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
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.
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
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.