I went into paranoia overdrive last week, researching a new-to-me campground in the Poconos. By the time we left, I fully expected to be greeted by a party of angry black bears dressed in Lyme infected ticks twirling rattlesnake lassos. I needed to switch gears.
We did a quick search for fun hikes in the area, ideally with scrambles. Glen Onoko Falls trail in Lehigh Gorge State Park sounded ideal. Bordering a series of waterfalls, the first half is uphill with plenty of scrambles and vistas up top. And it was only a few miles from our campground. And, provided we didn’t get lost, the loop back would take us past the grounds of the Wahnetah Hotel, which burned down in 1917.
image via treasure.net
My sister has hiked all over the area and repeatedly warned us to be careful on this one. A number of people have fallen and died on this trail. Stay away from the edges, which can be more slippery than they look. Be mindful of where you step, particularly on the steep sections with small loose rocks. Wear hiking boots – you’ll need the traction, especially if it rained recently!
I’m not going to walk you through the trail as a number of hiking bloggers have already done that job well. Check out East Coast Hiker and Gone Hikin’ for detailed trail descriptions and pictures. We couldn’t find any trail maps so we printed the directions from both blogs, but didn’t end up needing them. Stick to the water on the way up and you’re on the scenic route. This was taken early on the trail.
We started the trail in early morning shade, feeling a slight chill in short sleeved shirts. I’m so glad we didn’t lug along more clothes. The sun and rocky path quickly warmed us up. My boyfriend looked like he was glowing. I was a gross walking puddle slick with sun screen and bug spray, but loving the views and the peace that comes with not thinking of anything other than where to step next. Yes, I see how it can be dangerous, but this is a beautiful place. Because the trail isn’t very well marked at times, it’s like you’re inside a puzzle. Where it is well marked, you still have to be aware of where you’re gripping and stepping, keeping three points of contact where needed.
We didn’t take any pictures of the larger falls. It’s not a scenic hike unless the phone battery is dying. Here’s where we crossed over:
We saw several small brownish frogs, a whole lot of spiders, butterflies and tiny fish. After a big waterfall under which a teenage boy was singing Don’t go chasing waterfalls and singing it quite well, the trail took us by some cairns tucked at various shelves under a shady rock ledge. Though cairns are supposed to be used to guide hikers from a distance where there are no trees or high rocks to mark the trail, these here are just for fun I guess.
Just beyond the cairns, my boyfriend froze mid-step. His eyesight is better than mine, possibly because he wears glasses, so he took the lead in shady spots because we figured if there were any snakes, he was more likely to spot them and not panic/jump back/ possibly slip. When it comes to perceived danger, my response is to flee I can’t help it. My boyfriend freezes. We didn’t actually expect to encounter any snakes, but there it was. This one was smallish and quickly slithered off the path. It had a rattle at the end and looked like a baby Timber Rattlesnake.
Considering we’d just seen a rattlesnake, I now question the wisdom of what we did next, but it wound up being the best part of the hike. We took off our shoes and socks and joined a few other hikers beneath one of the falls that was more of a trickle. Standing under that cold water felt incredible, like how summer should feel every day.
Shortly after, we followed the orange markings down a rocky trail filled with birds. Near the end I remembered the Wahnetah Hotel and assumed we’d already missed what ruins there were to see. Then we looked back and saw dry-stacked stone walls, stone steps and what looked like part of the stone foundation or a small structure.
Look down and there are traces of stones paths, giant exposed pipes. The closer to the end you get, the more tiers of partial stone walls you see and the easier it becomes to imagine how grand it must have been to arrive there.
Glen Onoko Falls is a new favorite trail. My pictures don’t come close to doing it justice. It’s challenging, but very doable if you’re fit and wearing appropriate footwear. I wouldn’t recommend bringing kids and definitely don’t wear flip-flops or sandals. This trail looks like it connects to a number of others so poke around before you go to get the most from your visit. We wanted to save some energy for canoeing the river so we stuck to the loop and finished in about 1.5-2 hours. I wish we took more time going up, but hopefully we get back there this fall. Pennsylvania state parks are free and there’s a bathroom just off the parking lot closest to the trailhead.
The first night it rained as the weather predicted. Unlike the prediction, it didn’t pass. It stormed the entire night. Have I ever told you how much I love lightning? Our lakefront campsite seemed like a great idea until, as my nieces like to say, the cold air started giving the hot air high-fives. Big bolty high-fives. At least our tent kept us dry. My sisters and their families woke up in puddles. They wanted to leave but the sun dried everything quickly and who can leave a fresh pot of coffee percolated over a campfire? Also, I hid their car keys.
The second night was clear and cool. The sky bright with stars. Perfect for deep sleeping. On that lovely peaceful night, I had one of the longest most terrifying moments of my life. It was the middle of the night (of course) and I awoke to a loud forceful push against our tent. It had to be a black bear. What else? Wide awake and heart pounding, This is it. One of my greatest fears is happening. Then I realized we had nothing to defend ourselves with. Ever ready to flee in the face of danger, I unzipped the tent and hysterically fumbled around for my fire-poking stick. After stubbed toes and a scraped knee, my boyfriend’s words – That was me -finally sunk in. Turns out he was having a nightmare and punching the back wall of our tent in his sleep. Who does that? I was too relieved to do anything but grumble back into my sleeping bag. Much as I love camping, it does bring out my spazzy side.