Take a break from the summer heat by chasing waterfalls in the silent forests of Pennsylvania. The sights and sounds of crashing, streaming, flowing water is refreshing and a great way to “chill” before you start purchasing school supplies!
There are several wonderful choices within a few hour’s drive just waiting to be discovered by your family. Your little ones will be in awe of the majestic beauty Mother Nature provides. Think sensory overload with the sights and sounds in store just around the bend as you hike to view these gems.
Falls Trails at Ricketts Glen State Park, Luzerne County
If your time allows for only one water fall exploring experience this summer, Ricketts Glen should be at the top of your list. Whether you go for the day or plan an overnight camping experience, your family will be delighted with the 21 waterfalls on display daily!
The trails are narrow and run on both sides of the falls with connecting paths at the top and the bottom which makes viewing easy but proper footwear is recommended. Trail maps can be accessed online for pre-planning, and while the 7.2 mile loop is attainable, do not be overly ambitious with young children. Instead, plan for a partial hike on one side of the falls and turn around once you have maxed-out your group’s endurance.
To cut down on the hiking distance, park at the top of the glens in Lake Rose Trailhead Parking Lot. Enjoy a breezy 5-minute walk through the woods until you hear the first rush of water.
Arrive early as the trails tend to get crowded in the summer, and if you can, plan your visit for midweek. There are picnic tables and public restrooms available. It is approximately a two-hour drive from the Western suburbs to reach this fantastic feat.
Sullivan Falls in State Game Lands 13, Sullivan County
Just as majestic but off the beaten path (think: “less crowded!”) and only two miles away from Ricketts Glen, there are more than 20 secluded waterfalls in State Game Lands 13. While admittedly not as well-marked nor as well-known as the falls down the road, the prize on State Game Lands 13 is Sullivan Falls itself.
A short walk down an unmarked trail reveals the surprise of spying the grand Sullivan Falls. Look for the “No Swimming” sign hung discreetly on a tree and listen for the hush of the falls as you approach. Be prepared for the WOW factor as you witness the breath-taking height of Sullivan Falls.
The trail takes visitors to the top of the falls. Viewing from the bottom requires a bit more skill traversing down a steep path so you may have to be content with a penthouse peek.
Bushkill Falls, Bushkill, PA
If you are looking to combine your waterfall adventure with family-friendly activities, check out Bushkill Falls, referred to as “The Niagara of Pennsylvania.” This exciting escape is only two hours from the western suburbs and showcases eight majestic waterfalls plus Bushkill Falls Mining Company Maze, picnic tables and pavilions, paddle boats, and mining for gemstones, to name a few. Bushkill Falls truly provides an all day family affair!
Purchase tickets in advance so you can hit the trails and view the falls as soon as you arrive. All the falls are completely accessible with clearly marked hiking trails, bridges and observation areas. Additionally, the trails are designated according to ability and age which will assist as you decide which course best suits your family’s needs. This historic site truly has thought of everything to make your visit special.
Dingmans Creek Trail, Bushkill, PA
Nestled quietly in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area are two pristine waterfalls you will not want to miss. The path at Dingmans Creek Trail is literally a flat boardwalk built so all hikers can take an easy trek through the woods.
Once you start your waterfall quest, you will quickly be rewarded with a view of Silverthread Falls, a narrow chute of water dropping 80 feet. Continue your tranquil walk through a stunning canopy of foliage to the base of Dingmans Falls, the second highest waterfall in the state.
End your tour by climbing a staircase at the end of the boardwalk which provides a spectacular view of the surrounding vista. Be sure to check their website before starting your trip for regulations regarding picnics and other activities permitted; there is a no swimming and no dogs policy in place. Try to plan your trip for midweek mornings or early evenings as crowds flock to the falls during the summer.
Raymondskill Falls, Pike County
The tallest waterfall in Pennsylvania is only 6.8 miles away from Dingmans Falls, so be sure to take the extra time to visit the approximately 150 feet drop of Raymondskill Falls also located in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. The paths are well-maintained but can be steeper in some areas so be sure to hike in proper footwear.
The three-tiered phenomenon can be viewed from several levels but show caution when trying to get the perfect photo op. When first approached from the trail on your right, you will have a spectacular view from the top. Next, hikers can cautiously traverse down to the second tier of the falls but attempting to get to the bottom is recommended for only more experienced hikers.
There are additional falls to see by continuing from the path at the top of the Raymondskill Falls and traveling along Raymondskill Creek Trail itself.
Hickory Run State Park, Carbon County
While this well-established state park is best known for its camping, hiking, swimming and fishing, you might want to schedule a trip to simply view the three waterfalls within Hickory Run State Park. Plan ahead by downloading the trail map so you select the appropriate natural trails for your group. The Maps of Hickory Run State Park provide detailed information on the location of the trails, the length and the level of dificulty.
Be on the lookout for Saylorsville Falls near the entrance of Camp Shehaqua at Saylorsville Dam, Hawk Falls Trail which features a 25-foot natural waterfall, and Shades of Death Trail which showcases both smaller, natural waterfalls and those created by the man-made dams.
If you need some rest and relaxation following your waterfall extravaganza, take a quick dip in one of the two lakes in the park, get changed in the onsite changing area, and enjoy a picnic under a grove of trees before getting back in the car. The truly ambitious can spend the night camping, but reservations must be made in advance.
While entrance to the park is free, the parking lots fill up quickly so be sure to arrive early and aim for a midweek trip.
Lehigh Gorge State Park, White Haven, PA
A neighbor to Hickory Run State Park, this stunning state park takes its name from a naturally formed gorge and spreads across both Luzerne and Carbon counties. Lehigh Gorge State Park follows the course of the Lehigh River from the Frances E. Walter Dam to the quaint town of Jim Thorpe. It is no surprise that one of the main features of the park are three amazing waterfalls.
Access the Maps of Lehigh Gorge State Park before heading to the park so you know where to locate the falls: Cascade Falls, Buttermilk Falls, and Luke’s Falls, all short quarter mile hikes from the initial access points. In addition to viewing the falls, Lehigh Gorge is also popular for white water rafting and biking.
Summer days fly by quickly, so do not wait to make a quick escape to view these pristine waterfalls so close to home. Your family will thank you for the respite from the hustle and bustle of daily activities as you serenely saunter through the woods in search of these magical falls.
For more family-friendly hiking trails, read our guide here!
Photo of Bushkill Falls courtesy of Aramark, Bushkill Falls