All posts by Mike Servedio

Wissahickon Gorge: Valley Green and Two Meadows Loop

The Wissahickon Gorge offers beautiful hiking without even having to leave the Philadelphia city limits. There are seemingly countless entry points into the gorge and hiking options are plentiful, with everything from a leisurely stroll down Forbidden Drive to an 18 mile boot buster available.

One of my favorite hikes to do is what I like to call the Two Meadows Loop, which accesses both Houston Meadow as well as Andorra Meadow. I find the meadows to be some of the least visited parts of the gorge and have hiked through each without seeing a single other person on the trail. The loop also allows for endless route options ranging from a mile to 10+ miles. Described here is an 8.5 mile version that includes historic Valley Green as well as the meadows. Click the map above for my GPS track.

To get to the trail head, park at either of the lots along Bells Mill Road, near the north end of the gorge. (You can really start the loop from any number of locations, including Valley Green or any of the parking areas along Northwestern Avenue.) I like to start at Bells Mill Road because there is a decent amount of parking and it allows for a number of route options from the start.

Leaving from the parking lot on the east side of the creek, cross Bells Mill Road and begin on the Orange Trail. The trail stays just above the creek here and is fairly level, rolling over a few small hills. Mountain bikers share this trail, so keep an eye out and be aware of riders coming from behind.

Fall scene along the Orange Trail
Fall scene along the Orange Trail

Just over .5 miles on the Orange Trail, you’ll arrive at the Thomas Mill Covered Bridge, the only covered bridge in Philadelphia, built in 1855. Take some time to explore the bridge and other historical buildings around it.

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Passing the bridge, continue on the Orange Trail. A quick trip up the hill after the covered bridge will bring you to the Teedyuscung Indian Statue, along its own trail between the Orange Trail and the White Trail, which runs parallel to the Orange Trail, just higher up the hill. After another half mile or so, you’ll arrive at the Rex Avenue Bridge. This is another scenic bridge with beautiful stone architecture along the trail. Continue past the bridge and stay on the Orange Trail.rex-ave-bridge-2

Rex Avenue Bridge
Rex Avenue Bridge

The trail remains above the Wissahickon as the creek curves around a bend. The White Trail is just above the Orange Trail in this section and is an alternative if you’d like a little more solitude and a view from higher up the gorge. The two trails will eventually meet just before you arrive at Valley Green Rd, about 2.7 miles into your hike.

View from the bridge at Valley Green
View from the bridge at Valley Green

Arriving at Valley Green Road, turn right and cross the bridge along the road to Forbidden Drive. Take some time to explore the historic Valley Green Inn, a functioning restaurant that also contains an ice cream stand in the summer. There are also restrooms here.

Valley Green Inn
Valley Green Inn

From Valley Green Inn, turn around and came back the direction you came from to walk north along Forbidden Drive. Car traffic is allowed on the trail for a short section to access to the parking area for the Valley Green Inn. Keep walking about 1/3 of a mile to where there is a 6 foot high dam along the creek. This a scenic spot and a good place for lunch either along the rocks or at one of the picnic tables. The area around Valley Green to the dam is probably one of the busiest in the gorge. Don’t expect much solitude here.

Dam
Dam

From the dam, walk almost straight across Forbidden Drive to where the Yellow Trail climbs uphill. Take this trail as it climbs away from Forbidden Drive. Stay on the Yellow Trail for a little over a mile, passing side trails that go out to Summit Ave and then Cathedral Ave. You will come to a sign for Houston Meadow and a trail will lead uphill, take this trail.

The trail into and through Houston Meadow is one of my favorites in all of the Wissahickon. Take your time through here and enjoy the meadow, which was restored in 2013, and features wildflowers as well as some of the best bird-watching in the gorge.

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Houston Meadow
Houston Meadow

Take the obvious trail as it winds through the meadow, passing Houston Playground on the left. A short walk through a forested area will put you into another section of the meadow, close to the houses in the Andorra neighborhood. After exiting the meadow, the trail descends fairly steeply back to Forbidden Drive, near where it meets Bells Mill Road. Your car is nearby and you can end your hike here, having completed close to 6 miles. But there is more to see if your legs will keep going!

Cross Bells Mill Road along Forbidden Drive and immediately turn left onto the trail to Andorra Meadow, for which there is a sign. The trail leading to the meadow as well as the trails through it are footpaths only and mountain bikers won’t be found here.

Follow the obvious trail as it switchbacks up the hillside before reaching a bench with a partial view of the meadow. Continue along the trail to the meadow. There are various trails that cut through and circle Andorra Meadow. I like to hike the “outer loop” which is a shade over a mile and completely circles the meadow. You will reach a sign advertising the outer loop, follow it.

andorrameadow
Trail through Andorra Meadow

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The outer loop trail curls around the meadow and offers scenic views throughout. It will get very close to some of the backyards for houses on Northwest Avenue. I highly recommend sitting on the bench just before reaching the end of the trail for a fine view overlooking the meadow. Keep following the outer loop trail until you see signs for the Wissahickon Environmental Center. Then follow signs for the trail to the environmental center. The trail will parallel Northwest Avenue, drop slowly down the hill away from the meadow, past the environmental center, and end at Forbidden Drive again, near The Cedars House, a seasonal cafe.

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Germantown Ave Bridge

Turn right onto Forbidden Drive and walk just a short way to where an obvious path descends to the left through a picnic area and back down to the creek. Follow the path past more picnic tables and toward Germantown Avenue, which will be visible in front of you. Climb the stairs at the end of the trail to the street and turn right onto Germantown Avenue, Chestnut Hill College will be right in front of you. Cross the bridge on Germantown Avenue and follow the obvious ramp that leads back to the Orange Trail where you started your day. Follow the Orange Trail 1/2 mile or so as it runs very closely to a scenic part of the stream and return to your car at Bells Mill Road.

Following this route will give you a roughly 8.5 mile loop. There are countless ways to lengthen or shorten the trip. You can turn around at either the Thomas Mill Covered Bridge or the Rex Avenue Bridge and walk back on Forbidden Drive for short loops of about 1 mile or 2 miles respectively. You can cut out the trip to Valley Green and just hike to Houston Meadow for a trip that comes in just over 3 miles. You can do the two meadows without Valley Green for a hike in the 5 mile range.

You can also add side trips. If you follow the Orange Trail for just 1/2 mile past Valley Green, you can explore the famed Devils Pool, a local swimming hole that features a nice cascade, deep pool, and beautiful stone archway.

Devils Pool
Devils Pool

Bartlett Mountain Balds, White Brook Falls, and Bowman Hollow Falls

On an unusually warm December Sunday, I got to hike to State Game Land 57’s Bartlett Mountain Balds with none other than Jeff Mitchell himself. Author of Hiking the Endless Mountains and intrepid explorer of one of eastern PA’s most remote areas, Jeff has probably crawled up most streams and seen more of the vast SGL57 than anyone else on the planet.

I had wanted to see the balds since I had first read about them on Jeff’s website. I had previously hiked to the very fine vista on nearby Flat Top Mountain but the balds seemed set apart from that even. Lying in one of the most remote parts of the forest, the top of Bartlett Mountain features large rock balds, featuring beautiful spruce forests and amazing solitude.

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The Windy Valley

I left my house before 7 to take the 3+ hour drive to Wyoming County. I met Jeff in the small parking lot just past White Brook in the area known as the Windy Valley. The Mehoopany Creek flowed quietly nearby. Despite being mid-December, the temperature was due to reach close to 70 degrees on the day.

Jeff arrived a little after 10 a.m. and we were soon on our way up an unblazed grade. I had started our hike in long sleeves, but the way to the balds was all uphill and I was soon stripping down to short sleeves. Jeff joked if that if they were to ever named a trail for him, the grade up to the balds would be appropriate as he’d been that way many times.

We walked uphill for about 2 miles before the trail leveled off. The top of the mountain was wet and we had to skirt puddles as we continued along the trail. We arrived at the edge of the balds as a walls of rock appeared in the forest. There were large rock overhangs and even crevices and caves. We made sure to make plenty of noise to alert any bears in the area.

SGL57
Overhangs near the edge of the balds

We found a crevice in the rock that had tree roots growing out of it. It made for the easiest climb up to the balds. We made our way up and climbed to the balds, where the flat, white rock stretched out in front of us. The balds were dotted with Spruce trees and the solitude was striking.

We walked into the balds a little ways and sat down to have a quick lunch. The quiet was outstanding. It seemed a million miles from noisy Philadelphia apartment.

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Hiking the balds
sgl57
Cliffs
spruce tree
Spruce tree

We walked up the north rim of the balds where smaller balds were fully enclosed in Spruce forests. The solitude continued to be impressive. I made plenty of noise to alert any bears that might be out. We even saw a bear print on the ground.

Jeff had hoped to show me the way to the “Spruce Ridge” but we were running low on time, being one of the shortest days of the year. We headed off the balds and back down the trail that brought us up the mountain to begin with. About halfway down the trail, we turned on a side trail that descended more steeply to White Brook.

White Brook
White Brook

The stream was beautiful and we arrived at it near a small cascade. The water was remarkably clear and the setting was superb. We made our way down the stream, navigating slippery rocks, tricky ledges, and lots of blowdowns. After about a mile of hiking, we reached White Brook Falls, an impressive 15-20 foot falls.

White Brook Falls
White Brook Falls

We climbed out of the gorge and back to the trail where we started. We flushed a ring necked grouse from the trail, but it disappeared impressively in the underbrush before either of us could grab a picture. We arrived back in at the parking area in the Windy Valley as the sun started to set.

Jeff had one last stop for us and we drove up the road out of the game lands into the small town of Forkston. We headed uphill and parked at a small pull-off above Bowman Hollow. The stream, and it’s waterfall, are technically on private property but it seems accessible to the public and no signs were posted.

We hiked down to the stream, which had beautiful slides and cascades. A short ways upstream, we reached the impressive Bowman Hollow Falls, an almost 50 foot falls that canons over white rocks. Despite not having a tripod, I managed a few decent shots of the falls.

Bowman Hollow
Bowman Hollow
Bowman Hollow Falls
Bowman Hollow Falls

We parted way and I drove back to Philadelphia in awe of having seen another beautiful place in the Endless Mountains.

Full gallery of images:

Appalachian Trail: Tott’s Gap Out and Back

Two weeks ago I hiked a short section of the Appalachian Trail, just south of the Delaware Water Gap. Mike and his dog Dutch joined me for this trip.

We were planning on being at Nelson’s Overlook for sunset, so we got out a little later in the afternoon than we normally do. We arrived at the parking area at Fox Gap along Rt 191 around 3 pm. As we put our boots on and got ready to head out on the trail, about 20 or so Boy Scouts emerged from the woods on the other side of the road. Seemed that we were going to have company on this hike.

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The Boy Scouts went on ahead as we got ready to hit the trail. We were soon off on the A.T. as it made its way through a nice section of forest. There is a hunting club at the bottom of the mountain near this part of the trail and gun shots could be heard continually as we made our way.

A.T. neark Kirkridge Shelter
A.T. neark Kirkridge Shelter

We reached and passed the sign for the Kirkridge Shelter – the last A.T. shelter in Pennsylvania, a mere 6 miles from the Delaware Gap. After about 3/4 of mile we reached Nelson’s Overlook. The view is a nice one, looking south over the farmlands of Pennsylvania.

It was here we caught up with the Boy Scouts, and their friends. There were four different troops camping in the big field at the overlook, over 50 Scouts in total. We said hello but quickly kept going down the trail. We wanted to cover a few more miles before coming back here for sunset.

The trail became more rocky as we made our way toward Totts Gap. We reached a partial view at a place called “Lunch Rocks”. We took a short break here and enjoyed looking out to the north toward the Delaware Water Gap. We could see the fire tower at Totts Gap from here.

Lunch Rocks
Lunch Rocks

We pressed on a little further. The trail remained fairly rocky and at one point climbed over a huge boulder. We passed a few other hikers and backpackers. We advised a couple that there was the group of Scouts at the vista, and that if they were looking to camp, that they’d be better off heading to the shelter. They thanked us for our advice and continued on the trail. We passed another backpacker, who was out for a solo overnight hike. He too was heading for the shelter.

We soon reached Totts Gap. We stopped for a second in the power line swath there, which features a partial view. The sun was starting to set and we headed back the way we came, with a little jump to our step trying to beat the sunset.

We scooted around the boulder, passed Lunch Rocks, and were soon back with the Scouts at Nelson’s Overlook. The sky was starting to go pink and there was a clear buzz about the vista with the 50 boys milling about.

Nelson's Overlook
Nelson’s Overlook

We snapped a few pictures and the Scouts asked questions about hiking the A.T. and about Mike’s dog. We told them to enjoy their night, it was a lovely night for camping, and finished the short walk back to the car as the forest became dark.

Pinchot Trail: Choke Creek and Choke Creek Falls

A few weekends ago, I was able to get out and do a 6 mile hike along the Pinchot Trail in the Lackawanna State Forest. The day was grey and it showered pretty consistently on the drive up  and it was raining as we pulled into a small parking area along Phelps Rd.

I took a gated woods road less than a 1/4 of a mile where it met up with the orange blazes of the Pinchot Trail. I turned right and started to make my way along a flat, though somewhat rocky, section of trail.

It showered pretty consistently as I made my way through the forest. The canopy was thick enough so that much of the falling rain wasn’t actually hitting me, but it was muddy and much of the brush along the trail was already wet.

Pinchot Trail
Pinchot Trail

I made my way through some nice sections of forest. In some places, there were small open fields and an in others the trail was closed in almost completely by trees. It hadn’t rained in awhile before this particular Sunday and even with everything being wet, much of the underbrush was still very brown and thirsty for the precipitation.

After about two miles of walking, I reached Choke Creek at a very nice campsite. The campsite sits on a small bluff where the creek makes a turn. There were stone chairs, a nice fire ring, and even some pots for hauling water or cooking.

Campsite
Campsite

I continued past the campsite for another mile or so. The trail continued to run near the creek, which had some nice cascades, many of which were nestled in small hemlock groves.

About three miles into my hike, I turned around. The Pinchot Trail continued on away from Choke Creek, but I simply began back the way that I came.

Choke Creek
Choke Creek

It finally stopped raining as I made my way back along Choke Creek, past the cascades and the campsite. Some blotches of blue sky even appeared as I got closer to my car.

Red Spotted Newt
Red spotted newt

I reached the old woods road and took the short walk back to my car. I drove 1/4 or so back down Phelps Road and parked at a gate, where the road actually continued on for some way as a dirt path.

I walked down the path about a 1/2 mile, past some construction where a new power line swath is being built. I reached Choke Creek again, further downstream from where I was last. A short side trail led to beautiful Choke Creek Falls.

Choke Creek Falls
Choke Creek Falls

I’ve visited this falls a few times. In the spring, it flowed heavy with snow melt and was very powerful. In summer, it was much lighter. On this day it was a little bit in between. Despite the rainy morning and afternoon, it had been dry for weeks, so the flow was a little below average.

There is a deep pool here, and in the summer, very often filled with locals swimming. There are even two ropes for swinging from the cliff into the pool.

I didn’t pack my good camera due to the weather, so I grabbed a few photos and short videos with my phone.

The clouds started to break a little more as I hiked the 1/2 mile back to my car. The sun appeared in the distance as I reached my car again and started to head for home.

Phelps Road
Phelps Road

Prowl the Sproul 2015: Clendenin Branch, County Line Vista, and Hyner View

On the last weekend of July, I attended the Keystone Trails Association’s Prowl the Sproul event. I attended for the first time last year and had a great time hiking to Round Island Run Falls and was excited to do it again this year. I didn’t know if my surgically repaired foot would be up to the task until just a week or so before the event, so we forwent camping with the KTA at the Western Clinton Sportsman’s Association and instead camped at nearby Hyner Run State Park. My friend Stubbs joined me for the weekend.

We arrived at Hyner Run at almost 10 pm on Friday after the 4 hour drive up from Philadelphia. We had a great campsite, not even 5 feet from the stream.The campground was about half full and relatively quiet when we arrived. We quickly set up camp and enjoyed a small fire. But soon we were both tired and turned in before midnight.

I awoke early on Saturday. The early morning light was quite nice on the large hemlocks that line the campground. It was cool and dry and looked to be a great day to hike. I packed my bag for the day and soon Stubbs was up too. We had a small breakfast and made our way down to the WCSA.

Morning on Hyner Run

I was expecting to do the same hike to Round Island Run again this year, it was advertised as one of the available hikes, and it was being led yet again by Jeff Mitchell. Jeff’s book, Hiking the Endless Mountains, is my favorite hiking guide and hiking with him last year was a lot of fun. It seemed that no one signed up for the Round Island Run hike so Jeff changed it to a hike at Clendenin Branch, another hike he had done last year.

Our group was filled out by two other hikers. Nicole had hiked with Jeff and I to Round Island Run last year and was back again this year. And Sam had driven up that morning from Hershey.

We drove out to the Sproul through the small town of Renovo, winding along scenic Route 144. We soon turned off onto Shoemaker Ridge Road, a gravel road that winds its way through the forest. Driving behind the other hikers, my car got quite a dusting.

Into the woods

We arrived at the trail head and set off along the ridge a short way. I swapped stories with Nicole about the hikes that her and her husband had done in the last year as we walked along a flat section of trail. We reached a vista at a power line cut after less than a mile of walking. While not the most scenic vista, it showcased the surrounding area with Shoemaker Branch flowing in the valley below.

“Powerline Vista”

We doubled back a short distance and took a trail that led downhill through beautiful forest. After a mile or so, we reached Clendenin Branch. The stream had a decent flow and was higher than when Jeff hiked it last year. He informed us that we’d be crossing the stream about 9 times and that we were probably all going to get wet feet. No one batted an eye and we were all soon shin deep on our first stream crossing.

Clendenin Branch, Sproul State Forest
Clendenin Branch, Sproul State Forest

Clendenin Branch

We took a short snack break and sat down on the trail next to the stream. Stubbs shot some underwater video with his Gopro while the rest of us talked about past hikes. Between us, we’d explored a lot of the same streams and even some of the same off trail areas searching for vistas and waterfalls. It was fun to be able to talk to others about these places – this was my kind of group.

Beautiful forest along Clendenin Branch

After a few minutes, we were off again, moving upstream along Clendenin Branch. The stream tumbled through beautiful forests and we passed small cascades and even a few deep pools. Red bee balm lined the stream occasionally. I found one small patch of stinging nettle. I always find the patch. Always. Jeff and Sam noticed a small northern ringneck snake lounging a few feet from the stream. It sat still for a few pictures.

Bee balm
Northern ringneck snake

We passed a nice campsite, though it did have a quite a bit of trash, at the intersection of Benjamin Branch. We crossed the stream a few more times and arrived at a beautiful cascade where we took another short break. We sat on the rocks and took photos, enjoying the serene setting.

Clendenin Branch cascade
Clendenin Branch cascade

Clendenin Branch

We crossed Clendenin Branch one final time and the trail led uphill from there. The climb was gradual as the trail moved us back toward our cars. We passed a hunting cottage and then arrived back at the road from where we started.

Jeff mentioned that he was heading out to the other side of the forest for another short hike in the Lower Jerry Run Natural Area. I had wanted to head that way anyway to check out some of the views we explored last year and Sam and Nicole were up for more hiking, so we packed up and started toward the other side of the forest.

Another scenic drive down Route 120 paralleled the West Branch of the Susquehanna River. We passed a few small towns before turning off in the small village of Keating. We crossed a bridge over the Sinnemahoning Creek – another very scenic river. We wound our way through more gravel roads and my car got dustier and dustier as I drove behind Jeff. We eventually reached the turnoff for Jerry Run Road, a small road that dead ends after a few miles. We had parked on this road to do our Round Island Run hike last year.

A short trail leads from the end of the road to a fine vista looking north toward the Sinnemahoning Creek Valley. We admired the view and took pictures.

Vista at the end of Jerry Run Road
Vista at the end of Jerry Ridge Road

We jumped back in the cars and drove 1/4 or so back along the road to another turnoff. Here, a very nice campsite is just next to another fine view. This view looks out over the Sinnemahoning Creek itself and more of the steep mountains of the Sproul. Puffy white clouds floated in the distance and we all took more photos.

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County Line Vista
County Line Vista

From here, Jeff, Sam, and Nicole were heading just a few more minutes down the road to the Jerry Run Natural Area in search of an old growth forest. Having already completed over 5 miles on Clendenin Branch, I decided not to push my achilles too much and Stubbs and I started to head back toward Hyner. We stopped at the historic Nelsonville Cemetery near West Keating along the way.

Nelsonville Cemetery

But our day was not done yet still! Stubbs dropped me off at our campsite and went to try his hand at some fishing in the Susquehanna. We reconvened an hour later to head up to nearby Hyner View State Park to watch the sunset. Hyner View is one of the finest views in all of Pennsylvania in my opinion and I was excited to be there for sunset.

Distant clouds prevented some of the bright pinks and purples from reaching us, but the sunset was still very scenic. After a short while, Sam appeared from the parking lot to join us for the last few minutes of light. He informed us that the rest of the group did find the old growth forest and enjoyed their time here. We chatted a bit more as it got dark, eventually returning to our cars. While Sam headed back toward home, Stubbs and I took the short drive back to our campsite at Hyner Run.

The amazing view looking west
The amazing view looking west
Looking east at the West Branch Susquanna River
Looking east at the West Branch Susquehanna River
Hyner View State Park panorama
Hyner View State Park panorama

After a quick dinner around the campfire, I soon retired to my tent. I fell asleep quickly with the sound of Hyner Run flowing quietly nearby, feeling fulfilled by a most complete day in the Sproul State Forest.

Click here for a complete photo gallery.

Prowl the Sproul 2015: Clendenin Branch, County Line Vista, Hyner View State Park Photo Gallery

Click here to read the trip report for this hike.

Ralph Stover State Park

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.