If you are looking for a fall road trip that is a bit out of the ordinary, Ricketts Glen State Park is the perfect day trip for hikers, nature lovers and families in search of a mini-adventure. Located in Benton, PA, northwest of Wilkes-Barre, and approximately 2.5 hours from Newtown, the park is often described as one of the most idyllic areas in Pennsylvania.
The 13,000-acre park contains over 28 miles of gorgeous hiking trails where visitors can experience lush forests and diverse wildlife. But best of all, and what makes the park truly unique, is that it is home to a stunning 22 free-flowing waterfalls all of which can be easily seen in one day. The sheer number of falls visible within a 5-mile radius has helped the park earn its reputation as the ultimate waterfall experience in the eastern United States.
Ricketts Glen’s waterfalls were the main attraction for a local hotel from 1873-1903, and the park itself is named for the hotel’s proprietor, U.S. Army Colonel Robert Bruce Ricketts who was a Civil War artillery officer and businessman. Ricketts owned 80,000 acres of land in Pennsylvania which he intended to harvest for timber. However, when hikers in the area began to discover numerous falls on the land, he preserved much of it, building trails along the falls to attract local tourists to his hotel. After his death, Ricketts’s heirs began selling the land to the Pennsylvania Game Commission and in 1930 the area was approved as a national park. World War II curtailed those plans, but eventually, in 1944, the falls land was turned over to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to create a state park. The state continued to purchase additional land around the falls until the park was fully established.
The most popular hikes at Ricketts Glen are along the Falls Trail which boasts breathtaking waterfalls at virtually every turn. Nearly all of the park’s 22 falls can be seen via a 7-mile loop which takes approximately 3.5 to 5 hours to complete, leading hikers through huge rock formations and past the majestic Ganoga Falls, the highest waterfall in the park, at 94 feet. The more tranquil falls range in height from 10 to 40 feet but are just as impressive. While most visitors find the hike to be only moderately challenging, some visitors note that the trail has a few tricky areas, with steep steps and drop-offs, occasional slippery or muddy areas, and uneven terrain. The full loop is recommended for people who are in fairly good physical condition (so hit the elliptical or do a few extra squats at the gym before you go!) and for families with older children. There is also a shorter 3.2-mile loop along the Falls Trail that still allows hikers to experience most of the falls. For less adventurous hikers or families with young children, there are also a number of relatively easy (but equally scenic) trails. Evergreen Trail offers leisurely walking paths and Adams Falls which is considered one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the park. It is located just a few steps from the Evergreen parking area making it ideal for a quick visit.
Ricketts Glen is also home to Lake Jean, a serene 245-acre lake with a 600-foot beach area that is perfect for relaxing or having a picnic after a long day of hiking. Fishing is allowed at the lake which contains warm water game fish, panfish and trout. Swimming and boating are also allowed during the summer season, with rowboats, paddleboats, kayaks, canoes and paddleboards available for rental. For those looking for an extended visit, campsites and cabin rentals are available at reasonable rates.
The park is open 365 days a year from sunrise until sunset and offers free access to both the trails and the beach.
Though you may remember that catchy TLC song from the 90s that warned us “Don’t go chasing waterfalls”, with outdoor activities galore and spectacular scenery, Ricketts Glen is worth the chase!
1. Plan to arrive early in the day. The trails can become somewhat crowded in the afternoon, especially on weekends. The Lake Rose parking lot offers the closest access to the Falls Trail but fills up quickly during peak times.
2. Wear real hiking shoes or shoes with good tread. The trails are steep at times and the terrain can be uneven or slippery in places.
3. Stop by the visitors center for a map and information about the best way to navigate the trails so that the easiest part of your hike (i.e. the downhill portion!) is on your return.
4. Plan on bringing water, snacks and/or lunch as you will most likely be spending several hours, if not most of the day, in the park.
5. The best time to visit the park is after a rainfall when water levels are higher and the falls are more dramatic.