Jean in Ricketts Glen State Park in Benton, Pa.,
offers a picturesque place to boat and fish while
enjoying fall colors.
Pa. — Fresh air and blue skies are easy tonics for the
stressed-out city life. Still, I was in a pretty foul mood
when I rolled into Ricketts Glen State Park in this
scenic, woodsy corner of northeastern Pennsylvania.
distracted by my growling stomach and the country tunes
wailing on my car radio, I’d missed the rustic
carved-wood entrance sign opposite Red Rock Scoops ice
cream shop on Route 118. Google Maps had vaporized along
with my cellphone service and, seriously, who still keeps
paper maps in the glove box?
after a kindly park ranger provided step-by-step
directions to the Lake Rose Trailhead Parking lot, the
best place from which to start a hike to the park’s
famed Ganoga Falls, I’d managed to get turned around in
the wrong direction. (I later learned there’s a really
cool interactive map on the DCNR website that could have
come to my rescue.) A couple of times. But finally, I
found it. The road leading to Waterfall Heaven.
and a half miles north on PA Route 118 after it intersects
with Route 487 (look for the Red Rock Corner Store), up a
VERY steep mountain, Main Park Road snakes off to the
right. Five minutes later, I was backing into a space at
the crowded Lake Rose lot. Or so I thought: I’d actually
pulled into Beach Lot #2, where boaters, swimmers and
anglers go when planning a day on the park’s 245-acre
Lake Jean. This actually turned out OK for two reasons:
The concession stand had $3.25 cheeseburgers, and a
friendly couple from upstate New York I met in the parking
lot had great words of advice, along with directions to
where I wanted to go.
forget a water bottle, they cautioned, as there’s no
refreshment on the trail. And go for the 3.2-mile upper
loop of the Falls Trail instead of the 7.2-mile full loop,
which took the pair almost 3 hours to complete. You’ll
still see most of the good stuff, including the majestic
94-foot Ganoga Falls, in a picturesque glen among towering
pines, hemlocks and oaks, but with half the effort — a
physical exertion, they assured me with damp brows and
quivering legs, that’s quite substantial when you hike
the entire, rocky distance.
hiking it, I would recommend ditching the flip-flops and
sneakers for sturdier shoes or hiking boots and resist the
urge to take short cuts or venture out on ledges. Some of
the terrain is pretty treacherous.
hikers have been sweating their way through old-growth
timber to Ganoga Falls for decades, even before the park
and its many recreational facilities opened for business
in 1944. Discovered in the 1860s by fishermen exploring
Kitchen Creekin neighboring Luzerne County, they date to
the last ice age, when increased flow in the Huntington
Lake tributary from glaciers enlarged its drainage basin
and cut deep gorges.
wasn’t until Col. Robert Bruce Ricketts named and built
a system of trails connecting the series of 22 waterfalls
in the early 1890s, however, that they became one of
Pennsylvania’s treasures — and the ideal setting in
which to enjoy the fall colors.
Glen State Park — which covers more than 13,000 acres
over Columbia, Luzerne and Sullivan counties — is
gorgeous any time of year. But it’s particularly
fetching in autumn, when its many black tupelo (gum),
dogwood and oak trees — some more than 100 feet tall and
4 feet in diameter — turn glorious shades of brick-red,
maroon and brilliant scarlet. This year has provided a
very favorable growing season so trees across Penn’s
Woods are healthy and vigorous, assuring a very colorful
autumn; colors in and around Columbia County are expected
to peak between Oct. 8-14. (For a weekly fall foliage
or call the visitPA hotline at 1-800-847-4872.)
park also has a nice sense of history.
Civil War veteran who distinguished himself at the Battle
of Gettysburg, Col. Ricketts grew up in nearby
Orangeville, a tiny hamlet nearby that today is famous for
its twin covered bridges. Built in 1884, the picturesque
East and West Paden bridges are one of the only two
remaining twin covered bridges in the country.
the war (where he led the defense against a Confederate
attack on Cemetery Hill on July 2,1863), Col. Ricketts
starting buying timber land in Columbia, Luzerne and
Sullivan counties, eventually acquiring more than 88,000
acres. Much of it surrounded Ganoga Lake, Lake Jean and
what would eventually become known as the Ganoga Glen
member of the Wyoming Historical and Geological Society,
Col. Ricketts named many of the falls after the Indian
tribes that at one time lived in the area: Delaware,
Seneca, Tuscarora, Huron. Others wear the names of family
members or friends. Ganoga Falls, which cascades 94 feet
onto the rocks below, is the highest and most spectacular.
It means "water on the mountain" in the Seneca
his death, Col. Ricketts’ heirs sold much of the land to
the Pennsylvania Game Commission. But not all: It wasn’t
until 1942 that they finally sold 1,261 acres, the Falls
and the Glens area to the state for use as a state park.
The Glens became a registered National Natural Landmark in
1969, and in 1993 was slated a State Park Natural Area.
of the Glens’ 22 waterfalls, scattered along 26 miles of
trail marked by zig-zaggy switchbacks and dramatic
drop-offs, are visible from the Falls Trail. In all, there
are 11 individual well-marked trails that range from less
than a mile to more than seven, with varying difficulty
trails can be deceptive. A quarter of a mile into the
Falls Trail, with the very soft, fairly level terrain
cushioning my Mizunos, I was marveling at how great the
path would be for a trail run. Then I started down the
hill toward the first of the seven falls I’d eventually
encounter on my hike, Mohawk Falls, and all bets were off.
I was praying I wouldn’t slip on the velvety green moss
or twist an ankle on the narrow stone steps that at times
seem awfully close to the edge of the trail.
the hike is worth it. Photos taken with iPhones don’t do
justice to the sheer awesomeness of Ganoga Falls and its
thunderous cascade of water. I don’t think I’ve ever
seen a prettier sight in a state park, Niagara Falls
sketchy as it was going down, it was tougher still
climbing back up. Most of the hikers I passed on my
descent — many with walking sticks — didn’t look all
that happy. Their expressions read "I’m gonna
finish this" instead of "Having a great
kidding, of course. Hiking the trail is a great time and
you don’t have to be in particularly great shape to do
it. Along with kids (some on their parents’ backs),
seniors were well represented. From the Lake Rose
Trailhead lot, it took me about 30 minutes to hike down
and maybe 10 minutes longer to climb back up. And no trips
to the ER.
if you miss the fall colors, this park is a gem. Besides
hiking, the park offers swimming (May to September)
camping, boating, fishing, birding, hunting and riding
trails (BYO horse). In winter, there’s cross-country
skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing on Lake Jean,
snowmobiling and ice climbing up the falls.
when the park closes for the evening, or you’re simply
tired of hoofing it? There’s plenty of other ways to
spend a few happy hours in the area. Antiquing, wine
tasting, eating good food — it’s all part of the
package. Columbia County also is known for its many
YOU GO: RICKETTS GLEN STATE PARK
there: Ricketts Glen State Park is in Benton, Columbia
County, in the northeastern part of Pennsylvania. Park
hours are sunrise to sunset, year-round. Free parking and
hiking maps are available throughout.
Hiking and camping go hand in hand, so the park is happy
to oblige with 120 tent and trailer campsites, with access
to hot showers and flush toilets; there also are 10 cabins
for rent available year-round. Prices start at $19 for a
tent site that can accommodate up to a 30-foot trailer;
cabins cost $118 for a 2-night minimum (7-day minimum
during the peak summer season) and feature electric heat,
water, flush toilets, showers and small kitchens (www.pa.reserveworld.com;
your idea of a good night’s sleep instead includes
mattresses, linens and indoor plumbing, there are almost
two dozen motels and hotels to choose from within a
half-hour drive of the park, including the Econo Lodge and
Holiday Inn Express at Bloomsburg. From $80/night.
Ricketts Glen Hotel (rickettsglenhotel.net), one mile west
of the park on Route 118, has rooms starting at $49.95
(single with shared bath) and $61.05 (double with shared
bed-and-breakfast types, there are a dozen within easy
driving distance of the park, including the stellar Inn at
Turkey Hill in Bloomsburg (innatturkeyhill.com;
1-570-387-1500). The most luxurious rooms include
two-person whirlpool baths, and all come with a gourmet
breakfast ($128 and up.) There’s also fine dining on
site and the Turkey Hill Brewing Co. pub next door. If you
enjoy rural settings, the uber-romantic Pump House B&B
outside of Bloomsburg will delight with its lovely
creek-side rooms outfitted with antiques, tin ceilings and
exquisite spot-on renovation that merited a feature on
"This Old House." $125 and up.
drink and be merry: There aren’t scores of restaurants
to choose from in and around Ricketts Glen State Park, but
it’s still possible to get a good meal. The Ricketts
Glen Hotel offers upscale American and Italian specialties
at reasonable prices. The Old Filling Station in Benton
(140 Main St., 1-570-925-6556) also comes highly
recommended by locals, as does the Texas-style barbecue at
Smoke House Barb-B-Que (225 Center St., 1-570-925-6962).
Strevig’s Family Restaurant (4438 Red Rock Road,
1-570-925-0330) has traditional American fare. I had
surprisingly good spring rolls and spicy Pa-Nang Mango
with Prawns at Bloomn’ Thai, a private dining club in
Bloomsburg (442 East St.; a lifetime membership costs $1).
Ready Go Burrito (102 E. Main St.) has wraps and burgers
in addition to awesome (and cheap) tacos and quesadillas.
In addition to 26 miles of hiking trails that vary in
difficulty from very easy (Evergreen Trail) to difficult
(Falls Trail), the park offers fishing and boating on
245-acre Lake Jean. Other ways to spend the day include
antiquing, shopping for seasonal goodies at local farm
stands and tastings at several wineries, including Colonel
Ricketts Hard Cider Winery in Benton. Columbia County also
is famous for its 25 covered bridges.
information: www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks or
County information: www.itourcolumbiamontour.com or