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