Waterfall Paradise: Tips for Hiking the Falls Trail in Ricketts Glen State Park
Hiking the Falls Trail in Ricketts Glen State Park was at the top of my Pennsylvania bucket list for as long as I had one. So, when I was planning a trip to Northeastern Pennsylvania during the fall, I knew that a visit to Ricketts Glen was in order.
Ricketts Glen State Park is located mostly in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, with small sections in Sullivan County and Columbia County. The park covers 13,000 acres of land and features 26 miles of Ricketts Glen hiking trails, two lakes, and a great camp ground. However, the highlight of the park is the Falls Trail.
Featuring 21 waterfalls, the Falls Trail in Ricketts Glen State Park is one of the best hikes in all of Pennsylvania, and, as perhaps the best hike in Ricketts Glen, is the main reason many visit the park. The 7.2-mile trail has a reputation as being super difficult and dangerous. Truthfully, though, as long as you exercise common sense, the trail really isn’t that bad. I was a bit worried that my out-of-shape self would struggle with the trail, but I found it to be much easier than expected.
That being said, the trail does feature many steep drop offs, uneven stairs cut into the rocks, and slippery conditions when wet. Proper footwear is necessary when hiking the trail, in addition to the usual precautions when hiking anywhere.
If you are thinking of hiking the Falls Trail during the winter season (roughly mid-November to mid-April), the park requires hikers to have crampons, ropes, and an ice ax, as well as to check in prior to starting. You can read about my winter hiking at Ricketts Glen with Valley to Summit, a wilderness adventure company that supplies all of the necessary gear
With 22 waterfalls in the Ricketts Glen State Park, it would be impossible to cover them all in one article. So, this is the first article in a four-part series. In this article, we’ll talk about a few tips for visiting the park, my recommendation for how to hike the trails, and other waterfalls in and near Ricketts Glen that are worth visiting.
Here are the other articles in the series:
First off, the best time to hike the Falls Trail in Ricketts Glen is on weekdays when school is in session (April-May and September-October). If you visit during the summer, on a weekend, or, even worse, on a summer weekend, expect to share the trail with hundreds of other hikers.
The traditional parking area for the Falls Trail is along Route 118. From here, the trail heads uphill past three waterfalls to an area known as Waters Meet, where the trail splits in two. Whichever way you go, there is a connector trail at the top, so you don’t have to come back down the way you came up.
While this is the way that almost all visitors trek, I don’t believe that it’s the best choice for most. Instead, drive to the top of the glens and park at the Lake Rose Trailhead Parking Lot. Parking here will allow you to still see all 21 waterfalls along the Falls Trail while cutting off roughly 2.5 miles of hiking.
After parking your car at the Lake Rose Trailhead, follow the trail at the bottom left of the lot. The beginning of the trail is a pleasant walk through the woods. After about 5 minutes of hiking, you’ll come to a trail split. Take the trail to the right and head into Ganoga Glen. While you could also go left and head over to Glen Leigh, Ganoga Glen seems like the better one to descend.
Once you make the turn towards Ganoga Glen, the trail starts to get steep. You’ll come to the first waterfall, Mohawk Falls, within a few minutes. From here, you’ll pass the 10 waterfalls of Ganoga Glen within less than a mile of walking. In many ways, it doesn’t even feel like you are hiking, as the waterfalls are so close together that you’ll find yourself stopping every few minutes.
It’s along this glen that you’ll find Ganoga Falls. At 94-feet tall, this is the tallest waterfall in the park and one of the tallest in Pennsylvania.
After passing the 10 waterfalls of Ganoga Glen, you’ll reach an area known as Waters Meet. It is here that the streams of Kitchen Creek meet. This is a great area to rest and just take in the beauty of Ricketts Glen State Park.
When you’re ready to go, you have two choices. If you cross the bridge, you can head up Glen Leigh. However, first, head downstream towards Route 118 because three of the park’s best waterfalls are within the first half mile of this trail. These three waterfalls are some of the most beautiful in the park and definitely should not be skipped.
Once you’ve checked out these three waterfalls, head back upstream to Waters Meet, and cross the bridge to head up Glen Leigh. The path up Glen Leigh contains several bridges across the creek and alternates in a series of relatively flat sections and steep climbs around the waterfalls.
On the mile-long trek up Glen Leigh, you’ll pass eight waterfalls, the tallest of which is the 60-foot Ozone Falls. I found the waterfalls of Glen Leigh to be a bit less dramatic than Ganoga Glen, but I’m really splitting hairs at this point as they are all very beautiful.
After you’ve passed seven of the waterfalls in Glen Leigh, you’ll see a sign for a shortcut to the Highland Trail. Skip this trail because you’ll miss the small, but beautiful Onondaga Falls, while only saving about five minutes.
Instead, pick up the Highland Trail from just above Onondaga Falls. The 1.2-mile long Highland Trail will take you back to your car and passes through the Midway Crevasse, a narrow opening in the rocks.
The trail is fairly easy to follow, but make sure to bear right at the trail split, or you’ll find yourself heading back down Ganoga Glen.
After hiking the Falls Trail in Ricketts Glen State Park, you might think that you never want to see another waterfall again. Suppress that thought, as there are four easy to reach waterfalls near Ricketts Glen that you should visit, as well as a few that are harder to see.
The first two are located in State Game Lands 13, which is just across the road from the park. Heading down the narrow dirt road into the game lands, you’ll pass the roadside Big Run Falls before coming to a parking area. From here, it’s a short hike to the very, very impressive Sullivan Falls. Click the link for directions and information about visiting the waterfalls in State Game Lands 13.
If you are looking for a challenge, you can also explore the other 20 or so waterfalls in State Game Lands 13. Start with a hike on Heberly Run to see three of the best.
Either after visiting these waterfalls or instead of visiting them, head down towards Route 118. The one advantage of parking in the lots down here is that you are close to the other two waterfalls of Ricketts Glen State Park: Adams Falls and Kitchen Creek Falls. However, driving back down to see them is a better choice than hiking an extra 2.5 miles, in my opinion.
Park at the Evergreen Parking area, near the kid-friendly Evergreen Trail in Ricketts Glen, and head just a few feet down the trail to see the very awesome Adams Falls. Many people I know consider this the best waterfall in the park, and it’s not to be missed. More information about visiting Adams Falls can be found here.
The last waterfall in the park is Kitchen Creek Falls. This waterfall is not only the smallest waterfall in the park, but it’s also hidden under the road. However, if you want to see it, very carefully cross Route 118 and look under the bridge to see this surprisingly impressive waterfall.
If you visit all the waterfalls listed here, you’ll be able to see 25 waterfalls in one amazing day that you won’t soon forget.
Want to see even more Pennsylvania waterfalls? Visit our page full of the best waterfalls in PA!