The Hook Natural Area

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Hook Tram Trail

The Hook Natural Area is in the Bald Eagle State Forest and is one of the largest natural areas in the state, covering 5,119 acres. The Hook has long attracted the attention of hikers with its deep, wooded valleys, streams, and rhododendron tunnels.  A few weekends ago, I finally had a chance to explore The Hook to see for myself what this hidden place was all about.

I parked at the Mifflinburg Reservoir and hiked the Hook Tram Trail. This level trail follows an old grade through thickets of rhodos and occasional views of the stream.  I hoped to see the blooms of the rhodos, but there weren’t as many as I’d hoped, and the blooms were small in size.  Regardless, the blooms I did see were nice.  Hiking on the Hook Tram Trail became a little monotonous due to its rocky nature and I began to question what was so special about The Hook.  Then, the trail went through impressive tunnels of rhodos as hidden streams tumbled in the deep shade of the forest.  I climbed a little to a beautiful forest with small glades of ferns where the faint, unmarked Molasses Gap Trail joined from the left.

The trail twisted through a beautiful forest of pine, hemlocks, rhodo, and laurel before crossing Buffalo Creek on a wooden bridge. I was entering The Hook itself, and it became apparent what was so special about this place.  The trail tunneled through more rhodo and laurel, crossing fern glades and blooming rhodos covered the mountainsides.  While the display was not as epic as the ones along Round Island Run in the Sproul State Forest, it was still scenic.  This mountain valley had a primeval, isolated feel filled with the sounds of babbling creeks.  The hemlocks were fairly healthy as hardwood trees towered overhead.  The trail then meandered into a tight rhodo tunnel that would’ve been better suited for a gnome.     I returned to the open stream valley with more fern meadows.  I reached a place where some streams met, and a sign for the Middle Ridge Trail.  I continued on the Molasses Gap Trail and then veered left onto the Mule Shanty Trail.  This trail was brushy and rocky, but still a nice hike with some ledges and rock outcrops along a tumbling stream.   Talus slopes covered the sides of the valley.  As usual, rhodos and mountain laurel were prevalent along the trail.

I then encountered a box turtle, taking its time crossing the rocky trail, unsure whether to keep its head out, or in its shell. I soon turned around, retracing my steps through The Hook Natural Area.  I now see why The Hook is so well-regarded, it is a beautiful, little-known place that feels secluded and wild.  It is well worth the visit.

After reaching my car, I drove up Old Shingle Road to scout some trails for a future adventure- an exploration of The Goosenecks Gorge.

I then drove through the incredibly beautiful countryside outside of Mifflinburg and stopped at the Rusty Rail Brewery in town.  The food and beer were good, and the building itself was impressive.  A great place to stop by after hiking.

More photos:

https://flic.kr/s/aHskExHc41

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  1.  Most people begin at the small Mifflinburg Reservoir.  40.958918, -77.130927
  2. The trails are blazed yellow, with old blue blazes.  The trails can be followed fairly easy, but are brushy in places and tight through the rhododendrons.
  3. Hook Tram Trail is level, but rocky.
  4. The highlight is The Hook itself, a beautiful, serene mountain valley with fern meadows, streams, hemlock, pine, laurel, and rhodos.
  5. I did an out and back hike, but this loop is also popular: http://pahikes.com/trails/bald-eagle-state-forest/75-trails-of-the-hook-natural-area

 

Bear Creek Preserve: Grey and Red Trails Loop

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Shades Creek

The Bear Creek Preserve is one of my favorite places to hike in the Wilkes-Barre area. It has over thirty miles of trails that feature streams, wetlands, waterfalls, big rocks, views, and rhododendron tunnels.  My favorite loop at the preserve is about 8 miles long and explores Shades Creek.

I began at the parking area and followed the red trail near a kiosk. The trail featured green forests and fern meadows.  I then turned left onto the grey trail as it crossed Shades Creek on a footbridge.  The grey trail continued on a bank above the creek with extensive rhododendron tunnels and some large pine and hemlock trees.  There was also a seasonal stream with a waterfall.  I had hoped to see all the rhodo blooms.  While I saw several flowers, this year’s blooms appeared to be small and not very common.  Some blooms were past peak, others were just beginning.  Regardless, this is a very beautiful section of trail.  I dropped to Shades Creek, where there is another seasonal falls across the creek, hidden by rhododendrons.

Shades Creek

The trail meandered from the creek, exploring a hemlock and moss forest with some wet areas. I returned to the creek.  Soon, I hiked by several cascades, slides, and pools.  The water was crystal clear.  The skies threatened rain, but I remained dry.  The clouds did bring out deep green hues in the forest.

Big hemlock

I reached the largest cascades, about five feet tall with a deep pool. You can shorten the hike and cross the creek above the cascade to pick up the red trail; this is a wet crossing.  There is no bridge.  I followed the grey trail as it climbed from the creek to a grade and the purple trail, where I turned right.  The purple trail was easy to follow.  The trail dropped down through thickets of laurel and rhododendron to another purple trail at a “T” intersection, where I turned right.  Here is Bear Creek and a deep pool.  The trail crossed Shades Creek on stones under a scenic hemlock forest.

I turned right on the red trail as it explored more beautiful woodlands. The trail went near the same large cascade I was at earlier.  The red trail then climbed gradually along rock outcrops and ledges.  The forests were mostly hardwoods with ferns.  Another large cliff soon loomed in the forest.  A green trail joined from the left and I continued on the red trail.  The net highlight was another footbridge over a small creek with a falls downstream from the trail.   The clouds had lifted and the setting sun sent shafts of light through the misty woods. I then turned left on the green trail as it climbed gradually, and then a sharp right onto the orange trail as it explored the tops of ledges and cliffs before reaching a small view of the hills across Shades Creek.  There is a deep crevasse in the rocks at this view.  The orange trail features a lot of blueberry bushes, which offer berries in late summer, and red leaves in Autumn.  I followed the orange trail back to the parking area just as it was getting dark.

View from orange trail

The trails are well established, but do get brushy. There are no signs at trail junctures.  The trails are marked with circular placards, with arrows, that are the color of the respective trail.  I found the trails easy to follow, but you do need to keep an eye out for trail junctures to make sure you are following the right trail.  The most confusing place is at the largest cascade on Shades Creek.

This is a great place to hike and the trails are well routed to take advantage of the scenery at the preserve. Bear Creek is one of many beautiful preserves and trails surrounding Scranton and Wilkes-Barre.

More photos:

https://flic.kr/s/aHskzUXzW9

Trail map:

https://natlands.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2016/03/BearCreekBroch-2014-11-map.pdf

Kayaking the Susquehanna River: Falls to Harding

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On the river.

The Susquehanna is the largest river on the east coast, and spends most of its time in Pennsylvania. It is also a remarkably undeveloped river, with miles of forested shoreline dotted with towns and cottages.  We recently paddled from Falls down to Harding.  At Falls, there are tall, reddish cliffs that rise hundreds of feet over the river.  There were several anglers and kayakers on the water.  As we headed downstream, the river became more undeveloped as we enjoyed a faster current over a riffle.  We then reached a long, deep pool that seemed as much a lake as a river.  The wind blew against us, making it slow going.  Yet, the scenery was enjoyable and only became more scenic.  I saw a bald eagle, geese, and mergansers.  I then heard a large pop and crack.  At first I thought it was a firecracker, but soon realized it was a large tree falling in the water with the rush of air and splintered branches.  Good thing I was away from the shore.

A few miles below Falls, the river became very scenic as it was surrounded by tall, forested mountains and distant cliffs. The river was completely undeveloped and beautiful.  Herons searched for food on the far shore.  On the right shore there were hemlock forests and rhododendrons that were in bloom.  The breeze and lack of current made the paddling slow, but it was still worth it.    Cottages returned to the river as we paddled down another riffle with much needed current.  A man was standing in the water, searching for bait under the rocks.  We passed a family kayaking, but taking a rest on the shore.  The father and his daughters were taking turns skipping stones. It seems the river creates a culture all its own, where people follow the rythyms of nature, instead of being distracted by the glare of technology.  On the river, people seem quieter, more contemplative (unless, of course, beer or firecrackers are involved). The skies grew darker and we were worried about rain, which never came.  The river was peaceful and serene as it reflected the passing clouds, rolling green ridges, and giant sycamore and silver maple trees.  We paddled along some islands as minnows fled, at times skipping across the surface of the water.

We reached a factory on the left and took out at the Apple Tree boat access in Harding on the right. We paddled over seven miles, which took us almost four hours.  While I could have walked faster than we paddled, it was still great to get out on the river.

More photos:

https://flic.kr/s/aHskEhAUAH

 

Campbell’s Ledge

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View from Campbell’s Ledge, looking north.  Miller and Osterhout Mountains can be seen.

Campbell’s Ledge is one of the most famous local landmarks in Northeast PA.  It is a dramatic cliff that rises almost 700 feet above the Susquehanna River, offering thirty mile views.  As with many landmarks, it seems to have a story involving Native Americans.  One story was that it was named after a man named Campbell who was being chased by Native Americans, and decided to fall to his death instead of being captured.  It was also known as Dial Rock since the sun would shine on the cliff face at noon.

I have driven by the ledge hundreds of times and always wondered what it would be like to see it from the top.  I recently found out.

Although privately owned, public hiking and hunting are allowed.  We parked off of Coxton Road and followed a road called “Red Oak Road” on Google maps.  I presume driving on this road is not permitted; even if it was, it is a rugged and steep road that requires a vehicle with ground clearance.  The hike follows this road as it climbs the mountain, passing a water tank and some old water supply structures.

We reached scenic Campbell’s Ledge Reservoir where we enjoyed the views over the water.  Another climb followed over exposed bedrock to the top of the ledge where we were treated to amazing views over the river, Pittston, Wyoming Valley, and the mountains to the north.  I was particularly impressed with the views to the north, where the rolling green ridges and peaks reminded me of the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts.  The view is unique in that one side of it looks over an urban area, while the other is rural and wooded with only a few homes and fields.  With its western exposure, the sunset would be amazing.

This a huge cliff and be careful along the rim.  A fall will be fatal.  We saw some birds of prey flying around and calling far below; I wondered if they were peregrine falcons.  As we turned around, several more hikers were coming up.  I was surprised to see so many people hiking up to the ledge.

We returned to the reservoir and then hiked out to Falling Springs Reservoir.  This was worthwhile as Falling Springs is truly beautiful and serene.  We retraced our steps back to the car.

Falling Springs Reservoir

I’ve read that the ledge and its surroundings are fascinating, with old mines, big rocks, quartz caves, and waterfalls.  I hope to explore more of it in the future.

More photos, click image below:

Butterflies

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NOTICE:  The ledge itself is private land and access may be prohibited.  Respect any signs you may see.  When I hiked here, I did not see any “no trespassing” signs and there were plenty of people hiking up to the ledge.  As a result, I wrote this post thinking public access was allowed.  Please consider hiking elsewhere.

White Rocks Trail and Cove Mountain (Appalachian Trail)

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View from Cove Mountain

After a Keystone Trails Association board meeting, I decided to do some hiking while in southcentral PA. My first stop was to the Appalachian Trail Museum at Pine Grove Furnace State Park.  There were many thru-hikers, and hikers in general, about, relaxing in the shade, out of the hot sun.  The museum was small, but the exhibits were very well done, offering a nice snapshot of the history and culture of the trail.

I then drove through the scenic village of Boiling Springs, where there were more thru-hikers, and made my way to the White Rocks Trail along Kuhns Road. The trail is blazed light blue and follows a narrow ridge with many quartzite rock outcrops and some nice views.  The climb wasn’t too difficult, but I was soon sweating from the heat.  I saw some rock climbers and many other hikers.  The rocks were impressive as they rose along the rugged spine of the ridge.  Some geologists believe White Rocks to be the northern end of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which begin in Georgia.  I reached the Appalachian Trail (AT), hiked to Center Point Knob, and returned to my car.

I then drove north to hike the AT to the top of Cove Mountain. As I reached the trailhead, I saw two hikers with their thumbs out, hitching a ride.  Since I never picked up a hitchhiker, I thought this would be a good time to start.  One was a thru-hiker with Warrior Expeditions, an organization that helps veterans on long hikes.  The other was a friend of his.  Both were very nice and appreciated the ride south so they could get the friend’s vehicle.     The thru-hiker was from Ohio and his friend lived in Philly.  Since I lived in Ohio for a few years, we talked about some of the beautiful places in that state, like Nelson Kennedy Ledges.  He said this hike was the best thing he’d ever done.

Big outcrops on White Rocks Trail

I drove back to the trailhead and began the hike as the AT crossed meadows and scenic woodlands with small streams. It was a very nice hike.  I passed a few people camping and began the gradual climb up Cove Mountain as sunlight splintered through the trees.  I soon reached the top and enjoyed the fine views from a pipeline swath.  To the west were rolling ridges, to the east was the Susquehanna River as it cut through mountains adorned with cliffs, masked in the summer haze.  I heard footsteps behind me, and it was the thru-hiker.  We talked a bit; he hoped to stop by the famous Doyle Hotel in Duncannon, get a beer, and camp on the other side of the river that night.  He had some miles to cover.  I wished him luck on the hike.  I had a feeling he’ll make it to Katahdin.

I retraced my steps and made it quickly down the mountain. I crossed the meadows, cast in the golden light of the setting sun, and returned to my car.

For more photos, click on the image below:

Appalachian Trail Museum

Lost Coast Trail and Northern California

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Lost Coast Trail at Shelter Cove

 

I recently returned from a trip to the Lost Coast Trail and northern California. I went with my friend Mike who had long wanted to hike the Lost Coast Trail, and with no real vacation plans of my own, I decided to join.

Philadelphia

Philadelphia? Yes, that is where the journey began.  Mike lives in Philly and I drove down the night before for our early flight the following morning.  As I drove to his neighborhood, my windows were up, doors locked, I made no eye contact.  After all, Philly has a reputation for being a cauldron of anarchy.  But then I noticed something-people were walking along the streets, eating outside at cafes and restaurants.  Later that night, we walked to get something to eat.  Everyone was outside, eating, playing music, riding their bikes.  There was a real artistic vibe to the place.  I felt safe and noted how people of different races and ethnicities interacted with each other.  I was impressed.  The whole city seemed to be under construction with new skyscrapers, lofts, and condos.   Sure, Philly still has its problems, but it has changed dramatically for the better in the last ten years.  I’d like to see more of the city.  I even parked my car along the street for the week I was away.  I was expecting to have to buy a new car when I got back.  It wasn’t touched.

Berkeley, CA

We flew into Oakland and stayed with Mike’s friends for the night. They were great and made some delicious vegetarian dishes that even this meat-eater enjoyed.  Berkeley is a nice town.  The bay was beautiful and the breeze made the weather enjoyable.  We left the next day and hoped to go to Muir Woods, but the place was too crowded, so we headed to the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands to enjoy the great views of San Francisco and the coast.

Route 1 

Next was the drive north along the coast to see the impressive views of cliffs, beaches, and coves.  This is a beautiful drive.  The countryside comprised of tan fields of dried grass and small groves of old oak trees dotting the hills and valleys.  We reached MacKerricher State Park to camp, where we saw a great sunset and some seals.  We made our way north to the Kings Range and the Lost Coast.

Richardson Grove State Park

We stopped here to see the redwoods.  We had to pay $8 to enter the park, and since you can see the redwoods for free in many other places, it probably wasn’t worth it.  Regardless, the trees were impressive although the busy highway through the woods detracted from the setting.

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Trail to Nick’s Camp, off of the Lost Coast Trail

 

Kings Range 

The Kings Range are coastal mountains that rise to over 4,000 feet only a few miles from the Lost Coast.  They have steep ridges and gorges.  This is also a very geologically active area- an earthquake in the 1990s lifted the land by four feet.  It is a beautiful, wild place where the people seem to live by their own rules, in a good way.  Driving the backroads it was common to smell people smoking marijuana.  I was intrigued by a small school named the Whale Gulch School; it reminded me of the one-room schoolhouses of generations ago.  We camped at Nadelos Campground and did a hike on the mountain section of the Lost Coast Trail to Nick’s Camp, where we enjoyed great views of the ocean.  The trees and shrubs had this odd, smooth, purplish bark.  The campground was primitive, but quite nice.

Lost Coast Trail 

We traveled to the isolated ocean-side village of Shelter Cove to begin the famed Lost Coast Trail.  Due to the long and very expensive shuttle, we decided to do an out and back hike to Big Flat along the coast.  The coastal scenery was impressive as towering mountains rose from the ocean along steep, narrow ridges.  This really isn’t a trail- it simply follows the shore.  We soon encountered a dead, beached whale rotting on the sand.  Seagulls surrounded the carcass and the rangers told us bears go down to the whale at night to feed.  The walking was slow and tedious over the sand and loose gravel.  As we hiked, the wind picked up and we had to hike against it.  At one place, seals slept on rocks in the surf.  We made it to Big Flat where, as the name implies, are flat meadows and a stream that flows down from the mountains.  We set up camp out of the wind along the creek with views of the ocean.  The place felt primeval.  I followed the trail further north, passing a gravel airstrip and small cottage.  The trail continued over meadows with superb views; it was nice not to have to walk on sand.  The wind was strong as it blew off the ocean.  I retraced my steps back to camp.  There was a seal on the beach that seemed ill; it didn’t want to go in the water and seemed too tired to react to my presence.  I checked on it later, but it was gone.

I was surprised by the number of hikers on this trail.  Campsites were at a premium and we saw one group with twenty people.   We started a small fire and enjoyed the sunset.  The next morning we starting hiking a little late to let the tide move out.  Along the way we saw a sea otter with a fish on the beach, it quickly ran into the ocean among the kelp beds.  The return hike was easier since the wind was at our backs, but the sand made it slow going.    We passed the dead whale and returned to our car.

Some things about this trail:

  1. Keep an eye on the tide charts. On our hike, the tide was lowest in the afternoon, but high in the morning.  Since the trail is nothing more than the shore, it may be difficult to hike in some spots at high tide (although if the ocean is calm, you may still be able to get through).
  2. This really isn’t a trail in the normal sense; it follows the coast, but does go inland in a few places across meadows.  There are few signs, no blazes.
  3. The walking is tedious due to the sand and gravel.  I didn’t wear gaiters, rather, I had long pants on.  That was sufficient to keep the sand out of my shoes.
  4. The scenery is excellent with the coast, cliffs, and mountains.  The trail does have a primeval feel, to see a place as it always has been.
  5. The trail was more crowded than I expected.  I also expected the trail to be more isolated.  Shelter Cove remained in sight for much of our hike, and Big Flat had a gravel airstrip and a house.
  6. Keep an eye on the ocean for any sudden, big waves.  Also, keep some distance from the cliffs, which are actively eroding.  Stones, sand, debris often falls from the cliffs.  Stones are perched precariously along the cliffs.
  7. The trail has great opportunities to see wildlife, we saw seals and a sea otter.  Not to mention the whale.
  8. The ocean is not safe for swimming due to the surf and drop-offs.
  9. Prevailing winds blow south on the trail.  Winds seemed to pick up through the afternoon, but died down at evening.
  10. Do not hike this trail during storms.
  11. Big Flat was a great place to camp with vast meadows, plenty of driftwood to burn, several sites, and a stream that forms a pool at the beach where you can swim.  Several campsites are exposed to the wind.
  12. The trail north of Big Flat may have been the best section I hiked.  The trail stayed inland, crossed meadows, and provided non-stop views.
  13. For me, the best views were at Shelter Cove and north of Big Flat.
  14. Bugs were not an issue.
  15. There was plenty of fresh water along the trail thanks to all the streams and springs that came down from the mountains.
  16. Overall, I recommend this trail. It is a beautiful place.

 

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Lost Coast Trail, north of Big Flat

 

 

Redwoods National Park

The massive trees are spiritual. We hiked the Lady Bird Johnson Grove.  We then drove the Bald Hills Road, something that few people do.  It was a beautiful skyline road with non-stop views from vast meadows speckled with wildflowers.

Fern Canyon

We camped at Gold Bluffs Beach, which offered a beautiful beach and a great sunset. Nearby is the famous Fern Canyon.  This is a remarkable place, about 70 feet deep, with walls covered in ferns.  The trail followed the creek up into the canyon, crossing the water over boardwalks.  Springs dripped down the canyon walls as pine and fir trees grew overhead.   Apparently, a scene from Jurassic Park was filmed here.

Back at the campground I heard some elk bugling. A few minutes later, to massive bull elk walked down the road behind our campsite.

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Fern Canyon

 

Weaverville and Whiskeytown National Recreation Area

We then drove east into the mountains along the beautiful Trinity River with its deep gorges and rapids. We reached the small town of Weaverville.  The plan was to hike into the Trinity Alps, but the weather had turned with clouds, rain, and snow at higher elevations.  We drove to the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area to hike to two waterfalls, including the impressive Whiskeytown Falls.  The streams in this area kind of reminded me of the Appalachians with lush greenery.

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Whiskeytown Falls

 

Weaverville is a nice town with some good restaurants. The Weaverville Joss House is a Chinese temple built in the late 1800s and hauled in pieces across the mountains to be re-assembled.  It was the worship place for three religions.  It had a fascinating history.  Old wallpaper had Chinese writing, which were the logs and records kept of the community.

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Weaverville Joss House

 

The rain continued and we drove north to Castle Crags State Park. While beautiful, the mountains were cloaked in clouds.

We drove to Weed, California and ate at the Mt. Shasta Brewing Company.

The next day we saw the McCloud River middle falls and stopped by impressive Burney Falls, as the water tumbled down the cliff from out of the ground.

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Burney Falls

 

We drove down to Lassen Volcanic National Park with the hope to do the scenic drive. However, due to the recent snow, the road was closed, so we drove back to Oakland, but not before stopping at Corning, CA to eat at a great Chinese restaurant.

We flew back the next morning.  A trip to remember.

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More photos:

Philly skyline, night before flight.