Wrapping up autumn in Pennsylvania is a wet endeavor. There’s always some sort of precipitation hanging around in the form of dew, fog, or straight up torrential downpours. In fact, Central Pennsylvania experiences some of its more notable floods during this time of the year.
One of the more recent floods kept us away from the trails for a few weeks; not because we weren’t confident in our footing, but because the bridges and roadways to access these trails were swept into nearby rivers and streams. Noting this awesome aquatic power, we waited until the roads were safe to make our way to Ricketts Glen.
Ricketts Glen State Park is wildly popular from early spring to late fall. Well maintained campgrounds, handicapped accessibility, and picnic areas are just a few amenities within the park that keeps visitors happy. But the real driving force for visitation is Falls Trail, a path that traces two connected gorges dotted with a total of 22 waterfalls.
Falls Trail can be a healthy 7.2 mile hike, or whittled down into a 3.2 mile loop (and you won’t miss any falls, yay!). Access is easy at three different parking lots, but as always, keep a map handy. I like to download PDF maps to my phone to save paper (download Ricketts Glen PDF Map), however, you can’t lose battery life reading a paper map.
We parked at Lake Rose Trailhead and headed Southeast on Bear Walk Trail until crossing over to the Falls Trail. We were met with gushing waterfalls on our left side and massive rock walls to our right. The previous weeks’ downpours had the falls roaring with autumn rainwater.
No matter what route you take, the real champion of Ricketts Glen is Ganoga, the park’s behemoth waterfall at 94 feet tall. There’s a small foot trail right at the edge of the falls about midway down that puts you closer to the runoff (a fine excursion for the older kids, but leave it be if you have little ones).
Even if you’re a light shooter, you’ll want to bring your camera or phone with you on this hike. Every fall is a unique experience that grants a lovely photo opportunity at every turn. Just make sure to stash your electronics somewhere safe and dry. If you shoot DSLR, bring a tripod for some gorgeous, milky shots. I neglected to bring my tripod, mainly because I’ve yet to buy a hiker-friendly version and also because I’m a klutz. Heavy tripod + slippery rocks + questionable balance = no good. However, I do regret neglecting the tripod; tons of shots were tossed due to camera shake in an attempt to capture the delicate laciness of a long-exposure waterfall.
Despite being one of the most popular trails in Pennsylvania, Falls trail in Ricketts Glen still retains that quiet intimacy so essential to the "outdoorsy type." While you certainly do not make the trip to Ricketts Glen without seeing the waterfalls, the park’s quieter trails still offer that soft, reflective magic one can only find in the forest. We hike for reasons of introspection, or sightseeing, or simply because we need exercise, but no matter where your reasons lie, a visit to Ricketts Glen is sure to refresh some part of you in need of a cleansing.
Hike Rating: Beginner/Advanced Beginner, 2-4 hours. Recommended for families with older children. Use caution during wet seasons. Lots of uphill. Slow times during the weekdays.
Watch out for: Slippery or loose stones. Trails have no guardrails or barriers, so use common sense when sharing the trail or watching the waterfalls from above. Bears are not typically active in areas with high human traffic unless fed, so do not leave any food behind when hiking.
Bring: Daypack Hiking Essentials
Optional: Towel and swimsuit! Had we gone two months earlier, we would’ve enjoyed our time in the swimming holes.