WARNING: The hike down into Catlin Brook Gorge (aka Catlin Hollow) is very steep and potentially treacherous. Do not attempt unless you are a fit and experienced hiker accustomed to such difficult terrain. You should be experienced with off trail hiking. Do not attempt a hike in the gorge during high water. Do not do this hike alone. Do not access the gorge from the bottom as it is private land.
Catlin Brook holds a unique position among Pennsylvania’s streams. It is the steepest gorge of a stream of its size in the state. At one point it drops 800 feet in a quarter mile. It is in a gorge of incredible rugged beauty with tiers of ledges, side stream springs that flow from the earth, and a towering rock overhang that has its own 70 foot falls in high water. And there are over ten waterfalls at least ten feet in height. Three of the tallest falls are close together and are over 100 feet tall in total. It is rarely explored. For this reason I call it the “Holy Grail of PA Waterfalls”. No other waterfall gorge in the state is as rugged, or as hard to reach. The route (with GPS coordinates) is described, to near the top of the gorge, in Hiking the Endless Mountains.
In reality, the gorge is close to Catlin Hollow Road, near Lovelton. However, private land blocks that access, so a long seven-eight mile hike, one way, is required to reach the gorge. If Catlin Brook is flowing well, the hike is more than worth it with plenty of great scenery along the way.
How do you know if Catlin Brook is flowing well? Just drive up Catlin Hollow Road to where it crosses the brook. If it is flowing, you are good to go. As a very rough correlation, the USGS gauge for the Loyalsock Creek in Montoursville should read at least 2.5 to 3.0 feet for good flow on Catlin Brook.
I’ve been to the gorge twice before. I hiked up the bottom part once, and descended the side of it in winter when it was ensconced in incredible ice flows. I had never seen the entire gorge.
With one of the wettest Summers on record, I knew it would be flowing. I recruited Ryan for this epic hike and we set out from the small parking area along Windy Valley Road at Stony Brook. We took the forest road, passed a cabin, and descended slightly to a stream that washed out the road with cobblestone. We hiked through the beech saplings and continued on the road to a gate. The road was washed out past the gate, so we hiked in the woods, parallel to Stony Brook. The old road returned and we continued hiking up it.
At an old metal culvert pipe on the left, we turned left and followed an old grade to Stony Brook. This grade has been washed out by the creek so we picked our way along faint trails until we reached where Red Brook and Stony Brook joined. Here we crossed Stony Brook into some hemlock saplings. We promptly turned right and made a challenging crossing of flood torn Red Brook and picked up another old grade. This old grade is wet in many places. It took us into a scenic Spruce Gorge and crossed the creek as the Crystal Cascade, a scenic, serene spot with large white boulders, pools, and cascades. We took a break among the spruce and smooth, white boulders. It felt like I was in New England.
The grade continued until we reached a creek that joined from the right. Here we turned right. There used to be an awesome mountain bike trail here, but it is largely gone now. Our route stayed above the creek with its cascades as we hiked under hemlocks and maples. We reached a grove of hemlocks and turned left, crossing the creek. We soon met an old grade and turned right. This old grade brought us to another grade and old ATV trail where we turned left.
This grade took us to Catlin Meadows, a beautiful high elevation bog with wildflowers and sublime scenery. As we took a break, an osprey circled the meadow looking for prey. It would flare its wings, pivot, and swivel to the ground for the kill. What an amazing sight.
The grade circled the meadow, but became overgrown near its outlet. We crossed the outlet and followed the old grade as it proceeded northeast. After a few hundred feet, we left the grade and went off trail to the left/northwest into a hemlock forest. We descended and went around the east end of another wetland meadow. Here we entered the Spooky Forest- a hemlock forest filled with trees that have bare, bleached branches. We then reached Catlin Brook at the edge of the plateau.
Now the fun began. We descended over ledges and mossy boulders with cascades. After a level area, the gorge began, and so did the waterfalls. One after the other, hidden in glens of cliffs. We would descend the edge of the gorge, drop below the cliff line, and then enter the gorge to see the falls. Because of this approach, we ended up descending the gorge along the creek itself. (I highly recommend that you do not follow this approach. Descend along the steep west side of the gorge, and then climb along the creek. It is possible to scramble up along the creek until the top part, where you will need to cut west and above the cliffline to see the other waterfalls. Take your time hiking up the creek and slopes of the gorge, the rocks do shift and move).
We reached a remarkable place with three waterfalls, each 30-40 feet in height, one after the other, in a stunning grotto. Below the third falls was a huge overhanging amphitheater of rock with countless springs, and a 70 foot falls in high water. The beauty was stunning. We were able to scramble down the third falls on the west side. Below were smaller waterfalls and many rocks and boulders, so it was easier to descend, although our legs were aching. This hike required such intense concentration and focus. The waterfalls soon returned, each about 10-12 feet tall. We encountered a 20 foot falls, which we descended on the west slope, and then some smaller falls that lead to a stunning 30-40 foot falls over deep red bedrock. It was breathtaking.
Below was a slide, grotto, and a 20 foot falls, but we did not hike to them. We had to make sure we had enough daylight for the long hike back. I had seen them before and they are beautiful. All of the falls are on the gamelands. Private land begins below the bottom falls.
The hike out of then glen was very arduous, but we made good time. We retraced our route, spooking a coyote along the way as it slipped silently and effortlessly through the forest. They are such incredible, elusive animals. It loved hiking through the deep forests in twilight, as dusk filled the gorges and valleys. We reached my car in the evening, exhausted and electrified by what we saw and what few others have seen.
Catlin Brook exemplifies the hidden beauty of Pennsylvania. In any other state, it would be a hiking and a world class ice climbing destination. Here, it is unknown. Such is the case with SGL 57, which easily has the beauty and diversity to be a national park.
The sanctuary of Catlin Brook Gorge requires a price to enter. With effort, sweat, and patience this experience can be yours as well. And it will be one that you will never forget. A piece of your memory will always reside in the depths of this incredible gorge.
- This is an exceptionally beautiful and rugged hike. About 8 miles, one way, to the gorge. Plan for an all day hike.
- There are no blazed trails, or signs, although most of the hike follows old logging roads or grades.
- Do not attempt in high water or freezing conditions.
- Do not trespass on private land at the bottom of the gorge.
- Catlin Brook can be reduced to a trickle in Summer or dry periods. The brook flows most of the year.
- The gorge is very challenging due to the very steep terrain and loose rocks.
- Stinging nettle was not a big issue in the gorge. There were patches of it, but it did not inundate the gorge.
- It is best to descend the west side of the gorge, and then scramble along the creek to see all the falls.
- Do not hike the gorge alone.
- Enjoy this stunning place and treat it with respect.