If you like waterfalls, then Pennsylvania’s Ricketts Glen State Park should be at the top of your hiking list. With 21 named waterfalls along Kitchen Creek, you won’t find a more gratifying hike in the state, especially in the fall when the leaves start changing color.
Ricketts Glen State Park is located in east-central PA, about one hour to the west of the town of Scranton. Covering 13,000 acres, it is also one of the state’s larger parks. At one time there were plans to make this land a national park, and the National Park Service ran a Civilian Concnservation Corps camp here in the 1930’s. But this plan ended due to budget issues and the onset of WWII. The state of Pennsylvania purchased the land and opened Ricketts Glen State Park in 1944. The area is also a dedicated National Natural Landmark since 1969.
The park is named after R. Bruce Ricketts who owned 80,000 acres in the area and built a hotel in the late 1800’s to attract visitors to the falls. Ricketts clear cut most of his land for lumber, except for about 2000 acres in the glens through which the Kitchen creek runs. It is estimated that some of the old growth trees in the virgin forest of the glens are over 500 years old and are over 100 feet high.
From the lower parking area on Rt. 118, the loop hike is about 7 miles total, with an elevation gain of about 1250 feet. The trail follows the Kitchen creek and passes three waterfalls before reaching Waters Meet, where the two branches of the Kitchen creek come together. Here the trail also splits. The left branch follows the creek up through Glen Ganoga and passes ten waterfalls, including the 94 foot Ganoga Falls which are the tallest in the park. The right branch follows the creek through Glen Leigh and passes 8 waterfalls. The two trails are connected at the top by the Highland Trail. Besides the 21 large named waterfalls, the trails pass many smaller cascades that are equally pretty.
The Falls Trail hike is rated as difficult. As the trails climb through the glens, they get rocky and wet, which makes them slippery. And, as is typical in Pennsylvania, the trails have lots of exposed tree roots, so you need to keep your eye on the ground you are traversing. Good hiking shoes are definitely necessary. The hike is also very popular, especially on autumn weekends when the crowds add to the challenge on some of the steeper sections of the trails that are only one person wide.
The centerpiece of the hike is the 94 foot Ganoga Falls. The name for these falls is of Native American origin, but the meaning is not quite clear. It’s only when you see someone standing right by this large waterfall that you can appreciate its full height.
My favorite waterfalls though are the Delaware falls which at 37 feet is only about one third the height of grand Ganoga falls, but is much more delicate looking.
As if the Falls Trail hike were not enough, Ricketts Glen State Park also has other attractions. There is swimming, fishing and boating on the 245 acre Lake Jean. Rowboats, canoes, kayaks, and paddle boats can be rented during the summer months. The park has 10 cabins that can be rented year round, 120 individual campsites and a 240 person group campsite. For hikers, there are a total of 26 miles of hiking trails, including the Falls Trail. Some of the trails are open to equestrians, and in winter to cross country skiing and snowmobiling.
So if you are in the area, I highly recommend visiting Ricketts Glen State Park and the Falls Trail hike. Let me know if you agree that it is the prettiest park in a state with many worthy state parks.
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