By Annalie Mallon, Ashland School Program Coordinator
Waterfalls, wild blueberries, black bear warnings, and winner of the 2018 Pennsylvania River of the year! What more could you possibly ask for on a summer trip into the Pennsylvania wilderness? Every summer the Delaware Nature Society’s Teen Naturalists head out for a week-long adventure, and these are just some of the things that were encountered on this year’s trip.
Earlier this month, the teens and leaders (Courtney McKinley, Lauren Powell, and myself) embarked on a 4-day backpacking trip through the Loyalsock State Forest in northern Pennsylvania. After stuffing our packs to a full 40 pounds each with food, supplies, and gear, we were excited to see what this week in the wild would bring us. Our plan was to hike a popular section of the Loyalsock Trail, a rugged trail weaving its way through the state forest for 59 miles. We were going to hike the trail starting at Dutchman falls, branch off of it to hike the Link trail that travels through Worlds End State park, and then reconnect with the Loyalsock, circling back to where we started, thus creating a 25 mile loop (DCNR map below).
Prior to the start of our trip we had been persistently checking the weather forecast in hopes of seeing nothing but four days of gorgeous sunny skies and no humidity. Instead what we were presented with was a forecast for severe thunderstorms, heavy rain, and damaging winds. During our drive up the PA turnpike it occurred to us that we may not want to get stuck in the backcountry in heavy rain and damaging winds with nothing but the gear on our backs. Our plan for day 1 was quickly rearranged and we decided to start our trip in Worlds End State Park at a group campsite and cross our fingers that the forecast would change so we could start backpacking on Tuesday.
When we arrived at Worlds End we were greeted by a gorgeous valley full of pines and ferns snaking its way along the Loyalsock Creek. We set up camp and decided to find a place along the creek to swim and eat. Cheerful that we did not yet have to carry our heavy packs on our backs, we found a sunny spot next to the roaring creek scattered with smooth stones and perfect sitting rocks. We swam in the cold mountain water and created small rock cairns while we ate our hoagie dinners. A perfect start to our week!
Tuesday morning welcomed us with (shockingly) more sun. With no cell reception we took a short trip to the park visitor center to check the most updated forecast, but to our dismay it had gotten even worse! Tuesday afternoon was apparently bringing several storms and Wednesday was bringing heavy rains, winds, and possible hail. To backpack or not to backpack, that was becoming the major question. After discussing the pros and cons of the situation we changed our plans for the second time that week. We decided to hike, sans backpacks, the Canyon Vista Trail in the state park; a 4 mile loop that takes you up to an elevation of 1,750 feet with stunning views of the creek below. The climb was definitely worth it, the views were spectacular, and the trail itself meandered through a thick deciduous forest scattered with fungi, ferns, and trickling mountain springs. We enjoyed our lunch with a view at the peak and then visited the rock garden where we tested our fear of heights by jumping across crevices, and also explored caves in massive boulders.
It was around this time that the storms finally started rolling in. We quickly started to make our way back down the mountain, picking up our pace with each crack of thunder that came from overhead. I truly don’t think anyone has ever scrambled 2.5 miles down a rocky mountain trail as quickly as we did in that short 30 minute stretch. Upon catching our breaths and rehydrating at the bottom of the trail we decided that whatever the forecast did or did not predict, we certainly did NOT want to get caught in thunderstorms while in the backcountry. So instead of backpacking that afternoon….
We got ice cream and went swimming instead!!
I know what you must be thinking at this point, this is SO not a true Teen Naturalist adventure trip into the wilderness. Family campgrounds with actual bathrooms, not carrying 40-pound packs on our backs, and now Ice Cream?? Believe me, we would have LOVED backpacking those 25 miles if it wasn’t for that darn weather forecast! But alas, weather is weather, so of course we visited the Worlds End State Park swimming hole and ice cream shop. The creek water was FREEZING but oh so refreshing after our fast paced descent down the mountain. The sun had also come back out so we were quite content. While swimming, we started to brainstorm some plan C options for the afternoon and evening (remember, storms and rain still in the forecast). We officially decided to leave Worlds End and head south to Ricketts Glen State Park!
If you have never visited Ricketts Glen State Park, I highly recommend you do. It makes for a perfect weekend camping trip with beautiful trails and excellent waterfalls. We found an awesome campsite (somehow we scored a site right on Lake Jean!), and set up camp for the night. Then we found the blueberries. Oh. My. Goodness. The wild blueberries. They were EVERYWHERE. Bushes just bursting with the sweetest, yummiest, freshest blueberries. We spent a majority of our time that evening picking and devouring the little berries, and once again we were not complaining that we were not backpacking.
Wednesday morning brought nothing but clear skies once again, so we decided to hike the famous Falls Trail in the park. The full trail is a 7.2 mile loop with 21 gorgeous waterfalls ranging in heights from 11 feet to 94 feet. We hiked the smaller 3.2 mile loop that follows two separate branches of Kitchen Creek as it cuts down through the Glen Leigh and Ganoga Glen valleys and comes together at “Waters Meet”. The sedimentary rocks that are exposed throughout the hike were formed over 370 million years ago and the waterfalls that cut through the rocks are magnificent. We spent the hike enjoying the falls, looking for salamanders, and even came across a HUGE snapping turtle!
After finishing our hike we enjoyed a picnic lunch, a small catnap on a lakeside beach, and more swimming, and then (SURPRISE!) made another new plan. We now were headed to our third PA state park of the trip; Hickory Run State Park! The campsite we chose was surrounded by pines and located next to a lovely trickling mountain stream. Unhindered (okay, maybe just a tad hindered) by the park ranger’s warnings of a “major bear problem,” we enjoyed our first lovely blazing campfire of the week with some classic scary stories and marshmallows before heading to our tents for our final sleep.
We awoke Thursday to our last day of perfect weather, and with bittersweet feelings we began to say our goodbyes to the gorgeous PA wilderness and start our journey home. Reflecting on our wild week full of last minute plans and reminiscing on some favorite Teen Naturalist trips of the past, our van ride went by in a snap and we pulled into the Ashland driveway with nothing but smiling faces (perhaps due to the fact that we did not end up backpacking 25 miles).
If you know a teenager, who is 13 – 17 years of age, that would like to join the Delaware Nature Society Teen Naturalists, please contact me at (302) 239-2334 ext. 120. The Teen Naturalists meet once per month, study nature, adventure outside, and go on a trip like this every August.