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.

 

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Allegheny Ridge and Graff Woolever Loop (Loyalsock Trail)

 

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View from the Allegheny Ridge, Loyalsock Trail

 

One hike I’ve always enjoyed was the Allegheny Ridge loop along the Loyalsock Trail.  It offers a good view, ridgetop walking, small streams, and beautiful forests.  If you begin from PA 87, there is also a killer climb with some big rocks and a view, although I did not hike that section on this trip.

White pine tree, Loyalsock Trail

I returned to do a variation of the hike no. 52 in “Hiking the Endless Mountains”.  I decided to do a loop, beginning from the forestry buildings along Little Bear Creek Rd., and then returning via the Graff Woolever Trail.  I hiked part of the Graff Woolever Trail years ago and always wanted to complete it.

Loyalsock Trail up Pete's Hollow

I reached the new and very large trailhead parking area, where I followed the Loyalsock Trail (LT).  The morning sun was rising, sending shafts of light through the still forest and across the white snow.  The trail steadily climbed up a hollow with a small stream.  Large pine and tulip poplar trees towered overhead.  The trail steepened and the snow and ice made it slow going.  Again, the forests were beautiful with lots of birch, pine, and hemlock.  The trail leveled and veered right onto a snowmobile trail.  After a short climb, the LT turned left, leaving the wide snowmobile trail, and followed the crest of the ridge.  I was soon treated to a superb view looking south from the ridge.  Fields adorned rolling foothills as ridges rose in the distance.  It was a beautiful view in the bright winter sunshine.  I took a break to watch the cars and homes far below.  A campsite was nearby.  The trail continued along the ridge and then dropped into a valley, only to return to the ridge with some rock outcrops.  It was a great walk with some nice views through the trees.  The LT veered right and dropped from the ridge, following another snowmobile trail.  Hemlocks filled the dark forests as small streams meandered across the trail.

Graff Woolever Trail

The LT left the snowmobile trail to the left, I continued straight.  After a quarter mile or less, I turned left onto the Graff Woolever Trail, marked by a “GW Trail” sign and blue blazes.  The trail was in good shape although it may be brushy in summer.  It was a glorious woodland trail as it parsed laurel, pine, and hemlocks.  I soon heard a stream to my right.  The trail bent right at a triple blaze (avoid the footpath to the left) and dropped into a beautiful stream valley with more hemlocks and some large trees.  The blue trail continued downstream to a campsite with stone furniture and an elaborate fire ring.  What an awesome place to spend the night, I thought.

Cascades along Graff Woolever Trail

But the blue blazes came to a sudden end and I was unsure where the trail went.  I thought I saw some old footprints in the snow, which followed the creek.  I did the same.  The creek tumbled off the side of the mountain with many small cascades and the “trail” simply followed the creek.  There was no sign of the trail with the snow, and I began to wonder if I was following human, or bear, footprints.  The terrain was quite steep.  I began to wonder if I missed the trail somehow.  Then an obvious old skid trail appeared; it was clearly the trail with cut logs, but still no blazes.  While steep, it was a great trail as it closely followed the tumbling stream with many small waterfalls.  I could see the distinctive peak of Smiths Knob through the trees.  Near the bottom there were two stream crossings as rhododendrons crowded the trail, a nice treat since rhodos aren’t that common in the Loyalsock.  I reached the bottom a little ways behind a cabin.  The trail was indistinct, but I was close to the cabins and Little Bear Creek Rd.  The trail veered right and crossed Little Bear Creek without a bridge, but I used the footbridge for one of the cabins.  There was a sign for the Graff Woolever Trail along the road.  I then walked a short distance along the road back to my car.

Graff Woolever Trail

This was an excellent loop, 5-6 miles in length.  Scenic campsites at the vista and the Graff Woolever Trail make this a great little overnight loop.  The GW Trail is blazed and established well on the plateau, but its fairly steep along the creek, without blazes.  Except for a short section, it follows an obvious old skid trail along the creek.  Next time you are hiking this area of the Loyalsock State Forest, be sure to include the Graff Woolever Trail.

Graff Woolever Trail

Map of the state forest which shows the Graff Woolever Trail on the left side of the map:

http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/cs/groups/public/documents/document/dcnr_20027227.pdf

Keep in mind the Graff Woolever Trail is on the east or south side of the stream, not the west side as on the state forest map.

Bottom of Graff Woolever Trail

More photos:

https://flic.kr/s/aHskNMjUGf

Trail map

Loyalsock-Link Loop

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Loyalsock Creek

 

I love the Loyalsock.  The Loyalsock State Forest is 115,000 acres of Appalachian bliss with its gorges, waterfalls, ponds, streams, vistas, whitewater, swimming holes, big rocks, numerous trails, deep woods, and superb camping.

One of the best weekend or overnight backpack loops in Pennsylvania is the Loyalsock-Link Loop.  I never get tired of this trail.  Along its 17.5 miles, it packs in so much scenery.  One of my favorite features are the forests.  This hike offers extensive hemlocks forests with moss, ground pine, mushrooms.  It is dark and mysterious with every shade of green imaginable.

I parked along Rock Run Road and began hiking the Link Trail, marked with Red Xs.  The trail followed the beautiful Loyalsock Creek with its rapids and deep, clear pools.  This loop is a great summertime hike with all of the swimming holes.  I passed two young men heading the other way and one asked about where to camp, I told them about Alpine Falls or Mary’s Bridge and we soon parted ways.

The trail climbs up to PA 154, but I like to follow a fairly well established side trail, which is the old route of the Link Trail.  It stays close to the creek and crossed the base of a cliff with springs and a wet-weather falls.  Here, the Loyalsock Creek is rugged and beautiful with its boulders.  This side route soon returns to the Link Trail.  The base of the cliffs is slippery.  Do not attempt this side route in high water or when there is ice.

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Canyon Vista, Worlds End State Park

 

The hike continued along the creek, passing more campsites and I soon reached Flat Rock, another large swimming hole.  I crossed PA 154 and made a steep climb up the plateau.  Miles of beautiful woodland hiking followed with extensive hemlocks.  The northern hardwoods smelled sweet in the moist air.  I reached Canyon Vista and explored the Rock Garden.  With lighter gear, I was making good time.  I followed the Link Trail along Double Run with its waterfalls, slides, and moss covered boulders.

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Rock Garden, Worlds End State Park

 

I then saw two older women hiking with what appeared to be overnight backpacks.  They asked if the trail headed back to the park office, I told them it did.  One lady said they bit off more they could chew and were heading back.  Regardless, they should be proud for getting out there on the trail, especially on National Trails Day.

I passed some kids fishing in the creek and one yelled hello.  I soon reached the park office and took a break to have a snack.  Two other backpackers were loading their gear in the car.

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On the Loyalsock Trail

 

I pushed on with a steep climb out of the state park.  The trail meandered among more hemlocks, ferns, and ground pine.  I reached Alpine Falls in the dark forest.  Above were some people camping.  We exchanged a hello and one asked about the rain that was supposed to come tomorrow.  I began to think about just hiking the whole loop in a day, but would see if any sites were available at Sones Pond.

I reached the top of the plateau and the woods were brighter.  The beautiful woodland walk continued with mushrooms and wildflowers dotting the forest floor.  The forests were becoming darker as I made my way under more hemlocks to Sones Pond.  The pond was beautiful in the deep twilight, offering perfect reflections as frogs croaked and an owl hooted in the distance.  However, all the campsites were taken.  I decided to finish the hike that night.

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Sones Pond at twilight

 

I returned to my car in darkness surrounded by the sound of the Loyalsock Creek.  A great day in the woods.

Photos.

Map and brochure.

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  1. The Loyalsock-Link Loop is a superb hike.  The Loyalsock is marked red and yellow, the Link with Red Xs.  The trails are well-marked and established.
  2. While I hiked clockwise, counterclockwise may be best since the climbs are more gradual, but the descents will be steeper.
  3. You can park at the park office at Worlds End State Park, or on Rock Road Road before it crosses the Loyalsock Creek located at 41.459690, -76.509617 with space for about 6 cars.
  4. On my hike, the bridge on Rock Run Road was closed to vehicles for repairs, but can be crossed on foot.
  5. Campsites are located here:  Link Trail:  Cold Run (small sites), Vinegar Run (small sites), Loyalsock Creek (larger sites).  Loyalsock Trail: High Rock Run north of Worlds End State Park, Big Run (below the trail), Alpine Falls (both above and below the falls), Tamarack Run/Mary’s Bridge, Sones Pond.
  6. The loop alone is about 17.5 miles.  The loop plus the out and back to the Haystacks is about 22 miles.  Doing the Haystacks and the loop from US 220 (a lollipop loop) is about 25 miles.
  7. Don’t plan on camping at Worlds End State Park, there are no primitive, backcountry campsites and the developed campground is about a mile from the trail.

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Gear review:

I rarely do gear reviews, but I thought I’d offer some thoughts about two pieces of gear I had.  Lighter gear helps, I found myself moving faster than I normally do with less strain on my body.

  1. REI Flash Backpack (last year’s model).  I’m gravitating towards lighter gear and I was looking for a reasonably priced lightweight pack.  The Flash is light and held the load well while offering some back ventilation.  It was comfortable, although some of the straps dug into me a little, maybe I had it too tight.  It was roomy enough for my gear and could probably be used for up to 3-4 nights for a summertime trip.  The small pouch on the shoulder strap doesn’t seem usable.  I liked the mesh netting on the outside for stuffing items.  The internal hydration sleeve is only attached at the top, so I found it easier getting my bladder back into the pack among the gear, although I may end up keeping the bladder on the outside of the pack anyways.  Overall, I recommend this pack.
  2. Nevados Compass Low.  I was looking for some trail runners, but didn’t want to pay $130 for a pair if I didn’t like them.  “Generic” brands rarely get reviewed since they don’t pay for ads in magazines.  I found them to be comfortable with excellent traction.  My feet breathed well and the trail runners dried quickly.  I did not have any hot spots during my hike.  Toe protection is good with a rubber protected toe box; my toes were comfortable.  Support was good; I didn’t roll an ankle once on the hike.  Aside from typical foot fatigue, my feet felt fine at the end of the day and surely no worse than my Merrills.  For a half to a third of the price of name-brand trail runners, this is a very good option.  I would recommend them.

Loyalsock Trail- Mead Road to Worlds End State Park

Haystacks Rapids

Haystacks Rapids

The famous Loyalsock Trail stretches for almost 60 miles through the Endless Mountains.  It is famous for its vistas, waterfalls, and beautiful streams and has been recognized by Backpacker magazine as being one of the finest hikes over 50 miles in length in the country.

I was recently able to hike the 13 miles of the eastern end of the trail, between Mead Road and Worlds End State Park.  This is a particularly scenic section of trail.  Ed and his nephew Ben joined me.  It was a hot, humid morning as we pulled into the parking area, but it proved to be much cooler in the shade of the forest.  As we began the hike, we passed a young family with several small kids, about to enjoy a day along the trail.  With recent rains, the creeks were running well and Dutchmans Falls provided a nice display as it tumbled over some cliffs into the Loyalsock Creek below.

The forest was beautiful, as shafts of sunlight penetrated the canopy, illuminating mist that hung across the forest floor.  The trail stayed close to its namesake creek, offering great hiking.  We soon reached one of the highlights of the trail, the Haystacks.  The creek roared with rapids as it twisted around the maze of white boulders.  It was a gorgeous sight.  We had the place to ourselves as we got a bite to eat.

The trail climbed to an old railroad grade where we passed a few dayhikers intrigued by a wet-weather waterfall.  The trail followed the easy grade before descending back to the Loyalsock Creek, where it crossed a bridge.  A climb followed up along a small stream, where we passed some odd looking rock outcrops with small caves, a product of erosion.  Ben was impressed by the outcrop; I had seen it before, but for some reason, it did seem more interesting on this hike.

We hiked along cliffs and ledges and soon reached beautiful Sones Pond, where we ate lunch.  The water glistened in the bright sunshine as we sat in the shade of the hemlock forest.

Sones Pond

Sones Pond

The trail meandered through a beautiful forest of hemlock and ground pine, passing over creeks.  It was a great section of trail.  We passed three backpackers, who seemed to enjoy the trail.  The diversity of the forests was impressive as the trail explored hardwoods, meadows, streams, wetlands, and deep hemlocks. At Tamarack Run, the creek twisted into tight “S” curves creating peninsulas and pools that reflected the trees.

We soon reached Alpine Falls as it tumbled down its grotto of cliffs.  Sunlight speckled the forest floor as a soft breeze blew up the glen.

Alpine Falls

Alpine Falls

The trail passed a beaver meadow with tunnels of hemlocks that Ben and Ed enjoyed.  We soon reached High Rock Run where there was some flagging, I hope it wasn’t a sign of gas drilling on our public lands.  The trail descended to Worlds End State Park along High Rock Run with its cascades.  We soon reached the park and a nice view.  The park was filled with people swimming, having a picnic, or relaxing.  There are few better ways to spend a hot summer day than at Worlds End.  Ed and Ben enjoyed the colorful, spring stained cliff at High Rock and High Rock Falls as it plummeted  from its secret grotto.  We were soon back at the car for the ride home.

More pictures.

Map of the section of the Loyalsock Trail we hiked.