Well, we learned two things today:
- Pennsylvania has some beautiful natural areas, most of which are protected as state parks or forests.
- Melissa and I have a seriously skewed meter when it comes to hike difficulty ratings.
It being our day off from a week of camp, Melissa and I decided we wanted to experience some of the hiking PA has to offer. So, we headed to Trough Creek State Park where we had heard there were some interesting trails to be had. Thanks to Google Maps, we made it there in one piece.
Google maps dosen’t tell you much about hiking trails, so we stopped at the park office to get a trail map and some beta. There were three rangers on duty, and one very helpfully filled us in. The conversation went something like this:
Ranger: “So, what brings you here today?”
The Zooks: “We’re from Virginia, so we really don’t know much about the hiking trails. We’ve heard that Balanced Rock and Rainbow falls are pretty cool…what would you suggest?”
Ranger: “They are really cool, you should check them out.You could use this trail, or these ones, but they are a lot longer and harder. I just went on this one, but I don’t like heights so I didn’t enjoy it much. I don’t really know what kind of hikers you are…”
The Zooks: (Intrigued…) “Well, we’re National Park Service trail patrol volunteers back home, so we should be ok.”
After we got in the car, we were able to finally get a good look at the map; the trails that were said to be so intimidating were drawn using a scale of about 2 inches for every half mile…not quite as impressive.
We chose The Rhododendron Trail (and the rhodies were in bloom too–absolutely beautiful), which was one of the difficult trails. The trail started at a place called Coppernas Rock; there is a picture at the top of the post. A very impressive limestone and sandstone rock formation. The stream that ran along the base looked great for swimming in, even though some people didn’t get this and decided to fish in it instead.
Right away, we could tell these people were serious about their signage. Right off the trailhead, an impressive looking sign proclaimed:
Caution. Sections of this trail are narrow and steep with vertical cliffs. Proper footwear and adult supervision are required. Please stay on the trail.”
The “difficult hike” we chose gained a grand total of maybe 200 feet. After about 10 minutes of walking along a very unchallenging trail through a beautiful hemlock forest, we joined the main tourest trail, which turned out to be wide and graveled. Despite this, we passed a lot of people who were having some difficulty finding their way, and who were obviously struggling with the altitude. We were some of the only people wearing hiking boots and carrying daypacks. We passed a group in which every member was outfitted with a small dog…the dogs were all being carried like the newest fashion assesorry. We passed another very happy group who were definetly guilty of HUI (hiking under the influence). One even had a beer in a little cozy. They were the friendliest group we passed by far…
We made it to Balanced Rock, a huge boulder precariously poised on the rim of the canyon. It looked like a good push would send the whole shebang down on whoever happened to be fishing in the river below. Melissa and I made it to Balanced Rock after a the aforementioned 25 minute hike (moving slowly, mind you). The PA Department of Natural Resources (State Park Service) must have known I was coming. After seeing pictures of the rock, I thought that climbing it would be a lot of fun; well, the PA DNR quashed that idea. Helpfully posted beside the rock was a nice little sign. “NO CLIMBING!” We stood around and took pictures for a bit instead. Even though the hike up was somewhat disappointing (in terms of difficulty and length), it was still a cool spot. As we were preparing to leave, a family struggled to the top of the small mountain Balanced Rock is located on. One of thier sons took in the teetering boulder, and announced to everyone within hearing range “Its HHUUGGEE!!!!!” Made my day.
I make fun, but the hike was great, the trails were well marked and maintained, and the park itself was very very good. Butterfly falls would have been impressive except that there was barely any water flowing over it; it is late June after all, and I get the idea that the annuel rain pattern here in PA is not much different from Virginia. We also swam in the river, which was delightfully freezing (though Mel believes it not to be as cold as the mountain streams down south).
After talking it over, we were able to come to a bit of a conclusion about why a “hard” trail seemed so easy to us. When we think of “hard” trails, we think of places like Old Rag, or long sections of Appalachian Trail with heavy packs. When these types of hikes occupy the hard part of your difficulty spectrum, it throws the rest of your scale off.
We’d go back. We’re looking forward to visiting other State Parks as well.