Tag Archives: hiking

Hike to Calanque d’en-Vau in Cassis, France

Hiking into the calanques was one of the best things that I did during my two week honeymoon in France. I’d easily rank the hike as one of the best I’ve done anywhere in the world. A beautiful beach, stunning views, and a pretty good work out, clocking in at a roughly eight mile excursion.

I don’t think this map is exactly accurate, but it is a pretty good representation of our hike:

So first of all. Where are the calanques, and what the hell will they be when you find them?  Wikipedia defines a calanque as “a narrow, steep-walled inlet that is developed in limestone, dolomite, or other carbonate strata and found along the Mediterranean coast. A calanque is a steep-sided valley formed within karstic regions either by fluvial erosion or the collapse of the roof of a cave that has been subsequently partially submerged by a rise in sea level.” But if there’s one thing hiking makes clear in a hurry: A picture is always worth far more than a thousand wikipedia entries:

Calanque d’en Vau

We stayed in the small seaside town of Cassis (about 10 miles east of Marseille) for three days and, like the calanques, it was a clear highlight of our trip. On our second day in Cassis, we had the best weather day of the entire trip. The temperatures spiked up to the mid 80s under sunny skies.* We had a great AirBnb on the west side of town, so we were able to start our hike straight from there. But no matter where you are in Cassis, you can just walk west until you hit the Plage du Bestouan, a lovely rock beach from which you can easily find and begin exploring the calanques.**

Avenue des Calanques

Once we were at the beach, we continued heading west on the Avenue des Calanques and followed the signs as we went. It ended up being about a mile or so from where we were staying to the official “trail head”, where we left Avenue des Calanques and began walking on a dirt path along Calanque de Port-Miou.

If you look closely at some of the street signs along Avenue des Calanques, you’ll notice trail markers leading you towards the calanques. Starting on the actual trail, you should see three trail markers on the rocks along the route, a red and white striped mark, a green mark, and a  blue mark.

Calanque de Port-Miou is used as a port, and many small boats are docked there.  The walk along this calanque  is not especially scenic, but it offers a relaxing entryway into the beauty to come. After another 20 mins of walking, we reached the beginning of Calanque de Port Pin.

A bit of a downward climb is required to get to the beach at Calanque de Port Pin, but its not especially tricky if you take your time. This beach is a popular destination and on a nice day you’ll find many swimmers as well as people dispersed up and down the surrounding rocks.

The beach at Calanque de Port Pin

From here, there are two routes from which to choose. The red/white, blue, and green trails continue to run together on an obvious trail that goes straight past the beach at Calanque de Port Pin. The blue trail loops onto itself, beginning at the beach at Calanque de Port Pin. You can split off to the left on the west side of the calanque and gradually head up hill on the blue trail, or you can continue straight on the red/white, blue, green trails. We continued straight and recommend this route, as you’ll return on the blue trail later and can savor the views at that time.

Heading straight from the beach at Calanque de Port Pin, the trail climbs steeply up the limestone rocks. This part of the hike isn’t especially fun, as the limestone is slippery and there is not much shade to protect you from the sun. But it’s all worth it.

Limestone cliffs and the Mediterranean

The trail levels off and plateaus, offering a good view of the limestone cliffs that jut out into the Mediterranean Sea. You’ll reach another junction with the blue trail where it splits off to form its loop. You’ll come back to this junction again later, but again, we recommend continuing on the red/white trail, which brings you to the beach at Calanque d’en Vau.

Rock scramble

Here you’ll find the most difficult hiking: it is a roughly 475 foot (145 meter) climb down to the beach at Calanque d’en Vau. The beginning of the descent is the hardest part, with rock scrambling and butt-scooting over rock faces all but unavoidable.  But after about 15 minutes of scrambling, the trail becomes more of a path (albeit a rocky one) for the rest of the hike to the bottom. It took us about 35 minutes to reach the beach from the top of the plateau.

The beach at Calanque d’en Vau

By now, you’ve hiked roughly 3 miles (depending on where you started) from Cassis. You’ve earned the chance to relax a little bit, and this beautiful beach presents the perfect opportunity to do so. We sat on the beach for close to an hour, cooling off in the beautiful water of the Mediterranean and snacking on some delicious fruit and cheese.

When you are ready to resume hiking, you’ll have to retrace your steps back up to where the blue trail left the red/white trail. The rock scrambles actually turned out to be slightly easier on the way up than the way down, though it took us the same 35 minutes to hike back up.

Back at the junction with the blue trail, take a right to begin the blue trail loop. On this section of the hike, you will be treated to fantastic views over Calanque d’en Vau and the beach where you just came from.  I’d recommend getting out before 10 a.m. for this hike so that you’ll be at this section of the trail in the late morning to early afternoon, ideally between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. so the sun will be straight over head to light up the water a brilliant turquoise.

The views from the blue trail were stunning and we took this 1.5 mile loop at a leisurely pace to enjoy them. Vistas at the start of the loop gave us sight lines toward the mouth of the calanque and out to the Mediterranean. As we moved further along the loop, we were treated to views back toward the beach at Calanque d’en Vau.

View toward Cap Canaille and the Mediterranean
Calanque d’en Vau
Swimming pool

Continuing on the blue trail, the views remained impressive. We reached the southern tip of the cliffs, where we could look out over the sea. Soon we were walking north again, now high above Calanque de Port Pin, tour boats floated on the calm waters as people swam and floated lazily below.

Calanque de Port Pin

The trail descends back to the beach at Calanque de Port Pin that you passed earlier. Retrace your steps from here! I’d recommend finding a good meal and a local bottle of wine in town to appropriately wrap up such a beautiful journey.

*The Calanques National Park is sometimes closed to hiking during portions of the summer (July to September generally) due to the sensitive habitat and the risk of wildfires. We did this hike in the second week of June. I believe kayaking to Calanque d’en Vau is still possible if the hiking trails are closed. Check the park’s website for current conditions.

**You can drive to the car park at Port Miou and leave your car there and save the mile or so (each way) from town. You can also kayak to Calanque d’en Vau. There are many rental options in Cassis.

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.

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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
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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.

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.

Loyalsock State Forest: Rock Run, Sharp Top, Hoagland Branch

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.

Morning light at Masten

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.

Valley of Pleasant Stream
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.

Sharp Top Vista
Sharp Top Vista

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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.

Rock Run, Old Logger's Path, Yellow Dog Run, Loyalsock State Forest
Stunning
Rock Run
Rock Run

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.

Hoagland Vista
Hoagland Vista

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.

Hoagland Branch
Hoagland Branch

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.

Click here to see the full gallery of photos.

Photos: Loyalsock May 2015

 

Six Hikes to Do in Eastern Pennsylvania this Autumn

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.

DCNR has a great page about foliage in Pennsylvania that includes weekly updates.

Old Loggers Path

Old Loggers Path
Rock Run Gorge. Sullivan Mountain to the left, McIntyre Mountain to the right. October 18, 2010.

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.

Woods Road
Old logging road. October 19, 2010.

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

Flat Top Vista-2
Flat Top Vista, November 5, 2013.

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.

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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

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Canyon Vista, October 13, 2015

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.

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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

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Looking west from the top. October 13, 2013.

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.

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Old railroad grade near the trailhead at Riday’s Gate. October 13, 2013.

Best Time to Visit: Mid October

Kelly’s Run and Pinnacle Overlook

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View of the Susquehanna River from the Pinnacle Overlook. October 21, 2012.

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.

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Kelly’s Run. October 21, 2012.

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

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Tohickon Creek. October 14, 2013.

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. 

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View from High Rocks. October 14, 2013.

Best Time to Visit: Late October and even early November

Bonus Tip: Longer hikes can be put together using the trails at Tohickon Valley Park.  Autumn is the perfect time to enjoy the Bucks County Covered Bridge Tour.

Rainy Day in the Loyalsock

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.

Old Loggers Path
Old Loggers Path

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.

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Hillsgrove Road

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.

Hillsgrove Road Vista

Hillsgrove Road Vista
Hillsgrove Road Vista

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.

Sharp Top Vista in the rain
Sharp Top Vista in the rain

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.

Merrell Road
Merrell Road

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.)

Hoagland Vista
Hoagland Vista

Hoagland Vista

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.

Mill Creek Falls
Mill Creek Falls

Mill Creek Falls

Mill Creek Falls
Turquoise pool

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.

Bearwallow Pond
Bearwallow Pond

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.

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Some friends we met along Bearwallow Road

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.

Covered Bridge
Covered Bridge

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.

Sproul State Forest: Round Island Run

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.

View over the Sinnamahoning Creek Valley
View over the Sinnemahoning Creek Valley

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.

Sinnemahoning Creek View
Clouds in the valley
Clouds in the valley

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.

Mossy rocks of Jacob's Hollow
Mossy rocks of Jacob’s Hollow
Jacob's Hollow cascade
Jacob’s Hollow cascade
Beautiful greens
Beautiful greens

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.

Not a bad spot for lunch
Not a bad spot for lunch
The crew chows down
The crew chows down

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.

Round Island Trail
Round Island Trail

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.

Timber Rattlesnake
Timber Rattlesnake

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.

Round Island Run
Round Island Run
Rhododendron
Rhododendron
In bloom
In bloom
Waterslide
Waterslide

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.

Round Island Run Falls
Round Island Run Falls
Me, behind the falls
Me, behind the falls
Meta
Meta

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.

Climbing away from the run
Climbing 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.

Fern forest
Fern forest

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.

Partial View
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.

Nudist Crossing
Nudist Crossing

The car ride back to WCSA was quiet as we all let our minds linger in the Sproul a little bit longer.