PA: Pine Creek Gorge

A couple of months ago now (better late than never), my best friend Kim and I (you may remember us in Hawaii), met up in Pennsylvania for her birthday. Our plan was to find somewhere along the drive from DC to Rochester to do some hiking, and we settled on visiting Pine Creek Gorge, sometimes known as the “Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania.” We struggled to find much clear information on this area, but finally settled on spending the night in Williamsport and then visiting Leonard Harrison State Park, which borders one side of the gorge.

We arrived late Saturday afternoon in Williamsport, the birthplace of Little League Baseball. It was much, much colder than we anticipated, and we spent awhile fooling around in Target under the guise of finding warmer clothes. Good thing we didn’t go with the camping idea!

Since we were celebrating Kim’s birthday we wanted to find a restaurant that was at least somewhat ‘happening,’ we settled on a place called Bullfrog Brewery. I haven’t spent much time in Williamsport, but my impression from a few drive-throughs is that it’s a fairly large city with not much going on. The brewery was very crowded and had live music playing, so we got lucky with that choice. We got a pretzel log appetizer (yummm), I had a burger, and we got a beer sampler, all brewed by the restaurant. In fact, because I’m writing this so late, I’ve already been home for Thanksgiving and Christmas since this night. On my drive back from Christmas I stopped here for dinner and had another delicious burger. Back in October my favorite two beers were the Mise en Garde and the Blackberry JuJu, but they had already changed selection by early January.

Beer sampler from Bullfrog Brewery. Several of these were very good!

Williamsport is actually pretty far from where we wanted to hike in Leonard Harrison State Park, but there weren’t many options closer. The next day we drove about 45 minutes to the state park, half on highways and then on several backroads. Pine Creek Gorge is actually bordered by a different state park on either side (Leonard Harrison and Colton Point State Park). Both state parks seemed to have a short mini-trail along the ridge, and then a longer trail down into the gorge. At the bottom, you could cross the river if it was low and hike back up the other side into the other state park. We settled on the Leonard Harrison side for no particular reason (maybe the hike down into the gorge was slightly longer or got slightly better reviews).

I missed a turn along the drive there and got rerouted along this road. We were already in the middle of nowhere so I definitely had some hesitations about this one!

We did this back in early October (and I’m writing this in January), but I can still remember it felt cold at the time. It was about 40 degrees and people were pretty bundled up. There was even a Boy Scout troop selling hot chocolate and coffee, which we resisted until after the hike.

There were warnings like this everywhere for a well-maintained, fairly moderate hike. Kim and I had hiked in Hawaii together and both of us have hiked out West, and we noticed that hiking signs and warnings definitely seem to decrease from east to west. Everything along this trail seemed over-the-top. Out west in Colorado and Arizona the attitude seems to be more along the lines of “if you get stuck your rescuers are going to be very annoyed.” In Hawaii my impression was more of “if you get stuck, sucks to be you.”
One of the overlooks of Pine Creek Gorge before beginning Turkey Path.

The path was pretty moderate and very crowded the further down we went. It seemed as if half of the hikers were Amish which was a bit surprising – I didn’t think we were that close to the heavy Amish part of Pennsylvania. The Boy Scouts seemed to be taking turns hiking too, and other than that it was a few couples and families. The trail was pretty interesting on the way down, with a few waterfalls here and there. Walking through such a heavily wooded, green area was quite a change from desert hiking.

A few wooden bridges along the path kept us out of the mud from recent rainfalls.

Both of us started off with double layers but warmed up well before we reached the bottom. We still struggled to find a comfortable middle ground in terms of layers though; we were both pretty unprepared for how cold the day was going to be. At one point beforehand we had even talked about camping, and we both mentioned how glad we were that idea was forgotten!

A series of waterfalls leading into the gorge – one of the more picturesque views along the trail.

Once we got to the bottom of the trail we walked for a bit along the Little Four Mile Run trail, where we saw bikers, joggers and even horseback riders. The fall colors were particularly nice down in the gorge, and they were just getting started in early October.

Two bikers along Little Four Mile Run trail on an especially crisp, early October day.

We spent quite awhile fooling around by the river, taking way too many pictures in various yoga poses (none of which are featured here). The river definitely seemed low enough to wade across without trouble, except for the fact that we would have been freezing by the time we got to the other side.

Looking down Pine Creek from the bottom of Turkey Path.
Several cairns marked the way across the river, leading to the path up the other side of the gorge into Colton Point State Park.

This early in fall, the trees were mostly still green; the few that had started to change color really popped though. I can only imagine what this place looked like a few weeks later. If it had been about 20 degrees warmer outside this would have been a beautiful spot for a picnic. While the bottom of the Turkey Path trail area was very crowded, we were completely alone just walking a little ways along Little Four Mile Run.

The views definitely made us wish we had bikes so we could cover more ground quicker and see what lied ahead.
One more view along the “creek” before heading back up the trail. Plenty of rocks for hopping along.

I think both of us were looking forward to the climb back up the gorge, if only for the fact that it would hopefully warm us up a bit. And neither of us had forgotten the hot chocolate waiting at the top.

The nicest waterfall along Turkey Path, coincidentally at right about the halfway point. From this point onward the river could be seen or heard for the rest of the way down.

The hike back up was pretty easy; I think we were anticipating it to be a bit harder. Once we got to the top we did indulge in some hot chocolate and coffee. There was also a cute store with special maple sugar and pancake mix, so we got some souvenirs for friends and family. Overall this was a nice, short hike. If we had more time, and could have gone in summer, I think it would be fun to park one car in each state park and cross the creek, hiking back up the other side of the gorge. Maybe we’ll try it again someday, or maybe we’ll find another nice place to meet halfway between DC and Rochester!

One thought on “PA: Pine Creek Gorge

  • Very picturesque and green compared to Arizona! Interesting observation about the decrease in park trail signage as one travels to the West.

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