As the numerous articles in this blog illustrate, SGL 57 is a place of incredible beauty and diversity. Just when I think I’ve seen all it has to offer, I discover someplace new. That happened to me this past Spring. I’ve long known of Coalbed Swamp, it is one of the most biodiverse places in the region and a favored destination for birdwatchers searching for rarer species. I’ve explored the northern part of the swamp. But, I didn’t think much else was there. I was completely wrong.
Ben suggested a visit to Coalbed Swamp and we explored it over two hikes. This place blew me away. The rock formations, chasms, caves, and spruce forests with carpets of moss made this an incredibly beautiful destination. The isolation only added to its splendor. This place does not feel like Pennsylvania, but instead northern Maine.
Want to hike Coalbed? You should be an experienced and adventurous hiker. Keep in mind a few things. First, this is mostly an off trail hike. The hike roughly goes around the perimeter of the swamp. Second, the mountain laurel is very thick on the southern part of the hike along the boulders and ledges. Third, it is best to go when the game commission gate on the access road is open during hunting season, typically the in Fall, late September to early January, and mid-April to the end of May. When the gate is closed, hiking up Red Brook from the parking area near Stony Brook Lane makes for an incredibly satisfying round trip. Park at the coal mine, located at 41.472084, -76.205270. Fourth, expect wet areas and wet feet.
From the coal mine, the entrance is now gated, we scrambled to the top of it and walked to an eroded old forest road or ATV trail. We took this to the right and soon turned left onto a more obscure old ATV trail which entered a hemlock forest an a bog. We crossed the bog and continued on the old trail. (It is possible to hike to the left of the bog to bypass it.) It descended at the location of a second mine entrance, which was flooded. Do not enter this mine.
An off trail hike followed to the west as we followed a line of cliffs and ledges. In places the laurel and blueberry bushes were very thick. We dropped down to some large rocks which revealed an amazing rock maze and chasm a few hundred feet long and maybe 30 feet deep. The passages were awesome to explore. We hiked along a cliff wall and some overhangs. Soon, the laurel became very thick and we did our best to hike through it, staying close to the cliffs. It may be easier to hike the top of the cliffs to bypass the thick laurel below, as there is a somewhat overgrown bear path.
The laurel receded and we entered a spruce forest of amazing beauty with mist and carpets of moss. Truly amazing. We also saw some black spruce, rare for this area as it is usually found further north. We could not believe the sublime beauty of this forest. The rocks also amazed us with giant boulders and stacks that loomed through the trees. We came upon Arrowhead Rock, an impressive pedestal with a giant triangular rock on top, perched as if it were about to fall off. Behind Arrowhead Rock was a chasm and one of the larger caves in SGL 57. A couple hundred feet north is Underworld Chasm, a deep, sheer chasm into the bedrock, 30-40 feet deep, only a few feet wide, and was frigid cold despite it being a warm day on our hike. Springs dripped down the sides of the chasm, and part of Underworld Chasm was underground, capped with rock and trees.
On our first hike we continued along the southeast perimeter of the swamp which revealed more spruce, impressive rocks, and amazing habitats. We then reached the old forest road above the mine and returned to our cars. On the map above, the route from Underworld Chasm to the coal mine is not shown.
On the second hike, we hiked around the west side of Coalbed Swamp, revealing more spruce, moss, and rock balds. The forests were incredibly scenic. It was difficult to get open views of the swamp. We reached the old forest road north of the swamp, took that south to Red Brook with more giant rocks, and back to our cars. You can easily hike 5-7 miles exploring the Coalbed Swamp area.
If you want to explore the swamp when the game commission road is gated, one idea is to hike up Red Brook from Stony Brook and Windy Valley Road. Red Brook has a beautiful gorge and two waterfalls. See the Red Brook Gorge Loop hike.
Be careful, bring a friend, treat it with respect and enjoy this special place.
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