When exploring the vast hiking opportunities in Luzerne County, the two state parks situated on either side of the county, Ricketts Glen and Hickory Run, should be at the top of your list. Located here are two of Pennsylvania’s 27 National Natural Landmarks, America’s designation that honors and conserves places of outstanding natural history. The Boulder Field in Hickory Run State Park and The Glen Natural Area in Ricketts Glen State Park are these two jewels, although there are many more miles of great hiking in-between.
The Boulder Field in Hickory Run State Park features an amazing 400-foot wide and 1,800-foot long expanse of boulders, ranging in size from several inches to more than twenty feet in diameter. The flatness and the expanse of the field, minus any vegetation whatsoever, are mind-blowing. The boulders are remains of an ancient landscape left from the Ice Age, and reminiscent of what Pennsylvania looked like about 15,000 years ago. Children love to hop across the boulders and it’s an ideal spot to enjoy a picnic lunch, soaking up the warmth on a flat boulder. Another feature not to miss in the park is the hike to stunning 25-foot Hawk Falls. Trails total forty miles.
In Ricketts Glen State Park, hikers can enjoy some of the best waterfalls in the entire eastern United States, as well as old growth hemlocks. There are twenty-one falls along the Falls Trail alone in The Glen Natural Area. These are not small drops, either, with the highest at ninety-four feet of liquid thunder. My favorite way to see the waterfalls is to do the Falls Trail loop, down the west side of Kitchen Creek to Where Waters Meet, and then up the east side and back across at the top. You can also continue to wander down the stream towards Route 118 to see many beautiful old growth trees. Some tower 100 feet in height, with an age span of 500 years. Ancient giants lying on their sides are up to 900 years old.
The sound of the water changes as you cover the distance: powerful and slamming over the brink of falls like a locomotive; then chatty and babbling over rocks and rapids. On the calm stretches, the water is just a soft murmur. Take your time down the fabulously engineered stone steps that transport you up and down the glens, with the help of a hiking pole or two. You become acquainted with the different types of falls: bridal-veil falls have one single spectacular drop, whereas wedding cake falls have a connected series of drops. There are abundant wildflowers and the Ireland-green moss is soft as velvet. This glen was once slated to become a national park but, instead, is a feather in the cap of our state park system. Twenty-six mils of trails are featured in Ricketts Glen SP.
Two of the best trails to ride bike in Luzerne County (or right next door!) is the D&L (Delaware and Lehigh) Canal Trail in Lehigh Gorge State Park and the Susquehanna Warrior Trail in the center of the county, both are for cyclists and pedestrians. The 12.5-mile Susquehanna Warrior Trail follows the west bank of the Susquehanna River between US Route 11 and the mighty river along the corridor of the old Delaware, Lehigh and Western railroad beds. The 26-mile converted D&L extends from Jim Thorpe to White Haven, through Lehigh Gorge State Park. The beauty of a canal and rail-trail is the gentle grade, and if you follow the river downstream, the grade will be slightly downhill. You don’t need a sophisticated, many-geared mountain bike, even a children’s bicycle will roll fine, so the whole family can come out and enjoy these trails.
There were twenty dams and 29 locks constructed along the 26-mile stretch of the D&L, known as the “Upper Grand Section.” The canals were dug to overcome a 300-foot rise. There are locks to explore with their huge carved stones, as well as sections of the old canal towpath. Towering rhododendron bushes border the entire trail, which are in full bloom in June. The bushes climb up and cover the sandstone cliffs, which reach up to 80 feet. Fifty-foot high Buttermilk Falls is a great trail-side stop, the largest and most impressive of the many waterfalls that cut through the canyon’s sandstone.
The mighty rolling Susquehanna is your near constant companion on the Susquehanna Warrior Trail, which travels right north of Berwick through Shickshinny to Nanticoke. You often ride high above the river affording exceptional views of its wide green expanse. There’s some cool history along the way with a historic sanitorium (now a prison), a junkyard or two and a firing range (perfectly safe with a high embankment). A film at the drive-in movie theatre along the trail would make the perfect ending of a day spent exploring Luzerne County’s trails.