Eales Preserve at Moosic Mountain

One of many views from the High Voltage Trail

One of many views from the High Voltage Trail

Only seven miles from downtown Scranton is one of the most unique habitats in Pennsylvania- the Moosic Mountain Barrens.  The Nature Conservancy’s Eales Preserve protects 2,250 acres of the barrens, considered to be among the largest and best preserved in the eastern United States.  The barrens are composed of lowbush blueberry, huckleberry, stunted oak and pine, and cover a broad ridgetop with thirty mile views.  It is home to eighteen rare species, particularly moths.  There are now about twenty miles of trails maintained by volunteers.   Some visitors have compared it to West Virginia’s famous Dolly Sods.

Moosic Mountain is also unique in that it is close to an urban area, yet still provides impressive scenery and biodiversity.  Located between the Endless and Pocono Mountains, with many parks, preserves, and state forests that cover hundreds of thousands of acres, not to mention opportunities for whitewater, trout fishing, kayaking, hiking, and mountain biking, Scranton is one of the most underrated “outdoors” towns in the country.

The Eales Preserve was slated to become a business park, and some infrastructure, such as gravel road beds, drainage ditches, and culverts, were put in place before it became protected.  I had visited the preserve a few times before, but despite it being unique, hiking felt underwhelming due to the initial infrastructure and the segmented, incomplete trail system.   This visit, however, proved to be different.  Vegetation had begun to grow over the gravel roads, ditches, and culverts.  The trail system is also complete, making it an excellent hiking experience.
Passing storm on the exposed ridge of the beautiful Blueberry Trail

Passing storm on the exposed ridge of the beautiful Blueberry Trail

Moosic Mountain is very popular with mountain bikers who come to tackle the technical trails over bedrock slabs and boulders.  The trails are well established, but are not blazed (except for part of the Waterfall Loop).  Some trail junctures have small signs and yellow posts with directional arrows, others do not.  Navigation can be a little tricky in places.  Mountain biking trails tend to be curvy, but these trails weren’t too bad.  Hiking is allowed on all the trails.

I decided to do a grand loop around the perimeter of the preserve’s trail system; it was roughly 10 or 11 miles.  From the parking area I walked the gravel road to the kiosk and then turned left onto the Bruised Ego Trail.  This trail meandered through an oak forest with some rock slabs and small meadows.  It was a little confusing when it met the Conglomerate Trail; the Bruised Ego Trail turned left onto an old gravel road, and left again back into the woods.  This trail is near a road, so there is some noise from traffic.  Overall, it was a nice, fairly easy trail.  I crossed a gated forest road and followed Gene’s Trail.  This proved to be a very diverse and scenic trail.  It went through a meadow, crossed a small stream, and explored mature hardwoods with ledges and slabs.  I descended to a reservoir, which the trail encircled.  I could hear traffic in the valley below.  The trail became even more scenic with a meadow of cotton grass and stunted pine forests with rocks slabs and red blueberry meadows.
Clouds breaking

Clouds breaking

I then reached a powerline swath, along which  I climbed to the right with some very nice views.  Next was the High Voltage Trail, which was a little hard to locate, but some small cairns to the north, or east, of the swath, helped guide the way.  High Voltage is a highlight and is not to be missed.  It follows barren rock slabs and stunted forests with many superb views.  Cairns mark the trail.  It reveals some of the more undeveloped views along the trail system.  I returned to the powerline swath and continued to climb it until I reached the Waterfall Loop to the left.  This trail explored mature woodlands and small meadows.  It was completely different from the exposed High Voltage Trail.  I reached a small stream and turned left onto a trail that only allowed hiking as it followed the bottom of a small ravine with hemlock and the curving trunks of mountain laurel bushes.  I never found a waterfall (it seems no one has ever seen it) and I happened to follow the White Birches Trail without realizing it.  Again this was a nice woodland hike with beautiful fall colors.  Before reaching the same small stream, I turned left, continuing on the mis-named Waterfall Loop as it gradually climbed along a curving trail under more woodlands.  At the top were some meadows; the trail also braided, only to rejoin, which caused a few moments of confusion.  The forest was more stunted as I reached an obvious, un-signed trail juncture.  I turned left to continue on the Blueberry Trail.
For many, the Blueberry Trail is the highlight and I would agree.  It explores vast meadows and barrens on the broad ridge with non-stop views in all directions.  Looking down the ridgeline to the southwest was beautiful.  Some views exceed thirty miles.  Sometimes it was hard to believe I was close to an urban area.  There are even some views to the east.  A few stunted pine trees inhabit the barrens.  I could see a snow squall approach from the west and pass to the south, consuming the ridges, hills, and towns underneath it.  From miles away, I could see draperies of snow fall from the bottom of the clouds.  The clouds passed and the blinding light of the setting sun returned to the barrens, electrifying the red blueberry meadows.  Impressed by the hike, I returned to my car.
Non stop views along the Blueberry Trail

Non stop views along the Blueberry Trail

This was an excellent and diverse hike with unique scenery and superb views.  I recommend hiking the loop clockwise to save the non-stop views of the Blueberry Trail for the end; this part of the loop is also the most isolated.  Overall the terrain is moderate with only a few steep sections.  Sun and wind exposure can be an issue.  The Eales Preserve is a beautiful place that we are lucky to have protected and opened to the public.  This is a place you need to explore.
More photos.
Advertisements

Hemlocks Natural Area

Hemlocks Natural Area

Hemlocks Natural Area

While driving down to the Keystone Trail Association’s Fall Meeting, I decided to stop at the Hemlocks Natural Area for a quick hike.  The natural area covers 120 acres and is located in the Tuscarora State Forest.  It is home to an old-growth hemlock forest, with some trees over 130 feet tall and hundreds of years old.  There are also large tulip trees, black gum, oaks, and basswood trees.  It was designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1972 due to both its old growth forest, and since it has a northern hardwood forest among a southern hardwood forest of oak and hickory.  Sadly, many of the large hemlocks have died from the invasive woolly adelgid, a tiny insect that sucks the sap out of the trees.  Towering, gray, dead hemlock trunks tower into canopy.     Since many hemlocks have died, more sunlight now reaches the forest floor allowing for the explosive growth of saplings that have inundated the trails.  However, there are many large hemlocks still alive.    Apparently, there is an effort to save the remaining hemlocks with the release of a beetle that preys on the adelgid.

The natural area is located in a small glen carved by Patterson Run.  There is a short system of trails, but they are not in very good condition.  Regardless, the natural area was worth the visit.  The remaining old growth trees are impressive in size.  However, I couldn’t but help to think how spectacular this forest must have been in the 1980s, prior to the arrival of the adelgid- the massive, green hemlocks blocking out the sun, creating a dark, primeval forest carpeted with moss.

More photos.

Backpacking the Quehanna Wild Area

Sanders Draft

Sanders Draft

The Quehanna Wild Area is the largest in Pennsylvania, covering almost 50,000 acres.  There is a proposal to add 9,066 acres to the wild area, bringing it to almost 60,000 acres.  The wild area is home to a section of the Quehanna Trail, numerous side and cross-connector trails, scenic campsites, kiosks, and parking areas.  What I love about the Quehanna is its isolation, pristine streams, views, big rocks, vast meadows, and diverse forests of pine, hardwoods, hemlock, rhododendron, and spruce.   The side trails offer countless loop options and the terrain is generally mild.  It is one of my favorite places to backpack due to its diversity.  Over the course of a mile, I can hike through a variety of landscapes and habitats without punishing terrain.  The wild area is a center piece of the vast “PA Wilds”, an outdoors wonderland that is one of the best kept secrets in the East.

I had been to the wild area many times, but on this visit I had a backpacking loop in mind to include the Bridge Trail, Crawford Vista, and a bushwhack up Paige Run.   I was hoping the fall colors would be near peak, and the meadows of blueberry and ferns to be on full display.

Forest along Red Run

Forest along Red Run

I began at the parking area along Wykoff Run Road, at Laurel Draft.  Quehanna has its own lingo.  It is one of the only places to name streams and glens “drafts”, due to the movement of air through and along them.  It is a place set apart.

I was treated to clear, tumbling streams and forests of yellow and gold.  It was spectacular, as if I were stuck in a Gustav Klimt painting.  There was an understory of green hemlock, laurel, and rhododendron.  Laurel Draft completed the scene with cascades over boulders into clear pools.  The sun was brilliant.

The trail leveled off with fern meadows and towering hardwoods.  I then entered a hemlock forest that brought me to a narrow view of Little Fork Draft, now reduced due to the growing vegetation.  The forests on the distant mountains still had a lot of green, while the forests along the trail were at peak with gold, orange, and red.  A descent along gorgeous Sanders Draft followed with rhododendron tunnels, hemlocks, and cascades over moss covered boulders into crystal clear pools.  I hiked along scenic Red Brook as shade began to spread through the forest, creating a striking color contrast between the metallic trees in the shade, and the gold and orange foliage in the sunlight.

Fall foliage

Fall foliage

I reached a road and left the Quehanna Trail.  My next destination was Paige Run and Table Falls.  I soon reached both and enjoyed the endless cascading water over smooth boulders.  Table Falls is not tall at all, but in high water it creates a broad curtain of water over the edge of a flat, table-like boulder.  I bushwhacked up Paige Run- a non-stop waterfall stream, filled with car sized boulders and carpets of moss.  It was an exceptionally beautiful stream, but the jumbled boulders and jungles of rhododendron made hiking with a backpack slow.  I came upon more waterfalls, including one with three or four drops.  I then reached the Teaberry Trail, which I took to the top of the plateau to enjoy the views of the yellow foliage covering the mountains.
Paige Run waterfalls

Paige Run waterfalls

I crossed the Quehanna Highway and reached the Beaver Run Pond with its ghostly dead tree trunks standing in the water.  I kept moving.  The sun was setting and I wanted to see the meadows.  I followed the East Cross Connector Trail and the meadows soon came into view.  The fall color was past peak, and the meadows were mostly brown, surrounded by bare black cherry trees.  But the views were beautiful in the setting sun as two large bucks ran across the meadows.  I descended to Mosquito Creek with its rapids and pools.  House sized boulders loomed across the creek, topped with miniature forests of laurel and rhododendron.  I camped along Mosquito Creek, enjoying the sound of the water.  I stuck my head out in the middle of the night to see an amazing display of stars and constellations across the Milky Way.  Otherwise, I slept well and was warm despite the cold temperature.
View from the Teaberry Trail

View from the Teaberry Trail

I woke to a frigid morning with frost on my tent.  I got my bag packed up and headed on the trail to Crawford Vista.  The trail passed more meadows covered with dew and tunneled through birch forests.  I reached the view as the sun was rising, looking down into the gorge hundreds of feet below.  Tiers of mist levitated in the gorge.
Crawford Vista

Crawford Vista

I descended to Meeker Run and continued on the Meeker Trail with forests of hemlock.  Next was the David Lewis Trail with spruce trees and small meadows.  I crossed the Quehanna Highway and followed the Wykoff Trail to the Big Spring Trail, but the turn was easy to miss.  Big Spring Trail was beautiful with deep hemlock forests, rhododendron tunnels, superb campsites, and clear streams.  I passed Big Spring and sampled the clear, cold water  flowing from the ground.  It was delicious.
Meadows along the Bridge Trail

Meadows along the Bridge Trail

I returned to the Quehanna Trail and descended to another beautiful stream, Upper Jerry Run.  The hemlocks, boulders, and cascades returned in this primeval wonderland.  I saw one nice campsite.  A climb brought me to the top of the plateau with more meadows and nice fall colors. I was nearing the end of the loop as I hiked down Upper Pine Hollow.  The beautiful fall colors returned; most of the stream was dry, but water surfaced when a side stream joined the run.  A formidable wall of rhododendron appeared higher up the slope above the trail.  I crossed Wykoff Run and returned to my car.
This was an excellent hike on a perfect weekend.  It seems the ferns and blueberries in the meadows would be at peak color in late September or early October.  The fall colors were glorious and the Quehanna is famous for its beautiful streams, which did not disappoint.  I loved the crystal clear water and moss covered boulders under deep hemlocks and rhododendron jungles.  This is such a special place.
Bucktail Overlook

Bucktail Overlook

I then drove to Driftwood and the Bucktail Overlook.  This view is breathtaking from a mountaintop meadow.  Massive plateaus rose to the south as shadows spread across the ridges and hollows.  The forests were mostly green with a splash of yellow or orange.  I could see the Squaretimber Wild Area, where I hiked earlier in the year.  The Sinnemahoning Creek twisted in the narrow valley below, flooded with shade.  The skies were cobalt blue as rolling ridges and mountains faded to the north as some clouds spread across the horizon.  While mountains in the Adirondacks, Whites, or Smokies were packed with people, I had this all to myself.
Bucktail Overlook

Bucktail Overlook

From the parking area along Wykoff Run Road at Laurel Draft, my route was counterclockwise as follows:  Quehanna Trail, Red Run Road, bushwhack up Paige Run, Teaberry Trail, East Cross Connector Trail, Bridge Trail, Crawford Vista Trail, East Cross Connector Trail, Meeker Trail, Red Run Trail, David Lewis Trail, Wykoff Trail, Big Spring Trail, Three Runs Road, back to Quehanna Trail.

Bartlett Mountain Balds – Fall Foliage Fire

Colors of the Bartlett Mountain Balds

Colors of the Bartlett Mountain Balds

I first visited the balds a few years ago.  It was a grey, cloudy, raw day with freezing mist.  We battled through the thick brush as the forests separated to reveal bedrock slabs and stunted vegetation.  We all knew, even on such a forbidding day, that this was a special place.

Several posts in this blog describe this place.  It is unique for Pennsylvania, having an alpine feel to it, with a sense of wilderness.  The forest opens up, revealing skies framed by spruce and pine trees.  Here you feel you are on top of a mountain as compared to simply being in the woods.  There are a few places on the balds to see across the Mehoopany Creek valley, and even Elk Mountain, almost thirty miles away.  Lowbush blueberry bushes carpet the balds, surrounded by red spruce trees.   Trees exhibit flagging from high winds.  Caves and overhangs lie underneath the balds.  This is true bear country.  The paths that do exist on the balds were first created by bears, and bear scat is a common sight.

One Autumn a few years ago, I climbed to the balds to be surprised by the deep red carpets from the lowbush blueberry.  Even on a cloudy day, the colors were impressive.  I have always wanted to return on a clear day.  Recently, I was able to do just that.

I climbed up along White Brook as gold filled the forest canopy.  Higher elevations had orange and red foliage.  At the top of White Brook, I turned right (north) on another jeep trail or old forest road.  After a half mile or so, I turned left (west) and bushwhacked through the forest.  I soon reached the rim of white cliffs marking the balds.  I found a deep cave, but decided not to enter in case there was a bear.  I was able to scramble to the top, fighting through spruce, to see views of Elk Mountain.  I was a little worried, some the lowbush blueberry were stripped bare of color.  I headed north to the largest and was happy to see the blueberry bushes were still red.

The colors were amazing.  Red covered the bedrock balds, as trees were gold, yellow, and red.  The skies were deep blue and the bedrock was white.  The spruce and pine were green.  My eyes were overloaded with color.  I sat there and took it all in; there was only silence and serenity.  A hawk flew overhead, turning between the spruce.

The sun was setting, as shadows stretched across the balds and the colors grew deeper.  Only pictures could do this diverse, beautiful place justice.  I forgot to bring my headlamp and I needed to get off the mountain before it became dark.  I headed east back into the woods.  I soon reached an old trail or forest road, close to the balds.  I turned right and followed it.  This trail led me back to the jeep road or old forest road, which I followed back to White Brook.  I found a fairly easy and direct way to hike to the balds.

I hiked back down the mountain and I could hear White Brook Falls in the gorge far below.  This would be a hike I would not soon forget- an amazing kaleidoscope of colors in a mountaintop wilderness.

More pictures.

Bruce Lake Natural Area

Bruce Lake

Bruce Lake

Covering almost 2,900 acres, Bruce Lake Natural Area is one of Pennsylvania’s special places.  It features miles of trails, streams, diverse forests, large wetlands, and two lakes- Egypt Meadow and Bruce Lakes.  Egypt Meadow was formed by a dam built by the CCC.  This lake with its meandering shore, bays, and coves, is a favorite of paddlers willing to carry or tow by hand their boat in from the parking area.  Bruce Lake is the gem of the natural area- a lake formed by glaciers, completely spring fed with clear water.  Both lakes are undeveloped and can only be reached by hiking.  Both are very scenic.

I had been here a few years ago.  I decided to return, with plans to hike an 8 mile loop.  We began by hiking to Egypt Meadow Lake as the trees began to turn orange and yellow. The trail crossed the outlet of the dam and wrapped around the lake.  We saw the swampy inlet of the lake, all the trees were in full fall foliage with a spectrum of red and orange.  The water in Egypt Meadow is red from tannin in the swamps.  We continued on to Bruce Lake.  This place is so beautiful.  The lake is completely untouched and the water is so clear.  We enjoyed the views of the lake from some small ledges on the north shore.  Few natural lakes in Pennsylvania are undeveloped, or inaccessible to cars, making Bruce Lake that much more special.

We continued on our loop through brushy lowbush blueberries.  We crossed the outlet of Bruce Lake where the trail was swampy.  A descent to a stream followed with a meadow and beautiful forests of rhododendron, pine, and hemlock.  In places, there were rhododendron tunnels, making this an ideal hike in early July when these plants bloom.  We continued on the loop, returning to a hardwood forest and boulders along a private property line.  The setting sun began to send shafts of light through the forest.  The loop returned us to Egypt Meadow Lake, where we hiked along the west shore, enjoying more views of this serene spot.  We completed the loop and returned to the car.

This loop is fairly easy with level and rolling terrain.  I think it is one of the more enjoyable loops in the Poconos.  The trails are in good shape, although some spots are wet or brushy.  Various trails intersect this loop, where there are posts identifying the trails.  We could hear traffic from I-84 along the northern part of the loop.  Bruce Lake is a must-see since isolated, undeveloped, natural lakes are so rare.  Promised Land State Park has a good trail map of the area.

More pictures.

Red Brook Gorge – SGL 57

Falls on Red Brook

Falls on Red Brook

After a long, hot, and dry summer, it was nice to finally have a cool and rainy day.  I decided to return to SGL 57, with the specific goal of hiking up Red Brook Gorge.  I had been there twice before in the dead of winter, but I wanted to see this beautiful place when there was still green in the trees.  I was worried there may not be enough water in the creek to make the hike worthwhile, but as I hiked up Stony Brook I saw plenty of water tumbling between the round, white boulders.

I hiked up along Stony Brook; the forest was mostly green but there were shades of yellow and red.  Further up the mountain, orange, yellow, and red were making an appearance as the mist threaded over the forest.

It was nice to see flowing water as it dripped from the moss or appeared from the ground.  I hiked around some landslides and soon reached where Red Brook met Stony Brook.  Red Brook lives up to its name- it is red, thanks to natural tannin from the spruce and hemlock swamps at its source, high on the plateau.  I made my way up the creek, which was flowing with vigor.  I soon reached the first falls, which is about 30 feet tall.  I brought my good camera and experimented with shutter speeds.  This falls was beautiful as it fell from a deep, green forest into a series of pools.  I continued further, passing more cascades and even a long waterslide.  Above the slide was another falls formed by jumbled boulders.

The forests were deep and scenic, featuring pine, hemlock, and some spruce.  Birch and maple rose overhead.  Red Brook is home to a northern hardwood forest.  I followed a rocky grade that still had its hand-lain stone walls on the south side of the brook.  Moss covered boulders covered the  mountainside as grey cliffs rose through the trees.  The grade ended and I pushed on, hopping on slick rocks in the creek.  I reached the second falls, about 25 feet tall, which is in an impressive amphitheater grotto.  Bubbles and foam were in the pool below.  The roar of the falls filled the grotto.  This is such a special place.  In high water, it appears a second falls forms over the rim of the grotto.

I was running out of daylight and hurried back down Red Brook under hemlock forests and across carpets of moss.  A large tree rested on the legs of its roots, shaped like a “K”.  Nearby, was a massive, old growth yellow birch.  I passed a large land subsidence marked by a steep 4 foot cliff in the soil and rock where past floodwaters undermined the side of the gorge.  I crossed Stony Brook on a fallen birch tree as owls hooted in the distance.  I followed the old road down Stony Brook in the deepening twilight.  Up ahead I saw a medium sized bear, it soon disappeared into the forest.  I quickly grabbed a stick and clapped my hands, so I wouldn’t surprise the bear.  I did not see it again.  I reached my car in darkness.  Next time, I need to make sure to bring a headlamp.

More pictures and videos.