage of the gap’s scenic beauty.  In places, the trail had been moved away from its original route to make space for the rehabilitation efforts.   The proposed route will offer non-stop views from ridge top meadows and outcrops; some areas even resemble an alpine environment.  New switchbacks and rock steps will be built in the gap itself.  This re-route will take several years to build, but it will be the scenic highlight of the AT in Pennsylvania.

I accompanied others to view some sections of this new route, and it was impressive.  Views spread out in all directions from rock outcrops, boulder fields, and meadows. I could see the Pocono Plateau, all the way to the farmlands of the Lehigh Valley region.  The views looked over the forested spine of Blue Mountain.  Wildflowers dotted the ridges as pine saplings grew between the rocks.  We had driven up to the ridge to see the new route, but I decided to return by hiking back down to my car in the gap.  Ed joined me.  The trail parsed a stunted forest, passing rocks and many views of the gap.  I was surprised to see several old, gnarled  healthy hemlocks growing in such dry, difficult conditions.  The terrain became steeper and rockier as the gap opened before us with the Lehigh River flowing below.  Much of the gap was cloaked in green.  We reached a rock outcrop with an American flag painted in a permanent wave.  A scramble followed, made more difficult since we were descending. A great view of a bridge crossing the Lehigh River was far below; it almost appeared as if it were directly beneath us.  It felt as if we could tumble right onto it.  Another scramble followed as we inched down the warm, exposed rock baking in the sun.  The terrain eased as the trail returned to the forest.  We passed someone who appeared to be a thru-hiker.  He greeted us with a southern accent and said there was some trail magic below. Ed and I reached our cars.  Despite the descent, I was tired from the heat.

The rock scramble in the Lehigh Gap along the Appalachian Trail

The rock scramble in the Lehigh Gap along the Appalachian Trail

Afterwards I stopped by the Lehigh Gap Nature Center.  The center was closed, but I walked around to see all the wildflowers and a shed with a growing roof.  It was a great place.  The center maintains miles of trails that explore the diverse habitats of the gap, from ponds and the river, to meadows and savannas on the ridge with prairie grasses.  Be sure to hike the North Trail with its meadows and non-stop views.

I last hiked here several years ago.  I walked along the North and South Trails and was impressed by the incredible views from the meadows and glades and the rocky spine that resembled alpine.  I thought to myself, why doesn’t the Appalachian Trail follow this?  Now it looks that will be the case.

More photos.

Information on the Lehigh Gap Nature Center.

Lincoln and Teaberry Trails – Quehanna Wild Area

View from the Teaberry Trail

View from the Teaberry Trail

My final hike after Prowl the Sproul was a visit to the Quehanna Wild Area.  I initially hoped to do a longer loop that included the meadows along the Bridge Trail, but I changed plans due to the heat and hot sun.  I decided to do a loop along the Teaberry and Lincoln Trails instead.  Gnats greeted me at the parking area, but when I hiked the Teaberry Trail they soon disappeared.  The Lincoln Trail features a beautiful, aromatic forest of pine with moss, ferns, and ground pine.

I crossed the lonely Quehanna Highway and followed the yellow East Cross Connector Trail through meadows and over small streams.  I turned right onto the Teaberry Trail, which was brushy, but the path was still discernible.  Giant ferns bordered the trail.  I hiked to the edge of the plateau with large moss covered rocks and rhododendron tunnels.  A nice view looked down a forested valley.  The trail continued to follow the rim of the plateau, passing a large rock outcrop with a small view.  I then descended to Paige Run, the best part of the hike.  The trail followed the run longer than I expected.  The glen was beautiful with cascades, pools, some old growth hemlocks, rhododendron and massive boulders.  I wish I could have spent more time along this gorgeous creek.

I climbed away from the creek at a massive house sized boulder.  The trail was a little hard to follow in one spot.  I climbed to a cliff with red colors.  There was another nice view from the top.  More fern meadows followed until I crossed the Quehanna Highway.  The trail then followed an old grade with grass.  Blazes were few, but the trail simply followed the grade through a meadow.  The grade re-entered a scenic forest and soon returned to the parking area.  I decided to hike down to the Beaver Run Pond for some views across the water, which reflected the growing cumulus grows.  I returned to my car, bringing an end to my journey through this beautiful area of Pennsylvania.

More photos and videos.

Map of the Quehanna Wild Area.

Hyner View State Park

View at daybreak, above the clouds

View at daybreak, above the clouds

After hiking Clendenin Branch and Lower Jerry Run Natural Area the day before, I slept well in my tent as owls hooted in the night.  I had a plan for the following morning- to get up early and drive to Hyner View to check out the views.  My hope was that there would be fog in the valleys, offering views above the clouds.

My plan worked.  I awoke and was in my car before 6 a.m.  The air was chilly.  The valleys were concealed in fog and a heavy dew covered the grass and my tent.  I drove to Hyner View on a winding road.  I reached the top and was treated to an amazing view above the clouds as the plateaus rose into the distance.  I also noticed the temperature was noticeably warmer than down in the valley.  As the sun rose, color spread from the sky with pink, orange, and yellow.  The clouds illuminated and slowly rolled, concealing lower ridges, and then revealing them with wisps of mist.  A window in the clouds would form, offering a view of the mountains and hills.

The sun cast the tops of the mountains in a golden glow and soon electrified the clouds.  Streams of fog and mist flowed from the valleys and glens, swirling into the clouds above the river.  It was phenomenal.

I eventually returned to my car.  I had this spectacle all to myself, and some goldfinches.  I drove down the mountain and re-entered the clouds.  I stopped to look at them.  They were moving like waves in slow motion, as light, feathery mist would rise from the top of the cloud layer and dissipate into the air.  Pure magic.  I continued my descent into the foggy, milky underworld as my next hike in the Quehanna Wild Area awaited.

More photos.

More information about the park.