In recent years, I realized I missed connecting with nature; something I did more in my youth. Seeing God’s handiwork as I explore new vistas clears my head, soothes my soul, and heals my heart. Hiking is my favorite way to enjoy the outdoors; especially walking established trails at some of our state and national parks. Despite all the metaphorical things about making your own path in life, when it comes to a forest; I will stick to the road traveled. Otherwise my lack of sense of direction would likely find me dead from dehydration or eaten by a bear.
One trail I have wanted to do for years is the waterfall trail at Ricketts Glen State Park. This trail features 21 waterfalls along a 7.2 mile hike. This year my husband and I decided to spend our anniversary weekend exploring this Pennsylvania Park. I found us a super cute cabin nearby on TripAdvisor to rent for our time there. (Though we spent 2 nights, the drive from State College is roughly 2 hours. This could easily be a day trip).
We enjoyed our first night there just scoping out the park in general and enjoying dinner at the Rickett’s Glen Hotel. I cannot stress enough how delicious our meal was this restaurant! If you are in the area I highly recommend stopping by for dinner. Just make sure to make a reservation as their website suggests. If we had not, we would not have gotten seated, as the place was packed.
Sunday we got up early ready to hike! There are two options to park your vehicle and access the trail. There is a big parking lot right off of Route 118. A lot of people start from here and you can do that. You will walk the entire 7.2 mile trail loop doing this. If you want to save roughly 2 miles of hiking and still see all the waterfalls, head to the Lake Rose Trailhead parking lot. We chose Lake Rose, and heard that this lot fills up quickly on weekends in the summer. We arrived there just shy of 8:30 am and it was nice and empty.
We followed the signs from the parking lot to the trail entrance and were on our way. Just after a short distance, the path came to a fork. Doing some research ahead, we decided to go right and descend the Ganoga Glen side. I am so glad we did this for two reasons. The first is that this way got us to the first waterfall a lot quicker. The second is this side seemed pretty steep. There were some tricky parts to go down, but I kept thinking, “I am so glad I don’t have to walk this back up.” The Glen Leigh side did require going up hill, but overall seemed easier to ascend.
It didn’t talk long before the first waterfall, Mohawk Falls, greeted us. We climbed down beside the cascading water and layers of rocks to enjoy this beauty. I kept thinking if this was the first one, I couldn’t wait to see the rest.
After that we just kept going down the trail and we never had to go very far before coming across another waterfall. Even along the path when there are no falls to admire, the wooded setting in itself is magical. I kept half expecting to see wood nymphs or fairies jump out at me.
It never felt as if we were doing this huge hike as we were stopping every few minutes to admire a waterfall, snap a picture, or just take in the surroundings. We had to be careful though and watch our steps. Since we were following water the entire time, there were plenty of slippery spots. There were steep parts, and even some rock stairs that reminded me of hiking the Thousand Steps.
Ganoga Glen Falls is on this part of the trail and is the tallest at 94 feet. We approached this one from the top. The trail does take you to the bottom of the falls, and there are some other points along the way that allowed us to get closer this magnificent waterfall.
Eventually we came to a split in the trail by a bridge; with two directional choices. What we did, and I recommend, is to keep going straight (or right). Do not cross the bridge; just yet. This is the path that leads to the Route 118 parking lot; but there are three of the waterfalls not far down this part of the trail. They are worth the visit, are only about half a mile away, and are relatively close to each other. We visited those 3 falls, then turned around and headed back to the bridge area. This time when we got there we went over the bridge to explore the Glen Leigh trail.
The Glen Leigh part of the trail had a few less waterfalls but then the Ganoga Glen side, but was just as impressive scenery. By this time of the day the trail had more visitors, but it was never so crowded that we couldn’t get a picture that we wanted.
At one point towards the end you will see a sign that offers you a shortcut to the Highland Trail. Even though you need this trail to get back to the Lake Rose parking lot, don’t take it. You will miss Onondaga Falls and it only saves you a few minutes.
After Onondaga Falls, we followed the signs along the trail back to the Lake Rose parking lot. It was an easy 10-15 minute walk through the woods. Overall our adventure lasted about 3.5 hours. We may have done it sooner if we had not been stopping so much to admire the landscape, or to snap a photograph.
Below are some maps that may help if planning a visit. First is what you may see if you were to start at the bottom of the trail from the Route 118 parking lot.
This one I found online, and it lists all the waterfalls and their heights. The brown dotted path shows the falls trail. I put arrows in red to indicate the path we hiked.
When you are back in your car I do recommend heading down towards the Route 118 parking lot. Right across the street is another small parking lot, and park in either lot. From the smaller lot is a trail that a short walk to Adams Falls. A beautiful waterfall and a favorite of many who visit the park.
Now you want to go yourself? Excellent and I highly recommend! First, and most importantly, wear comfortable and sturdy shoes. I would not say this trail was difficult but it’s not easy either. As mentioned before, there are parts of the trail that are steep, as well as several slippery spots. Use caution and be aware of where you are stepping at all times. Footwear like flip flops could easily cause you to slip and fall. Last year I invested in a good pair of waterproof hiking shoes; and they are one of my best purchases ever. Don’t forget to check the weather and dress accordingly as well.
Next, pack a light backpack with a some necessities. Pack water, tissues, bug spray, protein bars (or some sort of snack), and your camera (or phone) for pictures. Though I did just fine without it, there were times I wish I had a hiking stick or some sort of trekking pole. I wouldn’t go purchase one but take if you have already. There were a few times I used trees or the ground for leverage. Finally, there are no restrooms along the trail. The parking lots have them, so be sure to go before you begin your hike.
Feel free to contact me if you are considering exploring this gem of Pennsylvania and have any questions.