Charles has long experience fishing, hiking, exploring, and camping in the Northeast.
Getting to Lehigh Gorge
When thinking of beautiful hikes, it does not get much better than Pennsylvania's Lehigh Gorge. With scenic vistas, towering mountains, lush forests, raging rivers, and twin waterfalls within walking distance of each other, this Pennsylvania State Park has it all. Hiking, biking, and fishing are permitted throughout the 6,107 acres of park and along the roughly 26 miles of trails.
Lehigh Gorge State Park is situated about two hours from Philadelphia, this hike is totally doable as a day trip. With many campgrounds in the area, you can definitely make it an overnighter! This section of the Lehigh Gorge State Park contains two nearby waterfalls within a short distance of each other. The whole hike can be completed within an hour covering a distance of less than a mile on flat, easy terrain.
If you utilize Google Maps for driving directions, search for Luke's Falls or Buttermilk Falls, Weatherly PA. This will provide great navigation and should get you to the Rockport Road parking area which is a short distance from the central access area to the main trail. See map below.
Parking and the Hike to the Main Trail
Parking is free and is first come first served. I imagine this parking lot could get busy in the summer and fall, especially when the leaves begin to change, so plan accordingly. You will want to follow the paved road downhill towards the Lehigh River.
The small stream on your left is Buck Mountain Creek and it is completing its run to the river. This is a great little spot to take some selfies or group photos as the large boulders make great backdrops.
Continue downhill for about a hundred yards or so until you reach the main trail. At this point, the main trail goes left towards Buttermilk Falls or right towards Luke's Falls when the river is in front of you. This area is considered the central access point to the Lehigh Gorge Trail.
The trail is wide and well maintained it is made to accommodate hikers and bikers. This trail is part of the abandoned D&L Railroad and is more than 20 miles long starting in the north at White Haven and ending in the south at Glen Onoko where there is another great waterfall to view including a challenging hike to the top of the falls! Not to be missed.
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Hiking the Falls
It's totally up to you at this point which way to turn, there are waterfalls a short distance away in either direction. I started by going to the left towards Buttermilk Falls, not forgetting to read the informational signs in this area before starting off. The hike was very scenic with river and cliff views along the way.
I'm pretty sure there was a picnic area near here where an enjoyable lunch could be had while listening to the sounds of the nearby falls. The trail continues north from here towards White Haven. After some photos and video of the falls, I turned around here and headed South, back the way I came towards Luke's Falls and Glen Onoko.
As I passed the main trail entrance at Rockport Road, I noticed a public restroom facility. Good to know these are here if needed. They were open and in good condition. Continuing south from the restrooms, I noticed a bike station on the side of the trail. The bike station included a rack, tools, and an air pump for quick repairs on your bike if biking the trail. I will be back for a long bike ride through the gorge!
After a short distance, probably 1/3 mile from the main access area, I came upon Luke's Falls. A beautiful woodland falls as the stream above made its way to the river below. A very quick hike with rewarding river views along the way culminating in a wonderful photographic opportunity. Well worth the time invested.
Alternate Activities and Resources
Along with hiking, the Lehigh Gorge State Park offers great Biking and Fishing opportunities. Make it a day and pack the bike for a fishing trip. The northern section of the river is stocked with trout! Make sure to check on the proper licensing and permits needed by visiting the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for more information regarding fishing in Pennsylvania's State Parks.
Camping would be a fun way to extend your time in this area, there are many campgrounds in the vicinity that you could use as a base camp while you explore the history and scenery of this wonderful State Park. The closest and highly rated campground I found was Lehigh Gorge Campground, 4585 State Street, Whitehaven, PA 18661. Visit them at Lehigh Gorge Campground for reservations and information.
The town of Jim Thorpe, PA is very close to here with many opportunities to be had from bike rentals, a historic train ride, fine and casual dining, lodging, nightlife, historic tours, and much more. I fell in love with Jim Thorpe over 30 years ago and just love the opportunities this quaint little mountain town has to offer. Visit the official Jim Thorpe website for visitor information.
Glen Onoko Falls is located at the southern end of the Lehigh Gorge Trail. These falls are a must to see but they are considered to be dangerous. At least 8 deaths have occurred since 1977, so hike at your own risk, and please take heed of the warning signs. Glen Onoko falls are considered to be one of the best waterfall hikes on the East Coast. As of April 2019, the main trail to the falls has been closed due to erosion and to protect hikers from injury and death. Two other trails in the area remain open.
These trails are the Overlook and Shortcut Trail that connect to form a 1.6-mile loop. The Short Cut Trail offers a panoramic view of Historic Jim Thorpe while the Overlook trail provides access to the Upper Falls. For more information regarding hiking the falls, details of the closure, and alternate trail maps of the area, visit this page at the Pennsylvania Game Commission Site and maybe I'll see you on the trails soon!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Charles Kikas