This past Saturday, I had a chance to get out for a short hike in Ralph Stover State Park in Bucks County. This was the first solo hike I was attempting since my achilles surgery, so I wanted to keep it to just a few miles.
I parked at High Rocks as the sun was starting to set and quickly did the mile or so hike down to the Tohickon Creek. Starting my hike so late, there were few other people on the trails and I only passed two other hikers who were on their way away from the creek.
I saw this little frog hopping across the trail as I got closer to the water.
I reached the Tohickon Creek, a beautiful stream that carves as S shaped valley through the park. I’ve explored most of the stream but wanted to head to one nice small rapid to take a few long exposures. After making my way down to the trail that runs along the creek for a short while, I reached my destination. I quickly grabbed my camera and shot a few pictures as the light was fading.
I knew there there was no one within a mile or so of me and the solitude was soothing as I sat and admired the creek for a few minutes. I don’t always prefer hiking by myself, but am glad to have the opportunity on occasion.
With the light really starting to fade to the west, I packed up my gear and headed back toward High Rocks. The creek valley started to fade into shadow as I climbed away, but pink and purple sky illuminated the forest looking the other direction.
Soon I arrived back at the fenced in vistas at High Rocks. The views look south and east and most of the sunset was behind me as I looked out. But small layers of pink appeared low in the sky as I walked between views.
I lingered for 20 minutes after the sunset watching the light fade over the creek some 200 feet below. I returned to the car as the last slivers of daylight remained to the west.
In what’s becoming a Memorial Day tradition, Stubbs and I headed for the Loyalsock over the holiday weekend. We drove up Sunday afternoon and camped at Masten, enjoying the sound of Pleasant Stream and croaking frogs for most of the night.
Monday, we awoke to a beautiful, cool morning. I was up first and took Dutch for a short walk down to the stream and enjoyed the light for a while. Stubbs was soon awake and we cooked up some eggs and veggie hot dogs for breakfast (which is totally appropriate as a camping breakfast, right?) before packing up our gear.
Our goal for the day was to hike down to Rock Run but we had a few places to visit before we did that. We took Masten Road to where it met Hillsgrove Road, climbing slowly up the mountain away from Masten. We soon arrived at a clearing along the road that featured a nice vista overlooking the valley of Pleasant Stream.
Continuing on, we took Cascade Road and finally John Merrell Road as they wound through the forest. The dirt roads of the Loyalsock almost always make for a scenic drive, and were very beautiful on this day in the morning light and with the forest blooming in various shades of green. Soon enough we reached the end of the road at beautiful Sharp Top Vista.
The view looks out over dense forest and only a few small farms are visible. We admired the view and took a few pictures. After a few minutes we were joined by a few backpackers. The two men were doing the entire Old Loggers Path over the course of two days and were making good time in their second day. We chatted about the trail for a few minutes and they soon disappeared into the forest and we got back in the car.
We drove back the way we came, passing through Masten once again before reaching Ellenton Ridge Road. We passed a few hunting lodges and reached a small parking area just before the road ends at Yellow Dog Road. Our goal was to hike down to Rock Run, roughly 1.5 miles from the road.
This was only the second time I’ve been able to hike in Pennsylvania since last October when I ruptured my achilles tendon playing soccer. Sitting on my couch with my foot in a cast for over two months, Rock Run was a place that I dreamed about returning to.
We were soon off on the unblazed Yellow Dog Trail. An abandoned logging road, the path is obvious through the woods despite not being blazed. After only about 1/3 of a mile, the trail met up with the orange blazes of the Old Loggers Path. The trail descended through the forest on a wide path and for the most part is pretty gradual.
Walking downhill is still one of the most challenging parts of my injury recovery and I was forced to take it slow as we continued to descend. Yellow Dog Run could soon be heard and then seen as it tumbled downhill to our left. Small rapids were visible as well as one larger waterfall. On a day that my foot felt better, we probably would have bushwhacked down to it.
Before long though we arrived at our destination, the confluence of Yellow Dog and Rock Runs. Here, Yellow Dog Run tumbles straight into Rock Run over a 12-foot falls. Rock Run flows clear and cold over small rapids and through deep pools. It is one of the most beautiful places that I have visited not only in Pennsylvania, but anywhere that I have travelled.
We scurried around on the rocks and took photos. Stubbs tried his hand at fishing in Rock Run but didn’t have any luck. We enjoyed the scenery for a while but still had much to see on the day and packed up and started to head back uphill.
We made it back to the car and were soon on the road again on the beautiful dirt paths of the Loyalsock. We passed through Masten once again but this time turned away from Sharp Top and down Mill Creek Road. We made our way to Slab Run Road, which dead ends at the beautiful Hoagland Vista. The view looks out over the zigzag valley of Hoagland Branch, a scenic branch of Elk Creek.
We took in the view but then soon set off to explore the creek itself. Hoagland Branch Road runs along the creek for a few miles as it cuts through the forest, but the road had been closed for bridge repairs the last few times we’d been through that section of the Loyalsock. But the bridges were all recently rebuilt and the road reopened.
We made our way to Hoagland through more beautiful forest roads, passing the scenic Bearwallow Pond as well. We were soon riding parallel to the stream along Hoagland Branch Road. The stream has no large waterfalls but carves some impressive small cascades through the bedrock.
We parked next to one of the new bridges and enjoyed the stream for a few minutes. Sunlight cut down through the valley and the afternoon light was superb. There was a deep pool just off to the side of the bridge and we spotted some trout darting through the clear waters.
With a 3.5 hour drive in front of us, we finally packed up the car one last time and started to make our way back toward civilization.
After a mild, moderately rainy summer, a September of cool nights and sunny days will soon give way to a beautiful autumn throughout Pennsylvania.
The Department of Conservation of Natural Resources website boasts, “Pennsylvania has a longer and more varied fall foliage season than any other state in the nation — or anywhere in the world.” It continues, “Pennsylvania’s location between 40° and 42° North latitude and its varied topography…supports 134 species of trees and many more shrubs and vines that contribute to the display of autumn color.” If you’ve spent much time in Penn’s woods during Fall, you know that Pennsylvania puts on an incredible display. Maples aflame with orange and red, oaks blazing a deep orange, and ash and birch trees twinkling with every shade of yellow represent just a small sample of what you’ll find throughout the state.
This post is by no means a comprehensive list of beautiful autumn hikes in eastern Pennsylvania. It’s more of just a short list of hikes that I’ve been able to do personally over the last few years. I originally wrote this for the Keystone Trails Association, so please don’t think that I have any bias against the other states in the area, all of which feature trails worth exploring as the leaves change.. And though I know eastern PA better than the rest of the state, I acknowledge that there are many beautiful hikes in the central and western parts of PA as well. I welcome comments with advice on other trails to explore this Fall, in PA and elsewhere.
DCNR claims the Pennsylvania weather will “favor earlier peak dates this year.” I’ve tried to use that information, combined with my own experiences, to give the best times to attempt these hikes. My “Best Time to Visit” looks to give others the best chance to experience peak foliage.
The only backpacking loop I’ve included here, though there are plenty of others to tackle during Autumn (the Black Forest Trail, Loyalsock Trail, and the Pine Creek Gorge area all come to mind.) Located in Lycoming County, the OLP is 27 miles long and often hiked over 2-3 days. There are numerous mountain streams, including one of Pennsylvania’s most beautiful waterways, Rock Run. The trail itself is comprised mainly of old logging roads and often the trees themselves create vibrant tunnels over the path during Fall. The loop also features some outstanding views, all of which are amplified during the first few weeks of October. Vistas overlooking the Rock Run Valley, atop Sullivan Mountain, and the incredible Sharp Top Vista should not be missed.
Best Time to Visit: Early to mid October
Bonus Tip: The Loyalsock State Forest is a wonderland of fantastic hiking. Plan to visit any number of beautiful vistas and waterfalls. Some of my favorites include Hoagland Vista and Smith Knob, as well as Mill Creek Falls and Angel Falls.
Flat Top Vista
This beautiful vista in Wyoming County gives hikers a view over the untouched valley carved by the Mehoopany Creek. Only a few remote hunting cottages are visible as the stream flows through the dense forests of State Game Land 57. On clear days, you can see all the way to the fire tower in Red Rock. There are no official trails in the State Game Land and only experienced hikers should attempt to reach this view. Park in the Game Commission parking lot near White Brook and take the path out of the lot past the cottages and up the mountain. I visited this beautiful vista in the first week of November last year and most of the leaves were already down, but those that remained were beautiful shades of yellow, orange and red. We hiked here the day after the start of daylight savings time and the high only reached into the mid 30s for the day. There was a cool wind at the top and an outstanding feeling of solitude.
Best Time to Visit: Early October
Bonus Tip: If you have a four wheel drive vehicle, drive the length of SR 3001/Windy Valley Rd through the game land. The road is precipitous but closely follows the beautiful Mehoopany for a short while. Many of the tributaries of the Mehoopany feature waterfalls and are worth exploring. Hikes in SGL57 are some of the most remote that you can do in the eastern part of the state.
Worlds End State Park
Though one of the smallest, World’s End State Park is also one of Pennsylvania’s most beautiful state parks. There are multiple vistas and streams to explore and even more in nearby Loyalsock State Forest. In autumn, a trip up to the most popular vista in the park is a must. Canyon Vista looks out over the beautiful S shaped valley of the Loyalsock Creek as it flows through Sullivan County. It is possible to drive right to this vista, but the beautiful forests and clear mountain streams around it are best explored on foot. The park’s Canyon Vista Trail brings you straight to the view, but more intrepid hikers can construct a loop using the Loyalsock Trail, Link Trail, and the Double Run Nature Trail for a beautiful, and relatively challenging, 3-4 mile trek.
Best Time to Visit: Early to Mid October
Bonus Tip: The beautiful High Knob Overlook is only about 5 miles from World’s End. It is another impressive vista that overlooks Sullivan and Lycoming Counties. It is also possible to drive up to this vista.
Big Pocono State Park
The view at the top of Big Pocono State Park is always impressive, and it is made even more beautiful with the addition of Fall foliage. Panoramic views showcase a large swath of eastern PA, as well as portions of New Jersey and New York. The Delaware Water Gap, some 20 miles away, is also visible. Various hiking loops can be started from the top, and a trek out on the orange-blazed Indian Trail is a must, as it ends in yet another impressive vista. When hiking here, I often start at the bottom of the mountain, at a parking area known as Riday’s Gate. Using the North/South Trails, in addition to the mountain biking trail at the beginning of the trip, a decent 7 mile lollipop loop can be formed. The trails cut through beautiful forest as they make their way up the mountain, reaching the top in about 3 miles.
Best Time to Visit: Mid October
Kelly’s Run and Pinnacle Overlook
I’m always surprised by the workout I get from this hike in Lancaster County. Located in the Holtwood Recreation Area, a nice 5 mile hike will take you along beautiful Kelly’s Run before climbing to the impressive view of the Susquehanna River at the Pinnacle Overlook. Kelly’s Run features many cascades and even a few small waterfalls as it nears the Susquehanna. The climb out of the gorge is a bit steep, but not terribly long. The reward at the top is more than worth the effort though, with the beautiful Susquehanna River flowing through the farmlands of Lancaster and York Counties.
Best Time to Visit: Mid to late October
Bonus Tip: Extend your hike by taking the Conestoga Trail from the Pinnacle Overlook to the north, where you can meet up with the beautiful Tucquan Creek.
Ralph Stover State Park
Located in scenic Bucks County, Ralph Stover State Park features views over the lovely Tohickon Creek as well as streamside hiking along the creek itself. Park at the lot in the High Rocks section of the park and explore the (mostly) unblazed trails that lead to views over the creek. Follow the trails to the east and make your way down the creek, where more unblazed trails follow the water in both directions. There are some nice rapids and great places to picnic along the Tohickon as it makes a horseshoe bend in the park.
Best Time to Visit: Late October and even early November
Stubbs and I set out for the Loyalsock late on Saturday. I had to cover a soccer game in the afternoon, so it was after 6 pm when we finally got on the road from Philly to take the four hour drive to Lycoming County.
We made it to Bloomsburg as the sun was setting and wound through progressively smaller roads as the darkness set in. A few detours and a stop for snacks found us getting into Masten around 10:30 pm.
I wasn’t sure how crowded the primitive campground would be and was worried that it might be hard to find a spot. We arrived and parked next to the lot for backpackers parking, which was full. But we found there was only one other person camping at Masten after wandering in the dark with our flashlights for a few minutes. We found a nice campsite and started setting up camp.
As I was pitching my tent, a man emerged out of the darkness and said hello, scaring the hell out of me for a moment. His name was Herb, and he was the only other person camping in Masten. He was a colorful (and drunk) character from nearby Laporte. He explained his friends had stood him up on a fishing trip and he was enjoying the night by himself. We chatted for a few minutes about hiking in the area and the threat of threat of gas drilling. And how crazy it was that anyone wanted to drill anywhere near the Loyalsock.
He eventually returned to his camper and we ate a quick snack and turned in to get some sleep. Herb’s trailer played music into the early morning.
We awoke on Sunday morning to grey skies and light rain. We packed up camp and drove the few miles to Ellenton Ridge Road to park for our intended hike. We were going to hike the Old Loggers Path to connect to the Sharp Shinned Trail, to connect with Rock Run. Our plan from there was to bushwhack Rock Run down to wear it meets Yellow Dog Run, some three miles away. We had done a different version of this hike last year, taking the OLP to the same destination. We were hoping to check out the cliffs and cascades of the upper gorge of the Rock Run.
But all the best laid plans…The rain tapered on and off as we drove to the trailhead. It rained steady for a while as we started our trek on the OLP. We reached the yellow blazed Sharp Shinned Trail and took that as it descended gradually through the woods. The rain really came down as we approached Rock Run. We took cover under a giant pine tree as it poured for about 20 minutes.
I’m fine with hiking in the rain. And certainly don’t mind a little bushwhacking, particularly in the Loyalsock and even more particiualrly along Rock Run. But the cards seemed stacked against us for this one. With the rain pouring down and the rocks in the run feeling like they were coated in ice, we decided that it was going to be a rough day if we continued on with our intended hike. We instead bagged it, and hiked back up the Sharp Shinned Trail, back to the OLP, and back to the car. If the weather was going to suck, no worries, we were in the Loyalsock and there was plenty to see.
I pulled out my map and made a plan for the rest of the day as we jumped into the car to avoid the rain. I’ve been wanting to hike a loop through the Hoagland Branch of the Loyalsock for a while, and we would now have a little time to scout some trails and some of the roads. There was also a waterfall that we’d not yet explored that was fairly accessible from where we planned to go. So I threw that into the plan as well.
We drove from Ellenton Mountain Road back to Masten. We crossed Pleasant Steam and headed through the forest on Hillsgrove Road. It rained intermittently, but the road gradually rose away from Pleasant Stream and reached a nice vista. We parked the car and dodged rain drops to take a few pictures.
We continued on past the vista and through more rain. We turned on to Merrell Road to take the route toward Sharp Top Vista. I’d only been up to Sharp Top once before, on our OLP hike in 2010, and recalled it as a beautiful view. We’d not be so lucky this day though.
Even though the rain tapered off, the vista was completely closed in by clouds. We waited a few minutes, hoping things would improve, but they didn’t.
We headed back down the mountain and through more mysterious roads. An occasional deer scampered out of the way as we continued through the fog.
We arrived at our next destination after about 20 minutes of back roads driving. It was only drizzling as we jumped out of the car at Hoagland Vista, a lovely view at the end of Slab Run Road.
We experienced just about every type of weather one can experience in August on the vista. It drizzled for a little while before the rain pushed off momentarily and the sun appeared. I was hoping we’d get a rainbow, but it never appeared (though we saw one later in the day.)
We hopped back in the car and headed back the way we came, eventually getting back to Mill Creek Road. We drove a few miles as the creek parallelled us on the right.
The creek eventually disappeared into the gorge on the right. We reached a small pull off where a trail lead down the hill. The rain had pushed off completely by this point and it was actually pretty nice, with sunshine and a bit of a breeze. We made our way down the hill toward the sound of rushing water and shortly arrived at the top of Mill Creek Falls.
A quick look around saw a path that led down some small cliffs to the base of the falls. We scrambled down and made our way back to pool at the bottom of the falls. I’ve been to bigger falls in Pennsylvania, and even in the Loyalsock, but Mill Creek Falls was impressive in its own way. It’s pool of turquoise water had me particularly enamored.
We had one last stop to make before heading back home and we backtracked once again. Back down Mill Creek Road and back to Camels Road. We went past Slab Run Road and hit Bearwallow Road.
Shortly after that we reached lovely Bearwallow Pond. We pulled into the parking area and next a lone pick up truck. The clouds had returned and it was threatening to rain again. We snapped a few photos and watched as a lone canoe drifted along in the water.
We continued along Bearwallow Road, eventually finding our way back to SR4001 (after a few wrong turns and an inconvenient detour). We surprised a few deer along Bearwallow Road, and they were kind enough to stand still for a few seconds so I could grab a picture.
We made our way back toward southeast PA. I grabbed one last picture as we made our way our way past Forksville near World’s End State Park. The covered bridge there dates back to 1850 and it stopped raining enough for me to stick my lens out the car window to grab one good photo.
Despite some foul weather, we still managed to find our way to new locations and get the lay of the land for a future trip.
After spending Saturday hiking in the Sproul State Forest, we packed up our camp at Hyner Run State Park and took the short drive up the mountain to Hyner View State Park.
The park is small, containing just a small parking area, a few picnic tables, a pit toilet and one amazing vista. The vista looks out over the largest state forest in Pennsylvania, the Sproul State Forest. You can also see the West Branch Susquehanna River both coming and going past the village of Hyner, PA.
The vista is impressive and we lingered here for close to an hour taking photos and looking out over the view.
After years of having scheduling conflicts, I was finally able to make to the Keystone Trails Association’s Prowl the Sproul event in north central Pennsylvania. I passed on the opportunity to camp with the KTA at the Western Clinton Sportsman Association, having my friends Bennett and Julia with me, who intended on doing some fishing in the area. We instead camped at nearby Hyner Run State Park.
After the approximately four hour drive up to the area, we arrived to Hyner View in the mid afternoon. With the rest of the campground full of RVs and campers, it was funny to arrive in my tiny Hyundai packed to the brim with three days worth of gear. We were some of the few in the campground actually sleeping in tents and the ranger commented something about us “roughing it.” I never considered car camping to be roughing it really.
We set up our camp and cooked up a quick lunch on my camp stove. Hyner Run State Park is completely surrounded by the Sproul State Forest and a few trails run right through the park. We decided to do a short hike along Hyner Run toward wear it hooks up with the Donut Hole Trail north of the park.
The stream was pretty and ran fairly shallow as we followed a path alongside the creek. A fisherman with a fly rod said he had some success pulling trout from the stream during the day. We turned around after a mile or so as the trail we were on continued uphill. We made our way back downstream past the entrance of the park. The stream continued to tumble over rocks and we enjoyed our short walk.
I woke early on Saturday to a cool morning and a little bit of drizzle. I packed up a quick lunch, grabbed a cliff bar for breakfast and took the short 2 mile drive down to the Western Clinton Sportsman Association. I checked in with the KTA and signed up for the hike I was planning on doing. Hikers that were camping at the WCSA mingled and prepared for their own hikes while finishing breakfast.
There were to be six of us for the hike to Round Island Falls in a remote section of the Sproul, an hour from where we were. Venerable Pennsylvania hiker Jeff Mitchell was leading this hike and I was lucky enough to drive out to the trailhead with him. I’ve been a big fan of Jeff’s since purchasing his book, Hiking the Endless Mountains , a few years back. The book is a fantastic guide to that area of PA and has led me to some of my favorite hiking spots over the last few years. We were joined by Nicole, a hiker from near Pittsburgh who herself had a good list of PA trails that she’d covered. We swapped stories as Jeff’s Subura chugged down the gravel roads of the Sproul, past the small towns of Renovo and Keating.
We arrived at a small parking lot off of Jerry Ridge Rd, about a mile before the road dead ends. Paul, Vickie, and Joyce rounded out our group and arrived in a separate car just behind us. We hiked down the road under grey skies and light drizzle. Morning fog drifted from over the West Branch of the Susquehanna River and the Sinnemahoning Creek. We arrived at the end of the road, where a short side trail led us out to a beautiful vista over the Sinnemahoning Creek Valley. We stopped shortly to take pictures and enjoy the view of low clouds drifting through the mountains.
Turning back the way we came, we walked a short while and another side trail led to another vista. We stopped quickly for more photos.
Another short walk along Jerry Ridge Rd back toward the cars led us to the Jacob’s Hollow Trail. The trail is unblazed, but a wooden sign along the road showcased the trail head. We turned here and started to make our way toward the stream the trail is named for. Along the way we passed a huge garter snake just off the trail. It was the largest one I’d ever seen, close to 2.5 feet in length. Jeff had seen the snake the day before in the same spot.
We reached Jacob’s Hollow, a small stream that had a number of small cascades and moss covered rocks. The trail crossed the stream and descended more steeply as we made our way toward Round Island Run. This area was very scenic but was only a taste of what was yet to come.
We reached the confluence of Jacob’s Hollow and Round Island Run in a beautiful spot. We stopped for lunch at a small pool with a cascade and surrounded by rhododendron. One of the members of our group commented that she could have sat there all day, and we all had to agree.
We certainly could have stayed at our lunch spot longer, but there was still plenty left to see. We turned right to follow the Round Island Run Trail. This was another exceptionally beautiful trail, with the run gurgling off to our right and blooming rhododendron to our left.
We moved through more beautiful sections of the trail when all of a sudden Jeff stopped short while right in front of me. He turned to the group and pointed toward the ground, where about 5 feet in front of us a black phase timber rattle snake lay coiled right in the middle of the trail.
Jeff poked the brush in front of him, but the snake was unconcerned with us. It seemed sedentary on a cool, drizzly day and didn’t rattle or hiss at all. Jeff hiked around the snake through the brush and as I went to do the same, it slithered off in the other direction down the hill.
The trail continued to impress and we made our way along the run. The stream had a number of small cascades and there was so much blooming rhododendron.
Already impressed with our hike so far, there was yet another highlight to reach further on. We continued along the Round Island Trail as it rose gradually through forest. A side trail arrived on our left and led us to Round Island Run Falls. The falls was beautiful, a bridal veil falls that tumbled over two tiers. There was a small campsite and a side trail allowed us all to sneak behind the top tier of the falls.
We took the short walk back to the main trail and continued for a short while longer. We reached a side trail on the right side about 1/4 mile from the falls. We took this trail as it moved up the hillside away from the run.
We reached a plateau after a short climb and continued along the unblazed trail as it cut through a beautiful forest complete with many ferns. The trail was difficult to follow and was faint as it made its way through the ferns. Jeff lost the trail hiking the other way the day before, and I could see how that it would be easy to do. After a mile or so of making our way through the forest, the trail reached Jerry Ridge Rd again. The car was a short walk away.
We started to make our way back toward the WCSA. We stopped along Keating Mountain Rd where there was a short trail that led to another partial view.
We also got a good laugh on the drive back through Keating, which is a village with just a handful of houses along a gravel road, where a sign in front of one of the houses said “Caution Nudist Crossing, Slow Down.” We saw no nudists though.
The car ride back to WCSA was quiet as we all let our minds linger in the Sproul a little bit longer.