With CoVid-19 shattering lives, economies, jobs & all variety of plans, is there a better time to escape reality? Find someplace in your state to elude the worries and pressures of our unique normal, someplace in socially-distant, natural beauty! Rickett’s Glenn in north-eastern PA is the perfect destination (during the week) to clamber over emerald moss-bedecked rocks, slosh through creeks, wander old-growth forests and, of course, behold gorgeous, huge waterfalls tumbling through the glen. In a 7.2 mile lollipop, over 20 waterfalls set your eyes on fire.
After reading about Rickett’s Glen (a rather unattractive name for a lovely place, no?) on a warming Tuesday night in May, I had to go. Pittsburgh was shifting to the “yellow zone” and CoVid cases were low; I couldn’t tolerate the unaltering day-in, day-out anymore. As one man at the elevator astutely commented, it’s like the Groundhog’s Day film. So I packed everything up, slept in my hiking close, and rolled out of bed to my obnoxious phone alarm at 4 a.m. Not that I slept well–hiking and exploring are always like Christmas to me. Coffee from the previous night and snack-sack in hand, I woke myself up by hustling down eight flights of stairs. Frances the Second and I were off, driving to the sunrise!
The drive through central PA (not on the turnpike) is gorgeous enough to stave off sleep. Four hours later, we turned off 118 into a clearly marked parking lot on the south side of the park; you can’t miss it, and it’s huge! I parked Franny by some fuzzy cattails, laced up the old hiking boots and began the wandering. The trail (Falls Trail) begins where the parking lot ends, conveniently where bathrooms stand. A half-step up from the generic Port-a-John. Then, beautiful forest! You immediately begin following Kitchen Creek, whose unassuming, tranquil murmur belies the wild falls ahead.
After maybe three-quarters of a mile, there is a junction to either continue along the creek or bypass the more difficult section by hiking above (indicated conveniently by the star on the map). Anytime a sign says a path is more difficult, that’s my automatic choice, but be aware that, while it is lovely along the creek, there is a bit more elevation change and mud. Nothing I would rate higher than low-moderate, however.
Then, the first waterfall!! I take five million photos because already impressed, but then delete all but two later–she’s a drip compared to some of the others!
Each waterfall seems to improve upon the last as I continue upstream; my favorite is when you can experience both the perspectives from above and below.
After the third waterfall, Falls Trail forks into the loop section which, by itself, is about 3.3 miles. I highly recommend swinging left to begin the loop, thus hitting the Ganoga Falls (the highest in the park) from the bottom.
How incredible is this place?! At Ganoga Falls, I lounged on a fallen tree, totally alone, just watching. At the top, I befriended a wonderful Polish woman who had done the same, even brought a yoga mat for the purpose. Brilliant. We swapped photo-snapping of one another and continued separately, both content to be by ourselves, listening to anything not resembling a human voice.
After the spectacular falls, I had to know how such a seemingly innocuous creek created so much wonder in a small area. My trusty pal Wikipedia showed the rocks in the glens to be 370 million years old! During the last Ice Age, the glaciers (always with the glaciers) enlarged the drainage basin, paving the way for the falls. Side note, some of the trees in Rickett’s Glen are over 300 years old! Many beautiful trees line the Highland Trail, which comprises the top arc of the waterfall loop and boasts the Midway Crevasse.
Rather than twist back down Falls Trail, I decided I had to investigate Lake Jean, where most of the camping sites are located: Highland Trail, then left/north towards the main road and beach area. I was pleasantly surprised; there is, indeed, a semi-nice beach! Lake Jean herself looks to be an ideal kayaking and swimming area, and there was even a sand volleyball court!! This upcoming Thursday, my husband and I are camping along Lake Jean, so I can show him the park without the inconvenience of driving 8 hours in one day–updates to come!
The way back found me winding along the Glen Leigh side of the Falls Trail, and, while not quite as impressive as the Ganoga Glen side, it is still an incredible walk back! I wish I could be like John Muir but instead of living on the floor of Yosemite, live atop one of the waterfalls. Okay, maybe a treehouse by a waterfall would be more logistically feasible.
Six hours and infinity photographs later, I arrive back at the parking lot….to see every single space filled! The trails never felt crowded, happily, but an early start to the day is highly advised! Oh, and a couple of notes: everything hiking-wise is free, and one night of camping, with processing fees, will run you about 25$. More information here.
Ideas of other incredible places to explore and escape crowds of humans? Comment below!