Rickett’s Glen State Park, deep in the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania, has an absolutely stunning waterfalls trail. The Falls Trail is a 7.2 mile loop trail with an almost 1,100-foot elevation change that will take you on a tour of 21 AMAZING waterfalls. TWENTY-ONE!
It is, however, a very challenging hiking trail. I’ve seen folks take this one on in flip-flops. I passed a lady last year doing it barefooted. You’re welcomed to do that if you’d like. I’m not going to try to stop you. The reality is though, that this trail has some very tricky terrain with a typical Pennsylvania-forest rockiness. It’s got some serious incline and the rocks you’ll be clambering over are often wet and slick…something a set of crocs or flops could glide right over instead of providing the grip you’ll need to not become the next casualty. So, before you go, consider your footwear wisely.
This hike takes some time. When we’re visiting regularly, we can get our time down to about 2 1/2 hours. Make sure you take enough water to sustain yourself that long and keep the temperature in mind. The flowing water keeps that area of the park reasonably cool, but if it’s a blisteringly hot day, it’s going to be pretty darned balmy in there too, so plan your water supply accordingly.
Be sure to either grab a map or snap a quick photo of it with your phone. This is a good rule of thumb regardless of where you’re hiking. There are a good number of trails that branch off from the main Falls Trail loop, so you’ll want that to check in on to make sure you’re going in the right direction.
The map also lists off the waterfalls by name and height and serves as a nice guide as you’re climbing the mountain (and wondering why you would do something that to yourself and just how many more waterfalls you’ll have to pass before you’ve FINALLY made it to the top).
Hiking the Falls Trail the “easy” way
So, there is no easy way to enjoy hiking the Falls Trail. It’s challenging regardless of how you do it. However, the very best way to take on this behemoth is to park at the bottom of the mountain in one of the parking lots along route 118 and work your way up the mountain first. That way you will have tackled that 1,100-foot incline while you’ve still got the energy to do so.
Take the main trailhead off of the north-bound side of route 118 or across the street from the south-bound side and start working your way up the mountain. When you get to where the waters meet (it’s actually called that and is on that map you should have grabbed ?), continue straight up the mountain. It’s steeper than taking the path to the right, across the bridge, but it does level off in spots and it’s a shorter, more enjoyable climb. The other trail isn’t quite as steep but it also never really levels off.
Continue following the Falls Trail up the mountain until it connects with the Highland Trail.
*If you need to use the restroom, there are facilities at the Lake Rose parking lot, which is just .2 of a mile from there via the short, marked path to the left.
If you’ve stopped to use the loo, make your way back to the Highland Trail and follow that until it connects with the Glen Leigh trail. Turn right onto Glen Leigh and meander that until it connects again where the waters meet. Take a left past the bridge and enjoy the last couple miles of your hike.
The 3.5-mile condensed version
Another option is to park at the Lake Rose parking lot at the top of the mountain and do the main loop from there. That will shave almost four, relatively flat miles off of the hike (making it just about 3.5 miles round trip). You’ll also miss out on ogling three of the waterfalls and it will put a pretty serious climb at the end of your hike instead of the beginning but if you’re wanting to enjoy the waterfalls without the added distance, this is a viable option.
If you decide to go that route, you’ll want to enter at the Falls Trail trailhead off of the Lake Rose Parking lot. After about .2 of a mile, take the Highland Trail to the left and continue on that, past the rock formations at the Midway Crevasse, and onto the connection with the Glen Leigh Trail. There’s also an option to shave a bit of time/distance off of that by taking the shortcut to F.L. Ricketts waterfall, which there is signage for, if you’d like to make it an even shorter hike.
That’s the easiest way to go about ogling the waterfalls at Ricketts Glen. If you’d like a little more of a challenge without adding distance, walk the trail from the other direction. Instead of taking that left across the Highland Trail, walk straight down the mountain first.
Some Things to Know Before You Go
*There is no admission fee and parking is also free
*There are approximately 1500 steps (by our count) and nearly 1,100 feet of elevation change on that 7.2 mile, well maintained trail
*The Falls Trail is open through the warmer months (April-ish or whenever the Earth thaws out to November, or whenever it cools off again) and to properly equipped hikers during the winter (think: crampons and ice axes and the like)
*Dogs are allowed on the Falls Trail but must be kept on a leash
*There are restrooms available at both parking lots on route 118, but they are DISGUSTING! Video evidence here. The facilities on the southbound side of the road are significantly more repulsive, if you can believe it, but they do exist. The restrooms at the Lake Rose lot, however, are typically well maintained. I’m not sure what’s going on with the other bathrooms or why they continue to look and smell the way they do.
*You do not want to be stuck on the trail after dark. Make sure you take into account the elevation change and the difficulty of the trail when planning your departure time. A seasoned hiker can probably tackle this beast in just a couple of hours, if they’re really moving. Someone who’s not used to that terrain, families with small children, folks who are just starting to work off their corona 15, or photographers and sightseers that are there to enjoy the view will need significantly longer. Hours longer. So, keep that in mind so you don’t end up trying to navigate all of that in the dark.
Route 118 parking lot: GPS coordinates: 41.300244, -76.270901 (south-bound), the north bound lot entrance is just beyond that on the other side of the road
Lake Rose parking lot: 695 State Route 487, Benton, PA 17814
Happy hiking! ?