It was years ago. I drove up along a narrow, dirt road, not sure if my old Saturn sedan even belonged on such a road, so deep in the woods. I had heard of this place, Rock Run it was called. The stream was masked by trees, hidden deep in a gorge. I wondered if the drive was really worth my time. I found a place to park and a dirt path that threaded its way down to the water. I walked down, not sure what to expect. The path parsed some saplings and revealed Rock Run. As I saw the crystalline water flow over sculpted bedrock, only to disappear over a cascade into a chasm surrounded by ledges, I quickly realized it was more than worth my time. It captured my time.
I have been back many times since and unlike other places, Rock Run never grows old, or tiring, or boring. It is a place set apart, harboring a natural beauty that is becoming more rare. While Ricketts Glen, Ohiopyle, or the Pine Creek Gorge are considered Pennsylvania’s “gems”, Rock Run is more than deserving of that title as well. And like the others, it is not protected. Pennsylvania, or maybe Pennsylvanians, has/have a poor track record when it comes to protecting our state’s superb natural beauty. Despite all of our public land, despite all of our “gems”, virtually none of them are truly protected. Not even our heralded state parks are safe. Everything has a dollar sign, because we allow it to be, and at times, demand it to be. Budgets cannot be balanced. Services cannot be cut. Taxes cannot be raised. Our votes demand dollars.
Or maybe it is because we do not believe the places in our state truly deserve protection. After all, we can go out west, or down south, or to New England, or overseas. Is it the beauty in our backyards can be destroyed because it can be replaced by the amazing beauty in some other state or country? And this is where Rock Run proves us all wrong.
I’ve been across the country. I’ve hiked in the typical famous places. Yet, Rock Run remains one of my favorite places. It illustrates the superb beauty in our backyards, the hidden beauty of Pennsylvania that only we can protect if we had the courage and pride to do so.
Will we, finally, stand up for ourselves?
A few weeks ago, I returned to Rock Run. And with me I brought others, because my appreciation alone is no longer enough. We took the same path I did many years ago. We ate lunch on a bedrock island surrounded by water so clear it seemed invisible. They were all converted.
The water dashed down a cascade into an aquamarine pool carved into the rock. Electrified ripples danced across smooth stones several feet below. The creek separated towering cliffs that rose over us and tumbled along boulders before surging through a narrow bedrock channel with deep, oblong pools. We reached what I call the “Bubble Pool”, where a narrow, powerful current creates a shower of bubbles into the crystal clear pool. It was like looking at sparkling water.
We were mesmerized by this simple wonder. Rock Run is famous for its pools, sculpted into solid bedrock. There are dozens of them. Backpacker magazine once noted Rock Run as having some of the best swimming holes in the country. Rock Run is special because its beauty lingers for miles, with constant pools, slides, cascades, channels, and chasms. Cliffs and ledges often rise up and over the creek. Springs pour from cracks in the rock. Side streams join with tumbling waterfalls.
Our hike lead up upstream, passing popular pools were people swam and relaxed. Despite being July, the water was frigid and people did not seem to stay in the water long. Trout lingered in the depths.
We passed boulders that were smooth to the touch, rounded by eons of floods. In places, the bedrock was eroded with wavy fins and potholes you could step across, but not stand up in and still have your face above the water.
The gorge narrowed as cliffs encased the creek. We were able to walk on a wide ledge just above the water, but this ledge gradually disappeared until it stopped at a fractured cliff. We had reached a chasm. I scrambled up to the top and helped the others. Despite their trepidation, everyone scrambled up the cliff and to the top of the chasm. A trail brought us to a waterfall that fed a deep pool, completely embedded within cliffs. This amazing pool held light deep into its depths.
We returned to the cars, passing tributaries with waterfalls and gorges of their own. The green hardwood forest rose above with the last emerald light of the day.
I decided we should drive up to Band Rock in the McIntyre Wild Area. The rock is so named because bands would play there and the people in the valley could hear the music. It is also the site of McIntyre, an abandoned mining town. Despite almost a century of time, you can still tell this place had been mined. Nature has done a valiant job healing this landscape, but the old cuts, culm piles, tailings, and grades are not so easily erased. The coal once brought jobs, money, and opportunity, but like all booms, it ended. However, its consequences remained for generations. Ironically, all that now remains of McIntyre is its cemetery hidden in the forest, invaded by trees. Each generation does not learn enough from the one prior.
If you visit Rock Run, please treat it with respect. Rock Run has grown in popularity, which may be the primary reason why there is now an effort to protect it. Camping is not allowed along most of the stream.
Do not limit your exploration to Rock Run alone. Miners Run is incredibly beautiful with many waterfalls, a narrow gorge, and huge boulders. Hounds Run also has a waterfall, as does Doe Run. Rock Run’s amazing beauty continues all the way up to where the run’s two branches meet.
Various Rock Run area hikes are described in hike numbers 57 – 66 in Hiking the Endless Mountains.
Rock Run is unique for all of its incredible recreational qualities. People come here to rock climb, hike, whitewater kayak, fish, swim, and hunt. The Old Loggers Path, one of the state’s most beloved trails, explores a section of Rock Run.
An ideal weekend trip is to car camp at the primitive campground in Masten and then hike a section of the Old Loggers Path, or drive a short distance to Rock Run. Masten is the site of an old logging town, now reduced to a few cabins. The primitive campground is located in a spruce grove that was the site of a Civilian Conservation Corps camp.
This is one of Pennsylvania’s most beautiful places, and there are many more.
Save the Loyalsock State Forest (home to Rock Run)