When you go to Ricketts Glen State Park in the far northern reaches of Columbia County for a hike, you might think it is about the walk, but it is not. It is about the water, the voice of the water. It will consume you, as it should, for in this magnificent glen are some of the best waterfalls in the entire eastern United States. There are twenty-one falls along the Falls Trail alone. These are not small drops either – they range up to 94 feet of liquid thunder.
My favorite way to see the waterfalls is to do the Falls Trail loop, down the west side of Kitchen Creek through Ganoga Glen to Where Waters Meet, and then up the east side and back across at the top. You can also continue to wander down the stream towards Rt. 118 to see many beautiful old growth trees. Some tower 100 feet in height, with an age span of 500 years. Ancient giants lying on their sides are up to 900 years old.
The sound of the water changes as you cover the distance: powerful and slamming over the brink of falls like a locomotive; then chatty and babbling over rocks and rapids. On the calm stretches, the water is just a soft murmur. You take your time down the fabulously engineered stone steps that transport you up and down the glens, with the help of a hiking pole or two. You become acquainted with the different types of falls: bridal-veil falls have one single spectacular drop, whereas wedding cake falls have a connected series of drops. Pause to admire the wildflowers and the Ireland-green moss that is as soft as velvet. This glen was once slated to become a national park but, instead, is a feather in the cap of the Pennsylvania state park system and is a registered National Natural Landmark.
After this excellent 7.2-mile loop, take a leisurely drive down the narrow gravel road though Pennsylvania State Gamelands #13. This two-wheel road leaves the summit of Red Rock Mountain and heads five miles to the forgotten lumbering town of Jamison, a ghost town of sorts. The drive feels like wilderness as you pass by a short hiking trail to Sullivan Falls. There are 31 miles of other trails in this massive 50,000-acre Gamelands area.
Once you admire the fascinating old wood frame buildings around Jamison and the nearby town of Central, make your destination the Brass Pelican Inn outside Benton. Dine on the famous sourdough buckwheat cakes, available all day long, made from a batch of starter more than 30 years old.
In the southern part of Columbia County, the Roaring Creek Tract of Weiser State Forest also offers excellent hiking. There are 40 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and cross-country skiing. An 8-mile trail on an old fire road runs along the watershed. In addition, four historic miner trails from the 19th century have been revitalized and are marked for visitors to follow.
For more information:
Columbia-Montour Tourism: iTourColumbiaMontour.com.