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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Hike to Alpine Falls-Loyalsock State Forest

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Frozen Alpine Falls, Loyalsock State Forest

Alpine Falls is a beautiful spot in the Loyalsock State Forest, along the Loyalsock Trail. Alpine Falls is about 25 feet tall and is located in a scenic glen. There are campsites downstream from the falls, including another waterfall. Alpine Falls also makes for a great hike from Worlds End State Park and is notable for its beautiful hemlock forests. Thanks to a variety of trails, it is possible to do this hike as a dayhiking loop or as a quick overnight backpack.  The loop is about 8 miles in length.

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We began at Worlds End by hiking the orange blazed Butternut Trail as it climbed behind the cabin area along an old grade. Turn right onto the Butternut Trail loop as it enters a glen of Butternut Run with some waterfalls. Climb along switchbacks over rocky terrain and below a ledge to a nice view looking down the Loyalsock Creek into the park. The Butternut Trail continues and soon meets a yellow blazed trail leading to Loyalsock Road, on the right (if you cross the creek again, you went too far). The yellow trail climbs to the top of the plateau and then levels before reaching Loyalsock Road; turn right onto the road.

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Walk the road for about a mile until you see the Loyalsock Trail (LT); follow it to the right. The LT enters beautiful hemlock forests along a wetland and then crosses a stream. A deep gorge forms below the trail with rapids and a few campsites. The LT stays on a grade. The trail climbs under a scenic hemlock and pine forest and then descends steeply to another grade. Enter another gorge with a campsite; off trail and downstream is another falls near the state forest boundary. A short distance further a side trail is on the right and leads to the base of Alpine Falls.

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The falls drop down a series of ledges into a pool along a large cliff. It is a beautiful, isolated spot and a great place to spend the night. When we were there, the falls were frozen over and the bright sunlight made it tough to take a good picture of it.

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Now, retrace your steps on the LT back to Loyalsock Road. You can either retrace your steps back to the Butternut Trail, or hike a loop by continuing on the LT. The LT traverses hilly terrain with gorgeous hemlock forests and wet areas along an old grade. The beautiful forests have some ledges and extensive areas of ground pine. It’s a wonderful place to hike.

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Cross Loyalsock Road a final time and turn left to descend along High Rock Run. This run has many cascades and waterfalls. Pass a yellow trail to the left (which leads to the Butternut Trail) and a campsite below the LT. The LT stays on a grade above High Rock Run’s deep gorge. The trail enters hemlocks, winds in between ledges, and descends to High Rock Vista with its great view of Worlds End. Continue on the LT as it traverses as rocky area and makes a rugged, rocky descent to High Rock Run. Below is High Rock Falls, although it is hard to get a good view of it. The LT descends into the state park and the hike ends at the cabin road, where your hike on the Butternut Trail began.

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More photos.

Blue dots are waterfalls:

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Loyalsock Spruce Forest

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Loyalsock Spruce Forest, Loyalsock State Forest

The Loyalsock Spruce Forest is one of the most beautiful groves of trees in Pennsylvania. It also hides in plain sight, easily accessible and located right along Worlds End Road, between Worlds End State Park and Eagles Mere, in the Loyalsock State Forest.

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I’ve driven past this forest countless times. I previously noticed it, but never thought to explore it. I finally did over New Years Eve weekend. Needless to say, I was impressed. The forest is about 10-20 acres in size and is comprised of towering Norway Spruce, rising over 100 feet. Some of the trees are quite large and the forest has a deep, dark feel. Moss, ferns, and spruce saplings grow on the forest floor. Shafts of light penetrate to the forest floor. We visited after a fresh snowfall and it was breathtaking.

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I’ve never seen a spruce forest like this in the state. Norway spruce is not native to PA, but is commonly planted in the U.S. Historically, it was planted after logging, mining, or quarrying operations. I do not know why this forest was planted. Another spruce forest is across the road, at a higher elevation, along the Loyalsock Trail. While scenic, it is not as beautiful as the one directly along the road.

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There is a parking area along Worlds End Road, at the juncture with Coal Mine Road. No trails explore the forest, so just walk around. Be careful not to step on any saplings. The best time to visit is in the morning since the forest has an eastern exposure. If you come here after a snowfall, it will be an experience you will not forget.

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The Loyalsock State Forest has so many beautiful places and this spruce forest is one of its best-kept secrets.

More photos.

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Waterfalls of Rock Run (North of Sones Pond)-Loyalsock State Forest

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Falls and pool on an unnamed tributary of Rock Run, Loyalsock State Forest

Rock Run is a popular place with amazing natural beauty located near Ralston in the Loyalsock State Forest. But did you know the state forest has another Rock Run that is also very beautiful? This one is located north of Sones Pond and is a tributary of the Little Loyalsock Creek.

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There are no trails that explore this watershed, but Rock Run Road provides convenient access to the creeks. Hike off trail a short distance from the road down to Rock Run. This valley is filled with an assortment of waterfalls, cascades, grottos, and pools. Some of the falls are seasonal.

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There is a 20 foot falls just below Cavanough Road, which I call Cavanough Falls. It is in a hemlock shaded glen with ledges and is very scenic.

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Rock Run itself has an assortment of falls, cascades, and deep pools. None of the falls are over 10 feet tall, but it is a stream of remarkable beauty. Old grades on the east side of the stream help with access. There are about 6-7 falls or cascades of varying heights.

Falls off of Rock Run Rd.

An unnamed tributary east of Rock Run features a narrow gorge with beautiful falls and cascades, which culminates with Balcony Falls, a spout that leaps off a protruding rock ledge, which looks like a balcony. I’ve never seen a falls quite like it. It is about 15 feet tall.

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Just above Rock Run Road is a seasonal stream with a series of falls and cascades over mossy ledges. It is very beautiful when flowing.

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The Loyalsock State Forest has so much natural beauty. Next time you’re at Sones Pond, check out Rock Run.

More photos.

For the map below, the blue dots are waterfalls and cascades.  The red dots are places where there is enough space to park.

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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.

 

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:

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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.