Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — April 2011

The Glens Natural Area: Water Falls!

by Gary Thornbloom

Waterfall in The Glens Natural Area

Stone steps and wooden bridges bring you to the edge of waterfalls in The Glens Natural Area (Harrison Wrights) · Photo by Gary Thornbloom

The wonder of falling water, water in motion over and around boulders, water through chutes, water in cascades, and water-scouring potholes in plunge pools at the foot of precipitous drops are the magic of The Glens Natural Area, which is in Ricketts Glen State Park. The sound of moving water fills the gorge. Stone steps and wooden bridges bring you to the edge of waterfalls. You can feel the sound of water. And you can move through this landscape for hours!

Two arms of Kitchen Creek cut a Y-shaped gorge into the face of the Allegheny Front: Ricketts Glen, Ganoga Glen and Glen Leigh. As the creek cut the gorge, the varying layers of rock determined where waterfalls are formed. Additional water, from melting glaciers as well as from a dam formed by glacial deposits that diverted water that would have flowed into a different drainage, was necessary to carve this spectacular area. Along the Allegheny Front, Kitchen Creek is unique with its 24 named waterfalls, and an additional dozen or more unnamed ones.

Waterfall in The Glens Natural Area

On the trail, sometimes at the bottom of the falls, sometimes at the top, you are never out of sight and sound of falling water. (Harrison Wrights) · Photo by Gary Thornbloom

Begin this hike at the trailhead along PA 118 in Luzerne County about 30 miles north of Bloomsburg. The Falls Trail is 7.2 miles long and follows Kitchen Creek through the glens, and uses the Highland Trail to connect the tops of Ganoga Glen and Glen Leigh.

The trail initially meanders across the relatively flat, wide stream bottom crossing and recrossing flood stage, as well as past, stream courses. Northern and southern hardwood habitat meet here, resulting in a wide variety of hardwood trees. Some of the trees are hundreds of years old. The old growth pine, oak, and, specifically the hemlock are magnificent. Huge hemlocks, both alive and dead, tower. Fallen giants lay on the forest floor. It is almost possible to forget the creek.

But, after 1.3 miles on the trail the first falls, Murray, is encountered. It is a chute falls, and was once named Pulpit Falls. A stone “pulpit” divides the chute. Harrison Wrights is the third falls, and it is a “bridal veil” falls. Bridal veil falls have a hard cap rock that extends across the top. Softer shale beneath the cap is eroded away, and results in a veil across the face with a plunge pool at the bottom.

Waters Meet is where the two upper glens meet Ricketts Glen. To the left you are looking upstream into Ganoga Glen and at Erie Falls (47’), a “wedding-cake” falls. This second basic falls type has a layered look as the stream drops over a series of steps. To the right you are looking upstream into Glen Leigh at a picturesque series of drops, Wyandot Falls, and a wooden bridge visible through the rocks and trees.

Waterfall in The Glens Natural Area

Through mid-April, call Ricketts Glen SP or check their website to make certain that the Falls Trail is open and that it is free of ice and snow. (Pulpit) · Photo by Gary Thornbloom

Follow the trail into Ganoga Glen where there are ten named waterfalls in 1.1 miles, including the tallest falls on the creek, Ganoga Falls (94’). While on the trail you are sometimes at the bottom of the falls, sometimes at the top of the falls, but never out of sight and sound of falling water. After Mohawk Falls, a falls that ends in a long rush through boulders, continue on to the Highland Trail.

The Highland Trail is a pleasant 1.2 flat miles that winds through the giant boulders of Midway Crevasse. The sandstone blocks cracked along natural fractures and, once loosened, were moved downslope by the effects of glaciation. You can see the intact sandstone ridge to the left. The exposed ridge and the loosened blocks are an impressive geological display, and an interesting diversion for exploration.

The Falls Trail then drops into Glen Leigh, 1.2 miles downhill to Waters Meet. Along the way you will encounter 8 named waterfalls. It is stunning to walk up to one waterfall after another, each one with a different ambience. While nature dominates the setting, the trail, wooden bridges and stone steps are charming, make it possible for so many to enjoy the glens, and indicate people have been coming here for a long time. In fact, Robert Bruce Ricketts built the original Falls Trail in the late 1800s. At Waters Meet follow the trail back through Ricketts Glen to the trailhead.

Steps and narrow paths are often precariously close to steep drops. Sturdy footwear, and a good amount of caution are necessary. Through mid-April you should call Ricketts Glen State Park, or check their website, to make certain that the Falls Trail is open and that it is free of ice and snow.

Not interested in a challenging 7.2-mile hike? From the same trailhead the 1-mile Evergreen Trail is an easy stroll through old growth that includes a tree that is over 500 years old, and will take you to Adams (36’) one of the most beautiful of these waterfalls.

The Ricketts Glen State Park map will keep you on the trail as you explore the glens, old growth trees, and waterfalls of The Glens Natural Area. This is a hike that is worth savoring. A day hiking on The Falls Trail could be one of the best days you will ever have in the outdoors, I know it was for me!

Gary Thornbloom is the Chair of Sierra Club Moshannon Group, and can be reached at bearknob@verizon.net