Hiking Havens: 9 Winter Hikes to Other-Worldly Water FeaturesNov 23, 2020 09:09AM ● By Erica L. Shames
Photographs by Nicholas A. Tonelli
Colder temperatures don’t mean an end to hiking adventures! In fact, winter brings with it some unexpected opportunities to see sites so spectacular you might think you’ve left the planet. Be sure to follow the vital cold-weather guidelines at the end of the article to keep yourself safe.
Rapid Run Nature Trail is a 1.3-mile lightly trafficked loop trail located near Mifflinburg that features a tranquil forest of old growth hemlock and white pine trees overlooking wetlands, springs, sphagnum bogs and vernal pools. Rapid Run parallels the trail, which is suitable for all skill levels. Great for cross-country skiing.
Ohiopyle State Park offers an inviting getaway for a cold winter day. View the icy Ohiopyle Falls from the warmth and comfort of the Visitor Center or take a 100-yard hike on the Great Gorge Trail to the 30-foot tall Cucumber Falls, one of the most photographed waterfalls in PA. The park also offers several equally prominent waterfalls at more remote locations where you might be the only visitor.
If you’re pressed for time but don’t want to miss the winter waterfall experience, check out gorgeous Buttermilk Falls (aka Bear Creek Falls) on the western edge of the Bear Creek Nature Preserve—only 200 feet from the parking area and a quick detour from the road. With step-like shelves of rock, the roughly 30-foot falls offers an enjoyable, accessible sight.
The falling waters of Jones Mill Run Dam can be accessed from the 1.6-mile Pumphouse Trail on a hike with a slow, gradual incline. Benches and large rocks provide a place to rest and take in the surrounding forest at this scenic historic site, built nearly a century ago by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Bear Gap Trail will lead you to Spruce Run, a tributary of Buffalo Creek in Union County. Spruce Run flows through mountainous, forested terrain. At one time a mill was located near the stream’s mouth and lumbering was done in the surrounding area. A number of bridges have been built across it for easier passage. In the winter, the picturesque, freely flowing run is framed by snow.
At 178 feet, the triple-tier Raymondskill Falls is PA’s tallest waterfall. Dingmans Falls and Silverthread Falls, each beautiful in its own way, are located along the same trail, which starts at the Dingmans Falls Visitor Center. Don’t miss the waterfalls along the Tumbling Waters Trail—a 3.3-mile heavily trafficked loop trail—that features an overlook of the Delaware River Valley, waterfall, remnants of farms, a pine plantation and two ponds.
Lace up your hiking boots or strap on your cross-country skis after a winter snow to explore this 2,600-acre park. It contains 13 miles of wooded and paved trails and hidden winter waterfalls, including the picturesque frozen spill waters of the historic Sycamore Mills Dam. The icicles that hang down are best viewed from outside the grotto.
Viewing Ganoga Falls in Ricketts Glen is like witnessing a water formation on another planet! Imagine 94-feet of frozen water forming a cascade of ice flows and icicles. Caution: the Falls Trail is only open to the most experienced ice climbers and hikers with required ice gear in the winter who must register with the park office before beginning a hike. For the rest of us, highly trained guides from area outfitters can lead hikes safely to and through this winter paradise.
State Game Lands 13 is known for waterfalls and gorges, including Bloody Run, a tributary of West Branch Fishing Creek. It is noted for its 10-foot drop into a pool of water. Park at the PA Game Commission parking lot along Mountain Road (GPS coordinates 41.306036, -76.428336). Follow an indistinct, unblazed trail that turns into a more established grade paralleling Bloody Run for the best vantage point.
If You Go
Hiking in the winter requires preparation. Please follow these tips to keep yourself safe.
- Before you go, check to make sure trails are open, especially following any type of winter weather.
- Never go alone.
- Dress in layers.
- Wear waterproof hiking boots and Merino wool socks.
- Be prepared. Pack your car with a sleeping bag, roll mat, extra clothes, and more water and food than you think you’ll need.
- Always let someone know where you are going.
- Watch the weather; make sure the conditions will be safe.
- Use walking poles.
- Wear sunglasses with UV400 protection.