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.
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
We actually set out to return to State Game Land 13 in Sullivan County, but changed course when we hit Route 80 and saw the pockets of color still left in some of the trees. Wanting to find a good view, we decided to head to a part of State Game Land 57 that we had not yet explored but wanted to for some time.
A slight mistake in navigation had us approaching the trail head along SR 3001/Windy Valley Rd from the west – something I do not recommend unless you have a car with 4 wheel drive. The road descends down to the Mehoopany Creek on an unpaved path through the heart of SGL57. It is very beautiful, but the road is quite precipitous. It is much easier to access this area from Rt 87 in Forkston.
We parked in the game commission lot just south of White Creek. The leaves that did have color stood out brightly amongst the greys and browns of the trees that had already lost their leaves.
The trail meanders past a handful of cottages along White Creek following the boundary of the game lands. We headed steadily uphill for close to 3/4 of a mile. Many of the leaves were already down, but there were still some pockets of bright yellow, particularly at the lower elevations. The trails here are not blazed, but are fairly obvious as they move up the mountain.
We reached the point where the trail heading west continues on when a trail comes in from the left. A street sign (with plenty of bullet holes in it) that says “Watch for Stopped Vehicles” marks the turn. Seasonal views to the south and east appeared through the trees as we continued a steady climb to the top of Bartlett Mountain.
The unmarked trail switchbacks a few times before reaching a steeper section that juts up among bigger rocks. We reached the top of the mountain, where we cut through some low brush to a stunning view over the gorge of the Mehoopany.
With the exception of a small cottage at the foot of the mountain, the view is completely untouched. My photos don’t do the view justice, as I was shooting almost directly into the setting sun. The pockets of color stood out amongst the bare trees as the sun set over the valley. The cold wind rustling the trees was the only sound as we took in the view, reveling in the solitude of the setting.
We enjoyed the view for a few minutes before starting our descent back down the mountain. We were treated to more limited views as we descended steeply. The freshly fallen leaves covered slippery rocks and hidden crevices and both my hiking partner and I almost lost our footing a number of times.
Hiking on the leaves was quite the cacophony with two people and a 70 lbs dog, so I did not expect to see much wildlife. But we did see a turkey on the ascent and a white tailed deer on the way back down. I’ve read of bears and rattlesnakes both being active in this area.
We descended back down to the Stopped Vehicle sign and then even more steeply down the main trail as we returned to the car.
With limited light left, we drove quickly to the new bridge over the Mehoopany. The creek was ravaged by flooding during Hurricane Irene in 2011 and a large floodplain is still evident. Many large boulders line the creek.
I look forward to coming back to explore more of this area. It is a vast, wild space. The Mehoopany runs untouched for miles through the game lands and looks to have many rapids and cascades. There are reportedly more views to see on the top of Bartlett Mountain