Ricketts Glen State Park – Tips for first time visitors

October 15, 2020
Yesterday I spent the day hiking at Ricketts Glen State Park in Pennsylvania. It was my second visit to the park and as I completed my hike for the day I realized that I had knowledge that would be helpful to the first time visitor to the park. The following article outlines some of those tips.

I decided to visit the park on a Wednesday in October, near the peak leaf season. My first recommendation is to visit the park after a day of rainfall and to visit during the week. Many of the trails are narrow with steep rocky steps and if it’s crowded the hike will be more challenging that it is already.

Prepare for the trip with the right frame of mind. If you’ve hiked Mount Everest you will find the hiking easy, otherwise it will be very challenging, especially if you attempt to see every waterfall in the park. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that it will be an easy hike.

Click here to visit the photo gallery to see more photos of Ricketts Glen

Plan for enough time, especially if you hike in the seasons when it gets dark early.

I started the day at 10:30 am at the Lake Rose Trailhead parking lot. I had read that starting there will cut off several, miles from your hike (4 vs 6.5 miles.) Later in the day I heard from another hiker that the Lake Rose Trailhead parking lot had filled up so they were forced to park at a different lot.

I used the restroom there and then bid a fond farewell to it as I started my hike. Be aware that there are no restrooms, nor portable bathrooms except in the parking lots. That presents its own challenges. Somehow I managed to last the 6 1/2 hours without resorting to a trip behind trees or rocks, but I admit that the last half hour I considered doing just that.

I started out on the Falls Trail and at the Y intersection I kept right to stay on the trail. The trail became quite steep with rock steps down to the lower levels. I saw some people with walking sticks, and that is likely a good idea. I used a backpack to carry water, camera, lenses, and food. If you have bad knees or are not mobile you will not do well in this area of the park.

If you are a photographer, as I am, you should add 2-3 hours of extra time to the day for taking photos. I don’t mean the casual photographer, but rather one who uses a tripod and considers the lighting and framing of photos. I think it took me 3 hours to get past the first four waterfalls (our of twenty-one.) There is no way to get great waterfall photos without a tripod. You’ll want to use the lowest ISO setting, the highest aperture setting, and then play with the shutter speed to get the best effect. Look around the landscape. Some of my best photos weren’t the falls themselves, but streams nearby or small falls near the main falls.

I brought a 50mm lens, 10-20mm wide angle, and a 70mm-200 zoom lens. I debated at the start of the trip whether to bring the zoom lens . I could have saved the weight and left it behind because I never used it. If you have a 35mm-70mm zoom that would be the perfect lens. I’ve read about Neutral Density Lens Filters and in some cases that would have helped yesterday, especially since the sun made it challenging to set up shots. In many cases it is overcast days that provide the best setting for tripod waterfall shots. If you can do it safely, climb down the few steps to get close to the waterfall for some dramatic photos.

f20, 1.3 sec, ISO-100, 50mm

I saw no park rangers during any part of my day. If you get injured, good luck because there is no easy way to get to you. And forget about cell phone service. In fact it was 15 minutes after I left the park before I could regain service. So remember the turns you took to get into the park so you can navigate the return trip until you get GPS service.

Also note that there are few restaurants or hotels/motels near the park.

My last tip is to visit the park more often than every few years. That way you won’t have selective amnesia like when you have children and forget how painful the delivery was and do it again. It wasn’t easier to hike my second trip to the park. In fact I think it was more challenging because I thought I could do the whole park because I had been there before and thought I knew more than I did.

I found the falls on the Ganoga Glen side of the park to be the most interesting and the nearby landscape the most compelling.

Highland Trail is flat once you get past the uphill trek at Ricketts fall (assumes you take the shortcut at Ricketts.) The trail is not well marked, so keep aware as you hike. When you see the marker for Highland trail turn left if you want to return to Lake Rose Trailhead parking lot.

There is an impressive grouping of large rocks called Midway Crevasse on the Highland Trail. Had I stopped there at the beginning of my hike I would have appreciated them more. I’m not sure why the area is called Midway Crevasse because it doesn’t seem midway between anything.

Midway Crevasse

I hope these few tips are helpful to you. Enjoy the journey. Click here to visit the photo gallery to see more photos of Ricketts Glen

This is a great resource for exploring the falls at Ricketts Glen: https://pabucketlist.com/exploring-the-falls-trail-at-ricketts-glen-state-park/

ISO-100, f22, 1 second, 50mm