New York’s Best Backpacking Trails

New York has the most diverse scenery of any state east of the Rocky Mountains. The Empire State boasts vast lakes, canyons, alpine peaks, huge waterfalls, large rivers, pastoral countryside, beaches, and significant wilderness. It also has an extensive backpacking trail system. Which ones should you hike?

Most of the hikes below follow routes that include multiple named trails.  For more information, see Backpacking New York.

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Western New York and the Finger Lakes

Allegany State Park
22 mile linear hike
Easy-moderate
Hike the North Country and Finger Lakes Trails across New York’s largest state park. Enjoy scenic forests, streams, and three shelters. While this hike doesn’t have standout natural features like waterfalls or vistas, the beautiful forests and good isolation make this an ideal backpack. Perfect for autumn colors.

Letchworth Trail
23 mile linear trail
Easy-moderate
This trail stretches across stunning Letchworth State Park, exploring the more isolated eastern rim of the famous gorge. There are views of two of the giant waterfalls and great views at the southern and northern ends of the trail. The trail passes many steep ravines carved by sidestreams with seasonal cascades. There are two shelters.

Morgan Hill State Forest
14 mile loop
Easy-moderate
This loop follows sections of the North Country Trail and a rural road. It features two ponds, scenic forests, streams, an incredible vista, and impressive Tinker Falls. You will also enjoy a gorge with cascades. There’s a lot of scenery along this small loop, which is strategically located in the central part of the state, south of Syracuse. There is one shelter.

Tinker Falls

Catskills

Escarpment Trail
23 mile linear trail
Moderate-difficult
A classic trail, enjoy stunning views, ledges, rock outcrops, a lake, boreal peaks, diverse forests, Blackhead Mountain, Windham High Peak, and famous Kaaterskill Falls, which is just off trail. The trail is known for being dry. There are two shelters.

View of North Lake

Windham High Peak and Blackhead Range Loop
18 mile loop
Difficult
Summit four Catskill peaks with spruce forests and excellent views. There are beautiful spruce forests and two shelters. Water can be limited. There is a four mile roadwalk to complete the loop.

Hunter Mtn in distance

Devil’s Path
25 mile linear trail
Very difficult
One of New York’s most famous, and brutal, trails. The punishing terrain reveals incredible views, rock shelters, and outcrops. Trail is very rocky and steep in places. Enjoy the spruce forests. The eastern half is drier, has more views, and is more difficult. The western half is easier, has more water, and a waterfall. There are four shelters.

Wittenburg-Cornell-Slide Loop
16 miles (including Giant Ledge)
Difficult
The classic Catskills backpack that summits three peaks, including the highest in the Catskills, Slide Mountain. The views are stunning from spruce covered summits. Be sure to include Giant Ledge with its own series of excellent views.

Misty view from Wittenberg

Southern New York, Hudson Valley and Taconic Mountains

South Taconic Trail
16 mile linear trail (trail has been extended further south)
Moderate-difficult
The best trail that you never knew existed, put this one on your list. It features excellent vistas from grassy balds on mountain summits, cascading waterfalls, and just off trail, the stunning Bash Bish Falls. The trail straddles the New York/Massachusetts border. Alander and Brace Mtns. cannot be missed. It’s hard to believe this trail isn’t more popular.

Hikers on the exposed ridge

Harriman State Park-West
22 mile loop
Moderate
Harriman is a very popular and surprisingly beautiful park that has a vast web of trails. I like this loop because of its diversity and relative isolation. It encompasses Island Pond, Lake Tiorati, and the Appalachian Trail. There are many vistas, ponds, cascades, rock outcrops, streams, gorges, and the famous Lemon Squeezer. There are three shelters.

Island Pond

Shawangunk Ridge Trail
28 miles (entire trail is 70 miles long)
Moderate-difficult
This is the best section of the little-known Shawangunk Ridge Trail; it goes from NY 55 south to NY 171. As you’d expect for the Gunks, there are non-stop views from white cliffs. Highlights include Sam’s Point, Ice Caves, and towering Verkeerderkill Falls. The trail is very circuitous through Minnewaska State Park. Camping is a problem on this route and is prohibited along its northern half. South Gully is a scenic gorge. The southern half of this route is quite nice with many vistas, isolation, and camping potential. Watch for sun exposure on the northern half and water can be a problem in dry weather.

Adirondacks

Lake George Wild Forest
21 mile loop
Moderate-difficult
An excellent loop with beautiful ponds, cascades, and great camping. Enjoy views of pristine Lake George. The views from Sleeping Beauty, and Black Mountain in particular, are stunning. There are five shelters.

View from Black Mtn

Pharaoh Lake Wilderness
24 mile loop
Moderate-difficult
A popular and beautiful destination, this loop offers gorgeous ponds, streams, a waterfall, incredible camping, and superb views. There are also mining remnants. Views from Pharaoh Mountain are excellent. There are eleven shelters, often in beautiful locations.

West Canada Lakes Wilderness Loop
23 mile loop
Easy-moderate
A great backpack to get away from it all in an isolated wilderness. There are beautiful lakes, wetlands, and streams. Boardwalks offer views over the water. There are eight shelters, often along scenic lakes and ponds. A side hike to the top of Pillsbury Mountain from the trailhead offers excellent views.

Bridge at South Lake outlet

Cranberry Lake 50
50 mile loop
Easy-moderate
New York’s premier backpacking loop, this trail has become increasingly popular. Enjoy views of beautiful lakes and ponds, traverse the top of beaver dams in wet areas, and revel in the isolation of woodlands and grassy meadows. Do not miss High Falls or the excellent views from Cat Mtn. There are also a few waterfalls and cascades. There are four shelters and many great campsites. The trail goes through the village of Wanakena and there are almost eight miles of roadwalking to complete the loop. For shorter loops, do the High Falls or Dog Pond Loops.

Northville-Placid Trail
135 mile linear trail
Easy-difficult
New York’s premier backpacking trail, this iconic trail stretches across much of the famous Adirondack Park. This is a lower elevation trail and mountain top vistas are rare, but there are numerous ponds, lakes, rivers, creeks, and some cascades. The trail crosses grassy meadows and isolated woodlands. Enjoy the stunning scenery, rapids, and pools of the Cold River. There are many shelters and campsites, often in stunning locations. The West Canada Lakes Wilderness and Cold River sections are generally considered the most scenic, but there is no bad section of the trail. Do not miss Wanika Falls. Piseco has a post office for a food drop and showers are available at Lake Durant Campground. Hiking this trail will be an experience you will never forget.

Cedar Lakes

Cold River-Seward Range Loop
30 mile loop
Easy-moderate
An isolated loop with great wilderness, this hike offers the stunning scenery of Cold River, scenic woodlands, streams, and great camping. Latham Pond is gorgeous with its views of the Seward Range. The Cold River has incredible rapids, cascades, and giant swimming holes. There are ten shelters. Side trails lead to the summits of the Seward Range.

 

Adirondack High Peaks

The stunning scenery of the High Peaks attract hikers from around the world. It also presents a challenge to traditional backpacking due to the punishing terrain and competition for campsites and shelters. If backpacking during the busy season, it is recommended you go mid-week. These routes follow a series of individually named trails.

Algonquin Peak-Indian Pass Loop
22 mile loop
Very difficult
See gorgeous lakes surrounded by towering mountains. A side trail leads to impressive Hanging Spear Falls. The arduous climb up to Algonquin reveals cascades and stunning views from an alpine peak. Hike by Heart Lake and up Indian Pass Brook to scenic Rocky Falls. Indian Pass is insanely rugged, and beautiful. There are seven shelters near or along the trail.

Rowing on Lake Colden

Mt. Marcy-Avalanche Pass Loop
21 mile loop
Difficult
The “easiest” of the High Peak backpacks, this route has it all. There are lakes hemmed in by cliffs, scrambling, and alpine peaks. The Opalescent River is stunning with its chasms and rapids. Be sure to hike Skylight Mountain to its alpine summit. Hiking up the backside/southside of Mt. Marcy can be a little intimidating, but its is exhilarating. The top of New York’s highest mountain is stunning. Hike above Indian Falls and enjoy beautiful forests of birch and spruce. There are many shelters.

View from Mt. Marcy

High Peaks Loop
36 mile loop
Very difficult
The most difficult backpack in New York, this is an incredible and challenging loop with incredible views, waterfalls, ponds, lakes, chasms, and gorges. Take a rest at Johns Brook Lodge and tackle the Great Range with its incredible views. The views from Pyramid Peak may be the best in the High Peaks. Rainbow Falls is amazing and the classic view from Indian Head will take your breath away. The section along Nippletop and Dial Mtn. is more isolated, but still gorgeous. The section along Deer and Flume Brooks is surprisingly scenic with waterfalls and camping potential. If you finish this hike, pat yourself on the back. It is tough but so rewarding.

 

For more information, see Backpacking New York.

 

 

 

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Schrader Creek Valley Vistas-SGL 36

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View over Schrader Creek Valley, SGL 36.

The Schrader Creek Valley is one of PA’s best kept secrets. Here you will find towering waterfalls, gorges, huge rocks, Class III+ whitewater, ponds, rock climbing, vistas, and fascinating historical remnants from the coal and lumber eras. I recently went out to explore SGL 36 and find a vista overlooking the valley.

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I drove down Falls Creek Road and pulled off along the road (41.655855, -76.608576)before it became rutted and muddy. I then just walked down the road to a forest of pine trees, where I turned off the road followed a grade to the right (41.650738, -76.608228). This grade became a jeep or ATV trail as it followed the perimeter of a field with pine trees. In summer expect to see wildflowers.

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At the southern point of this field (41.645908, -76.611961), I followed a faint footpath that went southeast. This faint path went through laurel thickets and may be difficult to follow in summer as it is overgrown in places. This path is not blazed, but with some effort I was able to follow it through the laurel. The path went through open hardwoods, but then went through the laurel again, making a slight climb. I soon reached the edge of the plateau at some cliffs, where the path turned right (41.641404, -76.606739).

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This dramatic cliff line featured tremendous views over the wooded, isolated Schrader Creek Valley. Some views were 180 degrees, offering views up and down the valley. I enjoyed the rolling ridgelines and tiers of mountains between the glens and streams. The view of the valley to the southwest was particularly beautiful. I could clearly hear the roar of Schrader Creek’s rapids from hundreds of feet below. I could also clearly see the incline plane that once transported coal from Barclay to the valley below. Be careful along the cliffs as a fall would be fatal.

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I continued west and went off any trail, exploring massive boulders below the cliffs and ledges. I went through an open hardwood forest with some giant oak trees and soon reached the mountain laurel again. I made my way through the laurel and soon reached another cliff line, with more views and overhangs (41.641693, -76.613212). This cliff line was just as impressive with chasms and excellent vistas from exposed ledges. I was surprised by the extent of the cliffs and the high number of views. Someday, I’d like to explore these cliffs from the bottom.

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I found a trail that was used and cleared by people, not bears, which made the hiking easier. This trail dropped down and then climbed up, following a series of small cairns. This trail was in much better shape than the one to the first cliff. This trail brought me back to the same field I had left earlier (41.645564, -76.616109). I walked the jeep/ATV trail back to Falls Creek Road and my car.

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This is a truly beautiful hike with tremendous views. I was there in midday, so the bright sun washed out the features of the views. In the morning or evening I’m sure these views would be stunning. I hope to return in October for the autumn colors. I’m not sure if my route was the best. If I returned, I would follow the faint trail to the first cliff and vistas, retrace my steps, and then take the second trail to the second cliff line and vistas, and retrace my steps back to the field (the orange routes in the map below), avoiding the bushwhack in between.

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More photos.

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For the map above:

Yellow: Jeep/ATV trail along perimeter of field.

Orange: Faint trails, not blazed or signed.  The trail on the left is better established.

Red:  Bushwhack route.

 

 

Hike to Swatara Falls

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Swatara Falls

Swatara Falls has become a well-known destination in Schuylkill County. And for good reason. It is a beautiful waterfall, about 25-30 feet in height, in an area of the state where there are relatively few waterfalls. The hike also looks down into a gorge with rhododendron jungles. Cliffs and huge boulders also rise over the trail near the falls, creating an impressive setting.

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How do you hike to it? It is fairly easy. I’m not sure who owns the falls. It is a popular place and appears open to the public. There were no “No Trespassing” signs that I encountered on this hike. All the trails follows old logging or jeep roads, and do not have blazes or signs. The hike is about 1 mile, one way.

  1.  Park on the south side of PA 25, it is pull off parking. 40.662356, -76.360001
  2. Cross PA 25 and hike up PA 25 for 75 feet to an obvious trail. Enter the woods.
  3. At first trail juncture, turn left.
  4. At second trail juncture, a four way juncture, turn right.
  5. At third trail juncture, turn right and descend.
  6. The grade curves down and then follows a level, straight grade above a rugged gorge. Rhododendrons grow along the trail.
  7. Follow this trail straight. Rhododendrons become more thick but the trail is obvious. Cliffs and boulders rise above the trail.
  8. The trail ends at the falls. Return the way you came.

Swatara Falls is a beautiful, rugged place with soaring cliffs and boulders. There is some graffiti. I’ve been told the creek is very scenic above the falls, with additional smaller falls. I’ve not seen them. To hike above the falls, cross the creek and scramble up.

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Please treat this place with respect and keep it clean.

More photos.

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Painter Hollow Falls-Loyalsock State Forest

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Painter Hollow Falls, Loyalsock State Forest

This is a hike to one of the state forest’s least known waterfalls. It is also odd in that the falls is fairly close to a road, but access is blocked by private property, so a 4 mile hike (one way) is required. This entire hike follows forest roads or old grades. None of the trails have signs or blazes, except for some old red faded blazes.

 

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I parking my car along Hoagland Branch Road; ahead it was closed due to severe flood damage. I first walked a little along Hoagland Branch, which was devastated by floods in 2016.  It was still a beautiful stream with its bedrock rapids and deep, clear pools.  I began my hike up the gated Middle Hill Rd. The old road gradually climbed up the mountain, passing small seasonal streams and a few hemlocks. After two miles, I encountered a deer fence at a “Y” in the trail. I turned left and went through a gate in the fence.

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The trail now featured some deep hemlock forests and rock outcrops; I was now hiking within the fence. I reached another “Y”, passed outside the fence, and turned left. The trail descended slightly and soon reached a small open area that was overgrown. Here, I followed an obscure grade to the right, blocked by a fallen tree.

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The grade was easy to follow, although there was some brush and fallen trees. I avoided any grades to the left. The grade crossed a stream and continued downhill, entering the gorge of Painter Hollow. The grade steepened and the creek soon came into view with a red rock gorge and a ten foot falls. The grade crossed the creek with red bedrock cascades and slides. Just below was Painter Hollow Falls.

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I scrambled down to see a beautiful 30 foot falls over red bedrock into a deep pool. Icicles draped the ledges and springs dripped. Downstream was a large boulder and more red bedrock slides. The creek then entered private land and some more falls, which appeared to be lower than Painter Hollow Falls. This creek is small and is likely dry in summer or dry weather.

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I then retraced my steps back to my car.

More photos.

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Stony Run Hike-Loyalsock State Forest

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Rock shelters above Stony Run.

The Stony Run Trail is one of the Loyalsock State Forest’s little known trails. It is also one I’ve always enjoyed hiking. I returned recently to hike part of the trail and to do some off trail exploration in the Stony Run Gorge.

 

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I parked at the Hillsgrove maintenance/ranger station and followed the red blazed Old House Trail, which began a short distance down the road near the cabin. I crossed Dry Run, getting wet feet along the way. Dry Run does not have a bridge, so do not attempt to cross in high water. The Old House Trail, which is also a part of the bridle trail system, curved up into a scenic pine forest, and then I turned right onto the yellow Stony Run Trail.

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This trail crossed a rocky talus slope and then dropped into Stony Run, crossing the tumbling run without a bridge. The trail is faint in places and the blazes are faded, but the trail can be followed. The trail then followed a grade and went up the side of the gorge, above the creek. But I had a different way in mind.

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I decided to hike off trail and just go up Stony Run itself. I soon entered a gorge with non-stop cascades and pools, but no sizeable falls. The gorge narrowed as I climbed and I soon saw some bedrock cascades as cliffs rose above me. I reached a hemlock forest with more beautiful cascades and passed a nice campsite, where I rejoined the Stony Run Trail.

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The trail entered thick laurel, but there was a clear passage. This would be a great hike in June to see the laurel bloom. The trail became wet as I crossed Stony Run, and also more overgrown, but I was able to stay on the trail. The trail continued, left the laurel, and entered an open hardwood forest. However, I left the trail again, following a bushwhack along a cliff line.

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There are cliffs on the north rim of Stony Run Gorge. At first, the laurel was very thick, but became more open as I reached the cliffs. There were beautiful overhangs, a cave, and boulders. I found a way to the top of the cliffs, battling laurel, where there was a more open cliff line and nice hiking along a well established bear path. I also enjoyed three nice views across the gorge, but the views were not expansive. I continued west along the cliffs, but the trees blocked any further views. I dropped down a little into a drainage and explored some more outcrops. I then entered a beautiful, open hardwood forest with large, towering trees. I made a note to return in the summer.

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I dropped down to the red Old House Trail and followed the grade back to my car. On my drive out, I saw Andrea Falls and the rebuilt CCC era Dry Run picnic pavilions with its heavy timber beams, a beautiful spot for a get together.

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If you don’t want to bushwhack, just hike the Old House and Stony Run Trails Loop, it is a great hike with isolation, cascades, hemlocks, laurel, rock outcrops, and a nice campsite. The whole loop is almost five miles.  This loop is described in Hike No. 46 in Hiking the Endless Mountains.

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More photos.

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Cape Run Gorge and Waterfalls-Loyalsock State Forest

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Tallest falls on Cape Run, Loyalsock State Forest

The Loyalsock State Forest is known for its many beautiful streams and gorges. Hikers have long known of one of the forest’s crown jewels, Ketchum Run, and have even begun to explore Scar Run and its waterfalls, just to the east of Ketchum. However, there is a third stream worthy of checking out-Cape Run.

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Cape Run is to the west of Ketchum and the Loyalsock Trail explores the upper drainage of the run. Few hikers have ever explored it. I recently hiked all of Cape Run on state forest land, and it is a very beautiful place. A true hidden gem.

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I parked off of High Knob Road and walked a gated forest road back to the Loyalsock Trail, on which I turned left. The trail descended, crossed the east branch of Cape Run, and then continued to the west branch of Cape Run. Here there is a fifteen foot falls. I left the Loyalsock Trail and went off trail down the west branch of Cape Run.

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To my surprise I found an old grade that was in decent shape and made hiking the creek fairly easy, although there are some stream crossings without bridges. I was soon treated to cascades, pools, and boulders in the narrowing gorge. I then reached a 12 foot falls over a broad, mossy ledge that I called Notch Falls as the creek flowed through a notch in the ledge. Cascades and mossy grottos continued until I reached the point where the east and west branches of Cape Run met.

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This was a gorgeous spot as I looked up both glens and its cascades. I continued downstream on the grade, enjoying an incredible mossy forest. Moss covered the rocks and coated the trees, giving it a Pacific Northwest vibe. I’d love to see this forest on a misty summer day, the greenery must be incredible.

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I saw a 20 foot falls over two drops followed by a long slide. More slides continued with bedrock pools. Cape Run then entered a beautiful mini-glen with a broad seven foot falls into a beautiful pool. Another broad four foot falls was downstream. This section was very scenic. I reached the state forest boundary and turned around.

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I returned to where the two branches of Cape Run met and hiked up the east branch. This gorge was narrower and steeper and featured several smaller falls and one steep bedrock slide. Ledges loomed above to the right as club moss provided a deep green carpet. I left the creek and climbed up to the Loyalsock Trail and retraced my steps to my car.  Total length of the hike was about 3-4 miles.

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Cape Run is a truly beautiful place, a hidden realm in the Loyalsock State Forest.

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More photos.

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Dry Run Gorge Vista and Titanic Rock-Loyalsock State Forest

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Dry Run Gorge Vista, Loyalsock State Forest

I recently went out to explore the north rim of the Dry Run Gorge. It proved to be a beautiful hike. I parked at the Hillsgrove ranger/maintenance station and hiked up the red blazed High Knob Trail, which follows a gated, grassy forest road up the mountain. After hiking for almost a mile, I turned left and went off trail, hiking up to the ridge.

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I soon encountered large cliffs, overhangs, and ledges. I continued west, traversing the rugged terrain and angled boulders. I stayed at the base of these cliffs. I soon reached a remarkable spot of several gigantic boulders. One was 75 feet long, angled slightly downhill, and the end looked like a bow of a ship hitting another huge boulder, so I called it Titanic Rock. Other house-sized boulders were nearby, looming through the forest. The cliffs only added to the fine scenery. This looked like a good spot for rock climbing or bouldering.

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As I proceeded west, the boulders and ledges decreased in size. I then reached an open hardwood forest with some large trees and a small, spring fed stream. The laurel loomed ahead.

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Mountain laurel loves to grow along cliffs and its tangled jungles makes hiking tedious. I found some herd paths that allowed somewhat easy travel through openings in the laurel. I returned to the cliffs where I was now on top.

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I followed a bear path, which are common along the tops of cliffs in the Loyalsock. I still had to deal with the laurel, but it was a little easier hiking. The large white pine trees made the forest scenic and aromatic. I then reached the top of cliffs with fine views across Dry Run Gorge and into Ogdonia Run, looking over tiers of ridges and canyons. The distant canyon of Ogdonia Run had made side glens, creating tiers of descending ridges. It was a remarkable view with virtually no sign of development. Most surprising was how loud and clearly I could hear Dry Run flowing, despite being almost 1,000 feet above it. It was like I was sitting right next to the rushing stream.

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I continued along the ridge to the west and then to the north. There were more ledges and cliffs, but no more open views. I then made my way back to my car.

If you like vistas and huge rocks, this is the hike for you.

More photos.

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For the map above, the black route is the off trail route.