COLD RAIN & SNOW
We got a leisurely start on Monday morning. Tony made us a nice breakfast, and we bid him farewell (Jackie had left for work hours earlier). I managed to get the car packed before it started to really rain, and we left under a light drizzle. This didn’t seem too bad, and I held out hope that we’d be able to manage a few short waterfall hikes that day.
We drove back to I-80 and the Delaware Water Gap. We passed by where I’d been the previous day, and crossed the toll bridge into Pennsylvania. After paying the toll, we took the first exit. My first goal was to get a better look at a waterfall, which we had gotten a brief glimpse of from the bridge. My map lacked detail though, and we wandered around a bit before we found our way to Resort Point Overlook. The overlook is right at the brink of the main waterfall. Unfortunately, there didn’t appear to be a good way to get down to the base. Instead, we satisfied ourselves with checking out the upper cascades, which are just above the highway.
From there, we took the highway west one exit, before picking up route 209. We followed this road north, through a number of small towns and a large stretch of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. By the time we reached the turn for Bushkill Falls, we were driving through a light but chilly drizzle. At this point, we had a major decision to make.
Bushkill Falls is privately owned property that includes the gorges of Bushkill and Pond Run Creeks. The gorges contain seven named waterfalls that are considered among the finest in Pennsylvania. The property is a commercial enterprise though, meaning that in addition to some nice waterfalls, you get a good bit of tourist crap. They’ve got paddle boats, miniature golf, a museum, and a gift shop – with fudge. Plus, to visit the waterfalls, you have to pay a $10 admission. As we approached the turn, with rain drops pattering against our windshield, I wondered if it would be worth it. Christy had already made her decision – by strategically leaving her rain jacket at home, she was most definitely not planning to hike anywhere in the rain. On the other hand, she was willing to hang out and wait a couple of hours if I wanted to. She’s a good sport like that.
Ultimately, the fact that we were a 12-hour drive from home convinced me to do it. When would we ever make it back here? Plus, although the light rain was a nuisance, the cloudy skies would offer decent photographic opportunities. Finally, the fact that it was a Monday in early April, on a nasty day, promised to keep the crowds away.
We followed the billboards from the main road, and eventually found our way to the main parking area. I made a quick visit to the gift shop, where I purchased a single ticket. Back at the car, I grabbed my pack and camera, and left Christy and Boone behind. Dogs are allowed on leashes, but walking Boone on a leash had been unpleasant recently. Plus, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to make the rest of the day’s drive with a wet dog in the car.
Leaving Boone behind was a good decision. Most of the trails at Bushkill Falls consist of boardwalks and stairs. Many of them are built right into the sides of the gorge. Constructing those paths must’ve been a significant undertaking. Although the boardwalks detract from the wilderness character, I must admit that seeing the gorge without them would be virtually impossible. The gorge is quite sheer, and building any sort of normal trail would’ve been impossible.
I headed directly for Bushkill Falls, as I wanted to at least see that one before the weather worsened. Heavier rain and thunderstorms were forecast for that afternoon. I descended a long series of slippery staircases, before reaching the top of the main falls. From there I continued the descent, passing close by the thundering falls. The water was up – way up – and the amount of water roaring through the gorge was outrageous. I’m actually glad I was solo, as conversation would’ve been impossible.
I attempted a few photos, but this was difficult, as the boardwalk is lined by a tall railing. The railing was taller than my tripod, and shooting without it would’ve been impossible in the dim light of the gorge. I managed a few shots through the railing, before continuing down to the base of the falls. Bushkill Falls is definitely impressive, as the torrent of water was actually shaking the boardwalk. I attempted some additional photos despite this and the heavy spray from the falls. While I was here, a large family passed by. They would be the only people I’d see all day.
From there, I followed more boardwalk and stairways down the gorge. Even without the waterfalls, the gorge would be beautiful. Although spring had yet to arrive, there was plenty of dripping wet green vegetation down in the canyon. The area actually reminded me of a hike I did several years ago along Eagle Creek, in the rain forest near the Oregon coast. That one also featured an amazing stream, lovely vegetation, and some incredible waterfalls.
Before long, I reached the brink of the next waterfall. This one and the next were both beautiful, but difficult to photograph due to the ever present railing. A bit farther on, I crossed a bridge over the stream, and arrived at the confluence with Pond Run Creek. From here, the combined waters continue racing downstream, towards the Delaware River far below. Unfortunately, there are no trails that way. To continue the hike, I continued up a rocky path into the gorge of Pond Run Creek.
Before long, I encountered an amusing sign warning that the trail ahead was steep, rocky, rugged, and “for hikers only”. In other words, tourists and families with small children need not apply. I was delighted.
The trail wasn’t terribly steep, but it was rocky and rugged. On the upside, there were only a few stairs and boardwalks along here. Before long I reached Bridesmaid Falls, which is the lowest waterfall on Pond Run Creek. While the falls on Bushkill Creek had been awesome and overwhelming, this one was elegant. At low water levels it might be insignificant, but today the conditions were perfect. Things actually improved a few minutes later, when I reached Bridal Veil Falls. This was easily the prettiest waterfall of the day. It’s fairly tall, but its best feature is that the water fans out over hundreds of tiny ledges. I had to rock hop up the creek a short distance to get a good photo, but it was worth the effort. I spent a fair bit of time here, before returning to the trail and climbing above the falls.
Just upstream was another Bridesmaid Falls. Initially I was puzzled by this, as the cascade immediately downstream from Bridal Veil Falls has the same name. I guess it makes sense though. After all, weddings typically have at least two bridesmaids.
One more climb ensued, and I passed another nice but unnamed cascade. Perhaps a third Bridesmaid? From there, I followed a wet, muddy road back towards Bushkill Creek and the parking lot. The rain intensified along here, and I picked up the pace. I rejoined Bushkill Creek at Pennell Falls, which was the seventh and final named waterfall along the hike. This one was ok, but with a steady rain falling, I chose to keep the camera packed away.
From there, I enjoyed a pleasant stroll downstream along rollicking Bushkill Creek. The highlight of this stretch of trail was a flat area featuring a healthy Hemlock forest. From there, it was just a short walk back out to the parking area. I arrived at 1:30, 2 hours after I started. Christy was patiently waiting, but she was beyond ready to eat. We had everything we needed to make lunch, but the cooler was virtually inaccessible. We decided to head up the road, as we’d passed dozens of restaurants on the way.
We chose poorly. Apparently we had left the land of restaurants behind shortly before Bushkill Falls. The road stretched on for miles, and not even a gas station surfaced. We passed by two waterfalls I planned to visit, but food was now an urgent need. We finally reached the town of Milford, where we found a cute little café. We got soup and sandwiches to go, and headed back the way we came. This was inefficient, but I was determined to see Dingmans Falls before we left the area.
Dingmans Falls is an extremely popular area in the summer and on nice weekends. This was neither, and there wasn’t a single car in the parking lot when we arrived. The area was so deserted, I considered ignoring the “not pets” sign and taking Boone with me. It was still raining just enough to keep Christy in the car though, so I decided against it. Instead, I made a quick solo visit up to the falls. The trail followed more boardwalks and roadbeds, and after only a few minutes, I reached Silverthread Falls. This is a high waterfall on a tiny stream, but with the water up, it was lovely. From there, it only took a few minutes to reach Dingmans Falls, which is Pennsylvania’s tallest. Today, it may have been Pennsylvania’s loudest, too. The water coming over this cascade almost made Bushkill Falls look insignificant. I took a few photos despite the drizzle and spray, and viewed the falls from multiple overlooks. I didn’t linger long though, as Christy was waiting, and we still had several hours to drive.
I returned to the car, and we drove back north a few miles to the turn for Raymondskill Falls. A short drive up this road brought us to a parking area, where a single pickup truck was idling. There were two guys inside, but they didn’t look like hikers. This made me a little nervous, but I knew Christy had a 75 pound dog for protection!
I made the short hike to the brink of the falls. Just upstream is small but pretty slide. The real excitement is just downstream though. I followed it down past a small ice cave (there was still a little ice inside) and on to an overlook of the middle falls.
Even after a day of incredible waterfalls, this one was impressive. Like Dingmans Falls, there was a torrent of water thundering over the cliff. Across from it, a tiny tributary, which is likely dry in the summer, created its own lovely waterfall. Just downstream was another major drop, but I didn’t see a reasonable way down. There was no trail, and bushwhacking down a steep, wet slope looked like a bad idea. Plus, it was already 4pm, and we had a long way to go. I decided to skip that one, and hurried back to the car.
The two guys in the pickup were leaving when I arrived. There wasn’t anybody around, so we decided to let Boone out of the car. He’d been penned up all day, and we knew he needed a little exercise. We chased him around the parking lot for a bit, before Christy looked up and exclaimed, “Here comes a ranger”! Crap! I tried to corral the dog, but Boone decided this would be a great time to play his favorite game – keep away from Mommy and Daddy. He danced circles around us as the ranger pulled into the parking lot. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Christy was able to bribe him into the car with a handful of treats.
The ranger rolled his window down. “Did he get away from you”, he asked. “Yeah”, I replied. This was technically true, even if we had intentionally let him out of the car to begin with. Then he asked us if we’d seen two guys in a pickup. We told him we had, and that they had left just before he arrived. He thanked us and took off after them, leaving us to wonder what that was all about.
From there, we headed back to Milford and on to I-84. We took this highway to Scranton, which we hit right at rush hour. This slowed us down a little, but before long, we were driving route 6 east out of town. This road provided us with a scenic drive along the East Branch of the Susquehanna River. We passed through dozens of tiny towns and lots of farmland as we skirted the Pocono Mountains.
We were bound for Wellsboro, where Christy’s Uncle Kevin and Aunt Jodie live. They were nice enough to put us and our high-maintenance dog up for the evening. We spent the evening catching up with them and Christy’s cousin Codie. Kevin and I talked about the many great hiking opportunities nearby, and he gave me some extra maps. Unfortunately, the weather forecast looked absolutely hostile. I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to take advantage of some of Pennsylvania’s finest hiking, but we figured we would have plenty of reason to come back.
It snowed that night, and it was still coming down the next morning. Fortunately it had only started to stick, and there was a mere dusting on the ground. Kevin had already left for work, Codie was off to school, and Jodie was getting ready for work as we packed. On the way out of town, we grabbed breakfast sandwiches at Dunkin Donuts (better than you’d think) and contemplated our options.
It was tempting to head straight for Christy’s parent’s house, which was only a couple of hours away. I wanted to at least get a look at the Pine Creek Gorge (aka The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania) first though. We made the 10 mile drive up to Leonard Harrison State Park, which is perched high up on the east rim of the canyon. We arrived to find another deserted parking area, and it wasn’t long before we discovered why. Temperatures were in the 20’s, snow was blowing, and the wind was absolutely howling. That was just in the parking lot. By the time we had completed the 100 yard walk out to the first overlook, conditions had deteriorated significantly.
The wind was so strong, my eyes immediately began to water. Briefly I wondered if it’s possible for eyeballs to freeze. I endured this for a few minutes, while taking in a great view of the canyon. Pine Creek raced through its gorge, nearly a thousand feet below, and the snow-dusted cliffs added to the beauty. Originally we had planned to hike a 1 mile loop to several additional viewpoints. I knew Christy wasn’t having it though, and I couldn’t blame her. Instead, we enjoyed the scenery for a few minutes, before letting the wind blow us back to the car.
From there, we drove back to Wellsboro, and then on to Christy’s parent’s house in Clearfield. We arrived at lunchtime, in the midst of a blowing snow storm.
That afternoon, I took Boone for a walk along the railroad tracks behind their house. This is a surprisingly nice place to walk, as there isn’t much back there except lovely Clearfield Creek. We walked as far as an active coal mine, where No Trespassing signs forced us to turn back. By the time we returned to the house, Boone was tired out, and I was ready to warm up.
I’m looking forward to hiking in the Poconos again. Originally, we had planned to camp and hike at Ricketts Glenn State Park. The 7.5 mile Waterfall Trail there passes 21 waterfalls and a stretch of old growth forest. Unfortunately, the trail is closed in the winter due to icy conditions. Since winter unexpectedly lasted into April this year, our plans were derailed. We’ll definitely have to return sometime to check it out.
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