Hiking the Ricketts Glen Falls Loop: The Most Beautiful Waterfall Hike East of the Mississippi
Nestled within the lush embrace of northeastern Pennsylvania, the Ricketts Glen Falls Loop beckons to adventurers and nature enthusiasts alike, offering a hiking experience like no other east of the Mississippi. With its enchanting blend of pristine woodlands and cascading waterfalls, the trail meanders through the heart of Ricketts Glen State Park, creating an outdoor haven for those seeking an escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life. Every twist and turn of the Ricketts Glen Falls Loop brings you closer to nature's splendor, as you wind your way through towering old-growth forest, alongside crystal-clear streams, and past a collection of waterfalls that seem almost too picturesque to be real.
Trailhead elevation 2,210'
Don't miss Harrison Wright, Sheldon Reynolds, & Murray Reynolds Falls
Hiking Ricketts Glen Falls Loop
The Falls Loop can be found within the picturesque Glens Natural Area of the park, a designated National Natural Landmark since 1969. This area features the convergence of two branches of Kitchen Creek, which carve their way through the deep gorges of Ganoga Glen and Glen Leigh before meeting at Waters Meet. For the most enjoyable experience, it's recommended to start the loop at the Lake Rose Trailhead, located 1 mile from the park's visitor center. As you begin the hike, you're surrounded by an enchanting forest, reminiscent of a fairytale setting. After 0.2 miles, you'll encounter a well-marked junction, providing you with a choice: turn left to follow the Highland Trail, leading to a descent through Glen Leigh, or opt to go right and descend through Ganoga Glen.
Although there is no incorrect direction to take, it is generally recommended to hike the loop in a clockwise direction, focussing on the Glen Leigh section first. This is the route I'll be describing in this article. Upon making a left turn onto the Highland Trail, the initial prominent highlight along the loop is the Midway Crevasse, a cluster of small boulders located just half a mile from the junction mentioned above.
A half mile past the Midway Crevasse, the Highland Trail intersects with a signed Shortcut Trail. It is recommended that you continue along the Highland Trail for an additional quarter mile to reach the true trailhead for the Falls Trail. Opting for the Shortcut Trail will mean missing out on viewing the first two waterfalls along the loop, namely Onondaga and R L Ricketts Falls. After passing the Shortcut Trail and upon reaching the Falls Trail, you'll find a large trail kiosk indicating where each of the 20 named waterfalls are located along the loop. One tenth of a mile after joining the Falls Trail you'll encounter the 15-foot-tall Onondaga Falls. Like several other falls along the loop, Onondaga Falls was named in honor of one of several Native American peoples who inhabited the area in the past.
Within 100 yards of Onondaga Falls, the trail leads you over one of the many footbridges that traverse Kitchen Creek in Glen Leigh. Shortly after crossing this footbridge, you'll encounter F L Ricketts Falls, a 30-foot-tall waterfall named in honor of Frank L Ricketts (1843-1908), the younger brother of Robert Bruce Ricketts, after whom the park is named.
Shortly following R L Ricketts Falls, you'll spot the 30-foot Shawnee Falls. Much like Onondaga Falls and numerous others along the Falls Trail, Shawnee Falls was given its name as a tribute to one of the many Native American communities that historically resided in the area.
Immediately following Shawnee Falls, you'll encounter Huron Falls, a striking 41-foot waterfall. There is some evidence to suggest that Shawnee and Huron Falls were once a much larger single cascade many centuries ago, but today, they are divided by a small, flat portion of Kitchen Creek.
Ozone Falls, standing at a height of 60-feet, comes into view a few hundred yards beyond Huron Falls. It holds the distinction of being the tallest waterfall on the Glen Leigh side of the loop. The name "Ozone" pays homage to the Ozone Hiking Club from the nearby Wilkes-Barre area, which used the Ricketts family home on Red Rock Mountain as its local headquarters.
After Ozone Falls, you'll encounter R B Ricketts Falls, a 36-foot waterfall. It was named in honor of Robert Bruce Ricketts (1839-1918), a Union Army colonel who fought at Gettysburg and after whom the park is named. In wetter seasons and after heavy rainfall,a broad cascade can be observed forming along the rocky overhang to the right of the falls.
Following this, you'll come across the 40-foot B Reynolds Falls, which offers the best view from the footbridge spanning Kitchen Creek right in front of the falls. This waterfall was named in honor of Benjamin Reynolds (1840-1913), a banker and brother of Elizabeth Reynolds Ricketts, who was the wife of R B Ricketts.
Immediately following B Reynolds Falls, you'll reach the final waterfall on the Glen Leigh side of the loop, the 15-foot Wyandot Falls.
Within a short 50 yards of Wyandot Falls, the trail takes you over another footbridge and leads you to Waters Meet, where the Ganoga Glen branch of Kitchen Creek and the Glen Leigh branch of Kitchen Creek merge. The open area features a historical marker, trail kiosk, and several wooden benches to take in the views from. From Waters Meet, the Falls Trail continues by ascending through Ganoga Glen. However, beginning the Ganoga Glen side of the loop, consider hiking further downstream to explore three more waterfalls.
Within one-tenth of a mile downstream from Waters Meet, you'll encounter the 27-foot Harrison Wright Falls, oftentimes considered the most photogenic falls in the park. It was named in honor of Harrison Wright (1850-1885), a lawyer with a doctorate in mineralogy and an interest in archaeology, who along with R B Ricketts was active in the Wyoming Historical and Geological Society.
Following Harrison Wright Falls, you'll find the 36-foot Sheldon Reynolds Falls. Sheldon Richards (1845-1895) was a lawyer, banker, and historian, and a brother of Elizabeth Reynolds Ricketts, wife of R B Ricketts.
A short distance later, you'll encounter Murray Reynolds Falls, a 16-foot waterfall named in honor of G Murray Reynolds (1838-1904), a colonel, politician, and a brother of Elizabeth Reynolds Ricketts. At one time, this falls was known as Pulpit Falls, for the pulpit-shaped rock formation in the middle of the chute.
After returning from these three falls and reaching Waters Meet once again, the Falls Trail continues by ascending rather steeply through Ganoga Glen. The first waterfalls that you'll encounter is Erie Falls, a stunning 47-foot cascade.
A short distance later, you'll reach the 47-foot Tuscarora Falls. When water levels are moderate, it stands out as one of the most visually striking falls along the loop.
Following Tuscarora Falls, you'll come across Conestoga Falls, a 17-foot waterfall that resembles more of a waterslide than a traditional waterfall. I did not include a photo of Conestoga Falls in this article. Soon after Conestoga Falls, you encounter Mohican Falls, an exquisite 39-foot waterfall that ranks among the most beautiful along the loop.
Immediately following Mohican Falls, you'll find the 37-foot Delaware Falls, which delivers some of the most beautiful views in a trail loaded with beautiful views.
Next is Seneca Falls, a 12-foot multi-drop waterfall.
After Seneca Falls, you'll encounter Ganoga Falls, a 94-foot waterfall and for many the highlight of the loop. Ganoga Falls is the tallest waterfall along the Falls Trail, the fourth tallest in the state, and the tallest waterfall in Pennsylvania not in the Delaware Water Gap.
After Ganoga Falls, the trail meanders alongside Cayuga Falls, a charming 11-foot waterfall. Adjacent to the trail, there's an excellent stone slab resting by the creek's edge, offering an ideal spot to relax while enjoying the view of the falls.
A short distance upstream from Cayuga, you'll find the 13-foot Oneida Falls.
The last waterfall along the Falls Trail is Mohawk Falls, standing at 37-feet-tall. Although there are limited vantage points for a close-up view of the falls, for those determined to do so, it's recommended to begin your approach along the creek well before arriving at the falls.
Shortly after Mohawk Falls, the trail reaches the junction near the start of the hike where you had the option to start your day descending either Ganoga Glen or Glen Leigh. After that, it's a short quarter mile back to the parking area.