Lackawanna State Forest: Panther Hill, Painter Creek, and Panther Creek

I was able to do three really fantastic hikes in the northern part of the Lackawanna State Forest over the month of April. I’d previously hiked the Pinchot Trail and spent time exploring the area around Choke Creek and its falls in the southern part of the forest. But we’d never explored the fairly newly acquired lands in the northern part of the forest.

My friend Mike and his dog Dutch joined me for all three hikes. Our friend Darin and his dog Alice joined us on our second trip.

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Dutch
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Alice

I’ve wanted to explore Painter and Panther Creeks since reading about Jeff Mitchell’s adventures there in this post.  There was supposedly some good views to climb to on Panther Hill and we expected the streams to be swollen with spring runoff.

On our first hike, we parked on Aston Mountain Road where it intersects with Spring Brook. Spring Brook was flowing swiftly and a short trail allowed us to walk right beside it for a little while. We arrived at the confluence of Spring Brook and Panther Run, a very beautiful spot. The water was turquoise as the streams came together in a series of rapids.

Spring Brook
Spring Brook

We bushwhacked up the hill and reached a state forest parking lot (where we actually intended to park). We descended through the forest on a trail, always bearing left wear the trail split, moving closer to Panther Creek again.

We reached the creek near the confluence of Panther and Painter Creeks. The stream was swollen and hard to cross where the trail looked to cross the creek. We walked up Painter Run a 1/4 mile where we scurried across a fallen tree branch.

From here, we knew we wanted to start to scale the hill to our east. I’m not sure if the mountain is officially Panther Hill at this point, but we climbed. There were grades we came across here and there as we made our way up. We eventually reached a level that seemed one level short of the top. The terrain got rocky here and we had to continue to the south to find a place where we could ascend.

We reached what seemed to be the top of the mountain. There was a big rock bald and a stunted forest. There were limited views over the valley forged by Panther Creek. We headed back north a little ways to more limited views.

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Toward the “top” of Panther Hill

We wanted to head further south to see if there were more views, but we were a little short on time and still wanted to see if we could find our way to some falls on Panther Creek.

We started to descend back down the mountain, taking a fairly straightforward route straight down where we could. We eventually reached Panther Creek again where it curled around a bend and tumbled over rapids.

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Panther Creek
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Panther Creek

We turned right to follow Panther Creek downstream. It tumbled over more rapids and cascades, occasionally passing through beautiful hemlock forests.

We eventually crossed the stream above a nice, tiered waterfall. We were able to get down the first tier of the waterfall along the side of the stream. But the bottom proved to be harder and we were forced to backtrack and go around by climbing the bank. I imagine when the creek is not flowing so high, you could walk right down the falls. We backtracked to the base of the falls for pictures and to enjoy the view.

Long exposure on the top tier of Panther Creek Falls
Panther Creek Falls

From the falls, we headed back up the bank and continued to walk downstream. About 1/4 mile from the falls, we hooked up with a grade that looped back toward Painter Creek and eventually reached it just above the confluence of Painter and Panther Creeks, a place we crossed earlier in the day.

We crossed the creek. It was running high, and was about 1-1.5 feet deep where the trail crossed. My feet had stayed relatively dry to this point, but did not after that. We made our way away from the creek and back to the game commission parking lot.

Crossing Painter Creek at the confluence of Panther Creek

We bushwhacked back down to Spring Brook from the parking lot. When we arrived back at the trail, we found a fairly disconcerting site along Spring Brook. A small campfire was lit within a fire ring, but there was not a soul in sight.  We waited a few minutes to see if anyone would return to the fire, but they did not. We threw what was left of the two burning logs into the creek and threw some water on the hot coals.

We came across a few vernal ponds as we made our way back to our car. A local reptile enthusiast filled us in on the spring frog orgy that was happening in the small ponds around the creeks.

On our second hike in the area, we parked in the game commission lot and bushwhacked almost all the way to the end of Painter Creek. It is a beautiful run and was still running swiftly with snowmelt. (The nearby Nesbitt Reservoir was still frozen on our first hike in the first week of April, but was totally melted on our subsequent trips. )

Painter Creek has no falls, but many small cascades and was really a treat to hike. There were many small hemlock forests along the run, a few containing beautiful campsites.

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Painter Creek

On our final trip to the area, we parked along Pittson Rd and hiked the Pinchot Trail to where it meets up with the newly created Watres Trail, about a mile from the road. We walked along the Watres Trail for a short while. The headwaters of Painter Creek are actually on private land, so we just made our way along the Watres Trail until we were clear of the private land. We then made our way back down to Painter Creek, bushwhacking to the place where we stopped on our previous hike.

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Campsite and Hemlocks on Painter Creek

The southern part of Painter Creek was as beautiful as the northern part, as we passed more cascades and hemlock forests. We bushwhacked up the back of the creek, back to the Watres Trail, which we took back to the Pinchot Trail, and returned to our car.

We took the short drive to the Pine Hill Overlook, which contains a viewing platform featuring 360 degree views of the surrounding areas. We tried to linger through the entire sunset, but a cold breeze forced us back to our car a little before the sun was completely down.

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Pine Hill Overlook and views

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I thoroughly enjoyed our hikes in this area. Painter and Panther Creeks are both beautiful small streams. The falls on Panther Creek were impressive in high water. I hope to return to this area in the fall when we can look for more views on top of Panther Hill during peak foliage.

 

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