As much as many of us hate to admit it, the days of summer are waning. Soccer and football have started, along with the school year in many districts, marking the inevitable approach of cooler weather and shorter days. Personally, there is nothing better than heading outside for a walk or a bike ride in just a t-shirt and a pair of shorts, and I decided to do just that in one of the most beautiful state parks in Pennslvania.
Ricketts Glen State Park is located just past Dallas, near Benton and Red Rock, bordered by Route 118 and Route 487. Ricketts Glen is a beautiful place to visit any time of year, as it boasts campgrounds, horseback trails, numerous hiking trails, a beach, cross country ski trails, an interpretive education center, and or course, Lake Jean, which is estimated to be refilled by the summer of 2016 after this years’ dam project has been completed.
Camping, biking and horseback riding are wonderful, but the main attraction of the park is the waterfalls –twenty one of them ranging in height from eleven to ninety four feet that were carved approximately 340 million years ago.
The park contains two geological provinces -the Allegheny Plateau and the Ridge and Valley Appalachians, with the steep escarpment of the Allegheny Front as the boundary. The headwaters of Kitchen Creek are located here, which drops approximately a thousand feet in just a little over two miles, carving the valleys of Ganoga Glen and Glen Leigh which converge at “Waters Meet”. Once the waters converge, Kitchen Creek then flows through a glen of giant pines, hemlocks and oaks, which is much easier walking. Many of the trees in the lower glen, near the parking lot along Route 118, are over 300 years old with some boasting diameters of almost four feet.
Originally owned by Colonel Bruce Ricketts, the area was sold by his heirs to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for a state park. There are two falls trails –one traverses the valley of Ganoga Glenn and the other of Glen Leigh. If beginning from the parking lot on route 118, the walk begins in a very pleasant fashion, winding along the creek through the lower glen until coming to Waters Meet. Once there, one can choose to ramble to the top of the ridge from either glen. Once can also hike in to the top of the ridge from route 487 where the two glen trails are connected by the Highland Trail, making an approximately 8 mile loop over some very rocky and uneven ground. The Highland trail is fairly easy compared to the rocky, steep inclines of the falls trails, and it boasts some natural rock formations of its own. Midway Crevasse is a narrow passageway between large blocks of sandstone, deposited by glaciers. The shapes and cuts of the rocks are a thing of beauty and make for some interesting geological observation. Plus, this part of the trail is a nice way to stretch out the ankles and rest the knees before descending on the other side of the falls.
If you go, my suggestion is to hike in from Route 118 through the lower glen and cross the bridge at Waters Meet, hiking the trail in a counter clockwise direction. The falls on this first side are smaller, but walking into them head on lends itself for a prize around every corner.
Regardless of which direction you decide to travel, neither trail has easy terrain, whether you are moving up or downhill, and hikers must be in decent physical condition. Stone steps, rocks and dirt are slippery when wet from the spray of the falls and in cold weather can be deceptively icy. There is sometimes little clearance between a rockface and the cliff’s edge, and many times traffic must move single file. I did witness an attempt to bring a stroller, and I would not recommend it. What I would recommend, is plenty of water, some snacks, good footwear (not canvas sneakers) and a camera and tripod to capture some of the more dramatic and/or serene aspects of the moving water.
It should be noted that the falls trail is closed during the winter except for properly equipped ice climbers and hikers wearing appropriate foot gear, so take advantage of the time left this year when cold is not yet an issue. Take the time between soccer games and homework this fall to support our local, state and national parks so they continue to be a part of this beautiful Pennsylvania landscape.