It can be hard to explain the sensation felt in the pit of one's stomach while standing on the somewhat slick, muddy ledge overlooking the 94-foot drop-off of the Ganoga waterfall found along the Ricketts Glen State Park's popular Falls Trail.
No guard rail. No safety net. Just a potential eight-plus-story plunge into an unforgiving rock-strewn chasm carved by Ganoga Glen not far before it empties into the Kitchen Creek.
Ricketts Glen State Park offers an unforgettable hiking experience on trails that run along 22 named waterfalls of various heights -- a scene that becomes even more breathtaking in the midst of the fall foliage season.
As mentioned earlier, there are some parts of the the trail that get pretty rugged, can be strenuous and, in some cases, dangerous for those not properly prepared.
"The Falls Trail covers a 1,000-foot elevation from bottom to top, and can be tough for those not used to hiking,” said former park ranger Nick Maneval in a 2018 interview. “It can also get really slippery -- whether muddy from rain or wet leaves. Some areas of the trail are fairly narrow, but our trail crew has been doing a good job of widening it out so it is better to maneuver through. There are a lot of steps involved, and a decent amount of rocks and roots are exposed, so be mindful.”
Leininger stressed the importance of being ready before hitting the trails.
“Carry a backpack with you with lots of water or Gatorade and some snacks,” she suggested. “Wear hiking shoes and dress cool -- and be prepared to get wet!”
Maneval agreed that good hiking shoes are essential for trail safety, and that proper hydration is key for a successful trip. He also urged using common sense when following the trails.
“It is a well-used path, but we don’t have it blazed like many trails people are used to because we don’t want to take away from the natural beauty of the falls area,” he said. “However, there is plenty of signage at each intersection, and if you are walking a falls trail, it usually means you are walking near water. If you find yourself walking away from water, that is a good indication that you may no longer be on the Falls Trail.”
In an effort to better capture the breathtaking beauty of the fall foliage backdrop at Ricketts Glen, renowned wildlife and outdoor photographer Michael Kinney was asked for some lessons learned.
"I didn’t carry a tripod for waterfall exposures on my first hike to save time, but found that a shutter speed of 0.5 seconds was a good balance between exposure and handheld camera shake in order to photograph every waterfall and make decent time," he said. "I used shutter priority or Tv mode locked on 0”5 seconds for waterfalls, making sure to take multiple shots as steady as possible and would switch to Av or Auto modes for more still photos."
For those using an iPhone to take images, he admitted there is a tip that is "great, easy and one most people don't even know about.
"Most iPhones can take professional-looking exposed waterfall pictures," he said. "After taking a 'Live Photo,' the option to enable the exposure effect can be found when swiping up on the photo after reviewing it in the photo album. The effect merges the short live video/picture that was taken and creates an exposed picture with trailing water on the waterfalls."
Kinney recommended slotting enough time to safely navigate the falls while taking the best possible images.
"I completed the full loop in just over five hours -- four hours hiking and one hour total stopping time for 240 pictures," he said.
The waterfalls are not the only worthy attraction at Ricketts Glen. The 245-acre Lake Jean is open Memorial Day well into September. There is a beach area to swim at your own risk (no lifeguards are on duty). There is also boating on the lake for kayaks, canoes and boats with electric motors.
Ricketts Glen also offers a variety of campsites and there are both modern cabins and deluxe cottages available to rent. Also, there are 10,287 acres of hunting opportunities available within the state park and additional acres in the surrounding state game lands.
Connecting all of these opportunities throughout the 13,193-acre state park that resides within three counties (Luzerne, Sullivan and Columbia) is the lifeblood of clean water tributaries that connect the park with the greater Susquehanna watershed.
"Being that we are close to the headwaters of our creek system here helps our lake stay clean without the chance for many pollutants upstream to make their way in, and the fact that Kitchen Creek runs through the Glens Natural Area helps us keep the watershed in our park very clean and of high quality," said Wilson. "It is very important to us to keep things this way because so many people come to enjoy the area for the beauty of the waterfalls and Lake Jean, and we feel that they deserve to have a high quality resource such as Ricketts Glen available to them."
For more about the park, visit www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/findapark/rickettsglen or call the main office at 570-477-5675.
John Zaktansky is an award-winning journalist and avid promoter of the outdoors who loves camping, kayaking, fishing and hunting with the family.