Contributed by Katie Levy, Adventure-Inspired
Pennsylvania’s Ricketts Glen State Park is best known for its stunning waterfalls, babbling brooks, access to nature, deep gorges and generally stunning scenery. The park’s campgrounds are perfect places to spend a warm weather weekend away from it all. Summer is a pretty spectacular time of year for waterfall watching and hiking at Ricketts Glen, but it’s also a great park to visit in the winter. Though the waterfalls look familiar and the trails are as beautiful as ever, the park is an entirely new world during cold weather months. It can be a real treat to visit if you’re adequately prepared.
Winter Activities at Ricketts Glen
Though some of my favorite warm weather activities like swimming in Lake Jean are out, there’s still a ton to do in the park in the winter. Hiking is always an option, and footpaths like the Mountain Springs Trail (4 miles, difficult) and Cherry Run Trail (4.6 miles, difficult) are great choices. The popular 7.2 mile Falls Trail is closed in winter to all except hikers and ice climbers with adequate equipment (see “tips to prepare” below), but if you are properly equipped, it’s one of the most spectacular winter hikes in the region.
A handful of friends and I visited Ricketts Glen on New Year’s Day several years ago and it was an unforgettable trip. Some of the waterfalls had almost frozen entirely and the Falls Trail was like a giant, winding skating rink. We took our time, passing safely through the park with crampons and ice axes, marveling at how much the landscape changes in the winter.
On separate trips, I got in some of my first and most memorable ice climbs. Ricketts Glen is an ideal area for ice climbing due to the sheer number of climbable formations available in good years. When it gets cold and stays cold enough in Northeastern Pennsylvania for ice to form and last, the variety and number of climbs available is unparalleled in the area.
Camping is available in some parts of Ricketts Glen year round while the park’s trail systems and roads offer great cross country skiing and snowshoeing opportunities. If hiking, climbing and skiing aren’t your cup of tea, there’s always ice fishing on Lake Jean if the ice is more than four inches thick.
Tips to Prepare for Your Visit
Before you head out, do your homework. Download the trail map on your Pocket Ranger® app and be sure to check the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources winter report for Ricketts Glen before you leave. (If you’re planning on ice fishing, the winter report will tell you how thick the ice is.) Make sure you understand the type of equipment and clothing you need to stay warm and safe on your visit.
Though it goes without saying, be sure to bring proper equipment. Parts of the Falls Trail are completely covered in feet of ice, which is navigable if you have the right gear. If you’re planning on hiking, wear crampons, bring hiking poles and/or a mountaineering ice axe and take extreme caution on the trails. Learn how to wear crampons and how to walk on solid ice and steep ice without falling. Heed the warning signs at the trailheads, which remind visitors that some trails are closed during the winter to all except registered ice climbers and experienced, properly equipped hikers. The consequences of a slip on the ice and a fall into one of the gorges can be dire.
When you get to the park, pay attention to your surroundings. Though the ice is beautiful, it’s also impermanent. On our New Year’s Eve visit in 2011, Pennsylvania was hit by a warm spell and though the waterfalls looked climbable, large chunks broke off while we were there. Stay in safe areas and be aware of falling ice.
And of course, don’t forget to have fun! If you’ve never ice climbed before and want to try, guiding services provided by outfits like the Bloomsburg University Quest program are great options. Philadelphia-based TerraMar Adventures occasionally runs winter ice trips in conjunction with BU Quest.
Who’s been to Ricketts Glen in the winter? Sound off in the comments!