Roaring Run Watershed and Buttermilk Falls

I was recently in western Pennsylvania and decided to stop by two parks on the way home.  First was the Roaring Run Natural Area and Watershed, near Apollo, PA (not to be confused with the Roaring Run Natural Area in the Forbes State Forest of the Laurel Highlands).  This preserve has several miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, not to mention a rail-trail.  The trails lead to views, big boulders, a falls, and scenic streams.  I hiked down the Rock Furnace Trail along Roaring Run.  The trail was wide as it stayed above the creek, with hemlocks down below.  Ledges draped with icicles rose over the creek as the sound of rapids filled the air.  The fresh snow created a winter wonderland.  There were also several large beech trees, and wild grapevines.  The trail dropped down to the creek as Rattling Run joined; I had hoped to see the falls on Rattling Run, but it is private property.

Icicle smile

I continued down along Roaring Run, passing a small falls and large boulders.  The creek is very scenic with its large boulders and pools.  I reached Biddle and Camel Rocks, but could not see any signs of an old furnace.  The rocks were massive, house-sized boulders.  The trail crossed the creek over a suspension bridge and soon reached the rail trail at the large Kiskiminetas River.  I turned around to enjoy the many huge tulip poplar, beech, and maple trees. It is great to see many communities in western Pennsylvania embrace the outdoors with new trails, rail trails, and parks.

Suspension bridge over Roaring Run

I then drove an hour east to Buttermilk Falls Natural Area, a park belonging to Indiana County.  Here, the snow was deeper and soft, again creating a gorgeous winter wonderland.  The falls is about 46 feet tall, located in a small gorge.  It was once owned by Mister Roger’s grandfather, and Mister Rogers spent a lot of time there as a child, and the experience would later help inspire his famous children’s program.  Trails lead to the top of the falls, but I wanted to see the bottom.  I couldn’t find a trail, so I meandered down to the creek, passing through and between snow covered boughs of fallen trees.  I made my way up the creek and to the falls as it shimmered in the bright sun with all its ice and snow.  It was a beautiful sight.  It is possible to hike behind this falls, but I did not.  The water danced down the smooth face of the falls, fringed with icicles.  I climbed out of the steep glen, trying to avoid sliding back down on the snow.  Above the falls was an old basement ruin of the cottage that belonged to Mr. Roger’s grandfather, plus a small dam creating another falls.  I returned to the car for the drive home.

Western PA has many scenic spots just waiting to be explored, get out there and see them.

More photos.

Snow wonderland below Buttermilk Falls

Appalachian Trail: Hike to Knife Edge and Bear Rocks

View from Knife Edge

We recently returned to the famous Appalachian Trail (AT) in PA to hike one of its more scenic, and rugged, sections.  We parked off of Route 309 and soon began hiking north on the AT, passing small campsites and thickets of laurel.  The trail was nice, but became increasingly more rocky.   There were some nice views to the south over the rolling farmlands and distant ridges.

View from Knife Edge

The trail crossed a powerline with views and a cairn.  From there, the rocks began to take over as we reached the crest of the ridge with a fine view.  Further up the cliffs was a lone vulture, looking quite large as it enjoyed the sun.

Rock hopping soon followed as we passed several other hikers.  Large outcrops were to our right.  We followed the trail as it scrambled up the rocky spine of the Knife Edge and its superb views.  I could see the Pinnacle and Pulpit Rock in the distance.  We sat and got a bite to eat in the bright sun.

Scrambling the rest of the Knife Edge was fun and we were soon back in the woods, which featured more hemlocks and another good view to the south as we hiked across the rocks.

Soon, Bear Rocks appeared to the left and I followed the blue trail to the top, which requires some scrambling.  This is one of the best rock outcrops along the AT in PA as it towers over the trees and provides several views to the east and north.  I followed the spine of the outcrop, enjoying all the views and the scrambling, finishing with a view to the west.  I dropped from the rocks and returned to the AT, retracing our steps back to the car under a setting sun.

Peeling bark on dead tree

This is an easy hike in terms of elevation gain, but challenging due to the rocks, Knife Edge, and Bear Rocks.  There are several fine views.  It is about 3.5-4 miles one way.

More photos.

Angel Falls and Ketchum Run Gorge-Loyalsock State Forest

Ketchum Run

I recently met up with Mike and Dani to do some hiking in the Loyalsock State Forest.  The plan was to see Angel Falls and Ketchum Run Gorge with their waterworks.  Brunnerdale Road was a fairly easy drive despite some packed snow and ice and we soon began our hike to Angel Falls along the Loyalsock Trail.  It had been years since I hiked to the falls, and it was great to revisit.  Angel Falls was one of the first hikes I did in the state forest many years ago and it made me realize how special this place was.  The trail provided a steady climb and then crested the top of the plateau.  We turned left on a blue side trail to the falls.  I immediately saw all the huge tulip poplar trees growing above the falls, something I had not noticed before.  Some were truly massive.  Tulip poplars are the tallest of the eastern hardwoods, reaching 200 feet.  In several decades these trees will be true giants like those at the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest near the Great Smoky Mountains; hopefully they will never be cut.

Angel Falls

We hiked to the top of the falls to enjoy the view and then walked to the bottom to see the cascading water in its splendor.  Icicles framed the falls.  Angels Falls is a beautiful place, cascading about 70 feet, with more waterfalls below.  Cliffs surround the falls.  Nearby, someone installed a rope swing from a tree with a view of the falls.  Angel Falls flows most of the year, but is reduced to a trickle in Summer, and can dry completely during drought.  After taking lots of pictures and enjoying the scenery, we hiked back to the car.

Ketchum Run

Next we drove to High Knob Road and parked to hike down Ketchum Run, one of the state forest’s crown jewels.  The trail had more snow than our hike to Angel Falls, and it was noticeably colder.  We spoke to a few backpackers as they reached their car.  The creek had several small cascades and some hemlock forests as we walked on a ski trail.  We went off trail and hiked along the creek to see its two beautiful off trail falls, including one that slid off an angled boulder.  Snow covered the glen as ice draped the exposed rock.  We continued down Ketchum Run, passing campsites, in the isolation and beauty of the gorge.  We carefully hiked into the narrow gorge, but it was slow going with the ice and snow.  This gorge is truly beautiful.  Waterslides tumbled beneath us.  We reached the top of Lee’s Falls, but decided to turn around due to the slick conditions and fading light.

Back at the car, we decided to drive to High Knob Overlook to see the sunset as the light filtered through the passing clouds.  We could see distant snow showers across the horizon.  It was bitter cold but the view made up for it.  A drive home in the dark followed.

More photos.


Cathy’s Trail and Long Pond Barrens

Over the last several years, vast areas of the Poconos have been set aside as preserves, many with trails.  The Poconos are famous for its waterfalls and gorges, but its plateau is home to extensive wetlands and streams that harbor incredible diversity.

Cathy's Trail

The Nature Conservancy has several parcels of land that make up the Long Pond Preserve.  We traveled to hike Cathy‘s Trail, a short two mile loop.  We parked at the Nature Conservancy visitor center, crossed a playing field to the right, and soon found the trail.  The trail is level as it explores scenic woodlands of maple, pine, spruce, and beech.  Parts of the trail do get wet from a nearby swamp.  We hiked near a small boulder field and returned through more open hardwood forests to a meadow, which we hiked around back to the car.  Overall, this is a nice easy trail that is good for kids.  I really enjoyed the deep spruce forests with the moss and ground pine.  We could hear traffic from I-80.

Next was a visit to the Long Pond Barrens.  Parking off of PA 118 is non-existent.  This preserve features an extensive selection of wide, mowed paths through fields of blueberry and stunted oak, with pitch pine.  It is easy to hike a variety of loops. No trails are marked or signed, we navigated them using the Google earth map on our phone.  Several areas are wet.  It was a unique place with the pitch pine rising over the stunted forest and brush.  While nice, it is not as scenic as the Eales Preserve.  I think the best time to see this preserve is a sunny day after a snowfall, or during fall foliage season when the meadows explode with color.

I hope to explore more of the Poconos.

More photos.

Sawtooth Trail, Cold Run Waterfalls, Turtle Rock, and Vinegar Run- Worlds End State Park and Loyalsock State Forest

Sawtooth Trail follows top of these ledges

I remember, many years ago, opening the old green state park map of Worlds End for the first time and seeing the waterfalls and vistas and trails.  It was as if I had been given a key to a whole new world, one that I never knew existed.  I had to see these places, I thought.  After hiking all the trails at Worlds End, I moved onto the surrounding Wyoming (now Loyalsock) State Forest.  Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time in Worlds End State Park and the Loyalsock State Forest.  For a while, it was really the only place I seemed to hike and both remain among my favorite places I’ve ever visited.  But after a while, I moved on to new destinations.  However, it is always great to find out that Worlds End and the Loyalsock still have secrets I never knew existed.

Sawtooth Trail

I recently learned of an unmarked, unsigned, and unofficial trail called the Sawtooth Trail, which explores the crest of conglomerate boulders from the Rock Garden to the Link Trail.  I drove up to Canyon Vista and parked, walked back to the Rock Garden, bearing right on the trail that goes in between the rocks.  I walked the top of the rocks to the end, and with a little effort, found a trail to the left.  This trail had a tread I could follow, as it meandered through the woods and soon brought me to huge boulders and deep crevices, as large as the Rock Garden.  The trail stayed on the top of the rocks, revealing deep green hemlock forests with moss and ground pine.  The forests were beautiful.  The rocks were even more amazing.  There were dripping springs and ice flows.  Large square boulders broke off creating passages.  The scenery only got better as I followed the edge of a series of triangular ledges, jutting into the forest.  This was the namesake of the trail, as they appear to be the teeth of a saw.  The bedrock was milky white, tinged with moss, perfectly straight and angled.  The trail continued along the cliffs and ledges; sometimes the trail was a little hard to follow, but with a little effort, I found it again.  The forest continued its beauty.  As I headed east, the ledges became smaller and then the trail dropped below them.  I soon reached the Link Trail.

Triangular outcrops, Sawtooth Trail

The Sawtooth Trail is an excellent trail, and you can make a great loop by following the Link Trail back to Canyon Vista, but that was not to be my route on this hike.  I went off trail and continued along the cliffs to the east.  There were some cool outcrops, but nothing that rivaled the Sawtooth Trail.  I soon reached Cold Run Road.  I wasn’t sure where to go.  I came upon Cold Run and decided to see what the creek had to offer.  I followed it down to a series of waterfalls and cascades.  I was impressed by the scenery as the creek tumbled down ledges and boulders.  I was going to turn around, but something told me to explore more.  I went down the steep slope to see more falls.  A stream joined from the left, with more cascades in a deepening gorge.  Wow, I thought.  Below was a 15 foot falls, and further down, was another 15 foot cascade over mossy bedrock ledges, surrounded by springs.  The ice flows must be amazing when it’s cold, I thought.  I hiked back up the steep gorge as my legs burned.  I hiked below a colorful rock outcrop and returned to Cold Run Road.

Sawtooth Trail

I decided to go off trail again to explore another escarpment of ledges that brought me to the Worlds End Trail with all its boulder mazes and outcrops.  I explored the tunnel and then returned to Canyon Vista.

Cold Run

I had another place to visit, another unofficial trail above Vinegar Run, which led to a formation called Turtle Rock.  I found the place to park, but no sign of a trail, so I bushwhacked to the edge of a series of impressive cliffs in a hemlock forest, adorned with rhododendron, a rarity in the Loyalsock.  The terrain was surprisingly rugged and beautiful.  I came upon Turtle Rock; part of the outcrop does resemble the head of a turtle with an eye and pupil.  The ledges continued under hemlocks until I reached private property.  I dropped down to Vinegar Run and hiked up it, passing rapids and a secret campsite.  The highlight was a beautiful falls over fractured, mossy bedrock.  I saw a grade above me and hiked up to it; it was the Link Trail.  I was exhausted, so I was happy to find a real trail.  I hiked it to Cold Run Road and returned to my car.

Tunnel on Worlds End Trail

This was an amazing day exploring new places in the Loyalsock.  Sawtooth Trail was awesome, Cold Run was beautiful, and Turtle Rock was a special place hidden among cliffs and hemlocks.  The Loyalsock still has secrets.

More photos.

Turtle Rock


Vinegar Run



How to find the Sawtooth Trail…

  1. Where it begins at the end of the Rock Garden, above Canyon Vista.  N 41 27.677  W 76 34.426
  2. Where it ends at the Link Trail.  N 41 27.537  W 76 33.910

Location of Cold Run Waterfalls (there are many cascades, here are two):

  1. Falls below where the two forks meet:  N 41 27.621  W 76 33.436  andN41 27.675  W 76 33.307

Cold Run

The Lost Mine, The Caves, Moss Chasm, and a Crazy Compass-SGL 57

Lost Mine

I recently learned of a second, little-known mine on Dutch Mountain.  With some general directions, I set out to find it.  I parked at the parking lot of the popular mine and followed a series of trails and old logging roads as they passed spruce and hemlock forests, and small streams.  The trail took me into a deep spruce forest and ended right at the “Lost Mine”.  Nestled under a cliff and free of a graffiti, the lost mine almost appeared to be a natural cave.  Moss covered ledges and boulders surrounded the mine.  There were some old, heavy metal remnants of the mining operations, covered in rust.  A small spring dribbled out of the entrance.  The entrance was a little smaller than the popular mine, but it looked like you could walk back into it, although I did not.  I could see ice formations reflecting the daylight from deep within.

Caves, chasms

Finding the lost mine was so easy, I decided to do more exploring.  I followed the escarpment of rocks and ledges to the east, passing a small six foot waterfall and some cool ice flows.  I knew there were some ledges to the east, but I was not expecting much.  Moss covered the forest floor as spruce rose above me.  But there was something strange, my compasses would not work properly at the mine- north pointed east, west, and south.  Mysterious.  Even as I walked away from the mine, my compasses still went haywire. Were there minerals or metals in the rocks that manipulated the compass?

The Caves

I reached some incredible bedrock chasms, mazes, passageways, and caves.  Springs dripped from everywhere over the white, pebbly conglomerate rock.  Moss adorned the rocks as ice draped over them.  I headed north along the escarpment to see more unique rock features, as webs of roots spread over the ledges, looking for a place to hold.

The Caves

This hike was becoming much nicer than I was expecting as I passed another bedrock chasm.  I pushed further, to see a deep opening where a massive boulder separated from the cliff.  Below I couldn’t believe my eyes, deep caves and passageways between the 40 foot high boulders.  These boulders created rock houses and shelters.  It was stunning.  I explored the different passageways and crevices as the monstrous boulders loomed above me.  I wasn’t brave enough to go into the dark cave itself.  I called this primeval place The Caves.  I sat there, amazed by the scenery.  It was like a lost world, isolated, pristine.  Miles from anywhere.  A light snow began to fall.  I pushed further to see more rock outcrops, I then turned around.  I came upon a long, 10 foot deep chasm, carpeted with deep, green moss and sinewy roots.  Blocks of bedrock were slowly separating, creating all these chasms, crevices, and caves.  My compasses still did not work properly, the place still felt mysterious, but not malevolent.  Regardless, I thought it was time to leave.

I left The Caves and bushwhacked south to Red Brook, passing old growth hemlocks towering through the forest.  I dropped down to Red Brook and hiked up along it, with its many rapids and cascades.  I then reached the second falls on Red Brook and its impressive grotto of rock with many glacial blue ice columns.  This is such a beautiful place.  I took a few photos and hiked upstream until I reached my original route and retraced my steps. My compass returned to  normal.

The diversity and scenery of SGL 57 continues to impress me.  I thought I had seen most of what it had to offer, and I guess I was wrong.  This hike was exceptional.  In order to protect the Lost Mine and The Caves from graffiti, I will not publicize the GPS coordinates.  I may share them privately.  Generally speaking, these places are on the plateau between Red Brook and Stony Brook, and no official trails reach them.

More photos.

Red Brook Falls


The Caves

First Day Hike- Ricketts Glen State Park

Little Cherry Run Trail

Last year we began a tradition of having a First Day Hike, a concept that has spread across the nation over the last few years.  This year, we decided to keep the tradition alive.  Despite the frigid 9 degree temperatures, the bright sun provided some motivation to hike as five brave souls met me at the parking area in Ricketts Glen State Park.  While surrounding areas were free of snow, over six inches covered the trails in the park, giving the impression that this was in fact winter.

This hike was about 5 or 6 miles long and we began by hiking down to the breached Glen Leigh dam, an old, crumbling concrete structure that is odd for a dam since it is essentially hollow.  We passed above some frozen waterfalls and hiked along the headwaters of Bowmans Creek under deep green boughs of hemlocks.  Maples and birch trees with rolls of peeling bark rose through the forest.  The temperatures warmed a little since we were out of the wind.  The trail was beautiful as it explored peaceful forests and countless animal tracks across the snow.

Little Cherry Run Trail

We turned left onto the new Little Cherry Run Trail, the most scenic section of the hike.  Everyone loved this trail as it climbed up a gorge with a tumbling stream that had several small waterfalls and cascades.  Large rocks and boulders loomed overhead.  The gorge was draped in snow and ice flows.  Two bridges offered easy passage over the frozen stream as the sound of the falling water filled the gorge.  The water was reddish from the swamps upstream.  For those that tire of the crowded Falls Trail, be sure to hike the Little Cherry Run Trail.

Group on the Little Cherry Run Trail

The trail leveled off through a beautiful, deep, green hemlock forest as we crossed small meandering streams.  The frigid sunlight cast shadows across the snow.  We turned left onto the Cherry Run Trail and returned to the dam to complete the loop.  We retraced our steps back to the cars.  Join us for next year’s First Day Hike!

More photos.

The loop we hiked.