Ricketts Glen State Park is a Pennsylvania state park that protects more than 13,000 acres in Columbia, Luzerne, and Sullivan counties. A National Natural Landmark, the park holds old-growth forest and more than 20 named waterfalls along Kitchen Creek. This hike takes you to 18 of them.
So many waterfalls in such close proximity! How many times have I hiked several miles for just one beautiful waterfall? Ricketts Glen State Park offers 18 for just a 3.2 mile hike! It’s no surprise this is the most popular trail in one of the most popular state parks in Pennsylvania!
Don’t Let the Reviews Stop You
Reviews about this trail caution that the hike is “dangerous” and “difficult.” Indeed. In rainy weather, the trail is slippery. But this trail is not all that difficult, as it turns out. Sure, you’ll encounter some steep stairs built into the trail, so if you’re not in the best of shape, a walking stick helps. We hiked slowly, both to take lots of photos and to soak in the beauty, but also because it was slippery in the rain. As it turns out, that’s the way to do this hike.
Because Ricketts Glen State Park is a 4 hours away from my home, we decided to make it a long weekend in the Poconos. I’d hoped for a great and glorious last gasp of summer over Labor Day weekend, but instead the day of the hike dawned humid and threatened to rain.
We arrived by 9:30 a.m., and as we started ascending the mountain road to Ricketts Glen State Park, we hit a wall of dense fog. Visibility dropped to about 20 feet. I crossed my fingers and continued to hope for no rain. As for fog — well… I love fog, actually. It makes photography fun, and enhances the mystery of the forest.
The Trail to Take in Ricketts Glenn State Park
For a challenging but lovely 3.2-mile loop hike, follow these ranger-approved directions:
- Started on the Highland Trail, veering right from the trail head to meet the Glen Leigh trail.
- The Glen Leigh travels past eight waterfalls and on down to “Waters Meet.”
- At Water’s Meet, pick up the trail leading back up the side of the mountain through Canoga Glen and past another 10 waterfalls, including the 94-foot spectacular Canoga Waterfalls.
- Finally, take the Highland Trail (which seems blissfully level after the step ascent) and the parking lot.
It only took us 3-1/2 hours — and that included carefully traversing rain-slicked rock steps with three scaredy-cat dogs — to see all of the falls on the trail.
Go slowly and carefully down the steps — this is the scariest part, because a slip could land you 30 feet below in some places. The trail builders thought railings were for sissies.
More About Ricketts Glen State Park
The park’s waterfalls were the main attractions for a local hotel from 1873 to 1903 and in fact, the park is named for the hotel’s proprietor, R. Bruce Ricketts. A successful business man who took advantage of one the earliest eco-tourism ventures, Ricketts built the trail along the waterfalls, the better to attract tourists to his hotel. By the 1890s, Ricketts controlled over 80,000 acres — about 120 square miles. He made his fortune clear-cutting almost all of that land, including much of what is now the park. Thankfully, he preserved about 2,000 acres of virgin forest in the creek’s three glens.
The Glens Natural Area has 8 named waterfalls in Glen Leigh and 10 in Ganoga Glen, these come together at Waters Meet; downstream in Ricketts Glen there are four to six named waterfalls. The park has four rock formations from the Devonian and Carboniferous periods, and is home to a wide variety of plants and animals. Other than salamanders, we didn’t notice any wildlife.
The Hike Itself
Even on a foggy, raining morning, there was no solitude. We saw three different small groups head down the trail while we were still getting our hats on and the dog leashes attached. As it started raining, we passed couples headed back to the parking lot which we assumed were discouraged by the rain — which really wasn’t all that miserable, since the leaf canopy caught most of the rain, and wisely, for once, we’d worn hats that kept it out of our eyes.
Although most of the Highland Trail we traveled in solitude, it seemed once we hit the Glen Leigh trail, and the start of the waterfalls, we encountered groups steadily, including two large groups of at least 15 people. You will share the trail with many others. I can only imagine how crowded it would be on a sunny fair-weather weekend!
Know Before You Go
A 7-mile hike leads to all 21 waterfalls. If you prefer a shorter hike, you could add maybe another mile — half mile there and back — and tack on a side trip to see the remaining 3 falls, if 18 isn’t enough and avoid that long 7-miler.
Go during leaf-peeping season — the trail would be amazing with a leaf color spectacular!
This can be a tricky trail for dogs. Bring them if they’re sure-footed and good with strangers. If they’re old or sensitive or afraid of people, leave them at home for this hike. The rock stairs — and these dominate two of the three miles of the hike — can be challenging.
Rickett’s Glen Visitor Center is located off of RT 487. There, you will find maps, notices of current happenings and events, real bathrooms, a little gift area and some helpful rangers. A helpful park employee provided us with a trail map and detailed directions to find the parking lot at the trail head — it’s clear she’s given these directions before!
Getting there: The visitor’s center is located at 695 S.R. 487, Benton, PA
Hours: daily, daylight
Website: Ricketts Glen
For other great things to see and do in the Poconos, check out the list below:
- Eckley Miners Village
- Lehigh Valley Gorge Rail Trail
- No. 9 Coal Mine
- UTVing through the snow
Loving waterfalls? Check out these waterfalls MidAtlantic DayTrips has visited!