For hiking enthusiasts, there are few better times of the year to embark on an outdoors trek than autumn. Not only are temperatures cooler, but in many locales the crowds that come with summer have also diminished. Plus, there’s also the opportunity to take in or take photos of trees ablaze with colorful fall foliage.
With that in mind, here are five phenomenal destinations in the region worth checking out this fall.
Soar with the Raptors
Located just north of Kempton, the 2,500-acre Hawk Mountain Sanctuary offers more than eight miles of hiking trails, with topography and terrain to match all skill levels. Without a doubt, the most popular trail is the one-mile Lookout Trail, which leads to the sanctuary’s North Lookout, a prime location for viewing raptors on their autumn migration.
Gigi Romano, communications specialist for the sanctuary, notes the Lookout Trail passes several overlooks and lookout points on the way to the North Lookout, which offers a 200-degree view of the vista on either side of the Kittatinny Ridge.
“Our Visitor Center is currently closed, but all of our trails are open,” Romano says. “We also are hosting several socially distanced on-site programs in our brand new outdoor amphitheater.”
For hikers who are looking for a longer, more strenuous trek, check out the Outer Loop, which includes the River of Rocks, Golden Eagle, Skyline and North Lookout trails. Its 5.5 miles pass by boulder fields and include a stop at the North Lookout.
Prime time for seeing an array of raptors at the sanctuary is late October, with opportunities to catch a glimpse of migrating red-tailed hawks, ospreys, golden eagles, bald eagles and other raptors. Weekends tend to be busy so outdoors enthusiasts looking to get away from the crowds should consider a weekday visit.
It’s worth noting that there is a fee to hike the trails at Hawk Mountain, with the cost of $10 for adults, $7 for ages 65 and up, and $5 for ages 6-12.
Take in Big Views at Big Pocono
Just a few short miles from bustling Tannersville in Monroe County lies the sprawling wilderness of Big Pocono State Park. Located atop the 2,000-foot-plus Camelback Mountain, this 1,306-acre park features rugged terrain guaranteed to test even the most seasoned hikers.
Access to the park is via the Rim Road, which features several overlooks offering views of eastern Pennsylvania and portions of New Jersey and New York. From here, hikers can explore more than eight miles of trails leading into the heart of the park. While many of these are steep, rugged trails, one option for less experienced hikers is the South Trail’s 1.3-mile Upper Loop along the south face of the mountain and Indian Trail.
One of the bonuses to visiting Big Pocono is seeing the unique forestland habitat that has developed atop the mountain, with scrub oak shrubland dominating the landscape due to the elevation and impact of winds over the centuries. Habitat consists of trees like gray birch, quaking aspen and pitch pine, with none of the trees more than 20-feet tall.
Following your visit, there’s also the option to stop at Kartrite’s Summit House, located off the Rim Road. This restaurant offers a delicious menu, assortment of beverages and sweeping views of Camelback Resort below. At an elevation of 2,133 feet, it also boasts the distinction of being the highest restaurant in the Poconos. Due to COVID-19 and seasonal hours, the restaurant may be closed during your visit, so contact it first at kartritessummithouse.com or 570-369-1505.
Go with the Flow at Lehigh Gorge
If you love flowing water, there are few places in the region better for an awesome excursion than Lehigh Gorge State Park. Spanning both sides of the Lehigh River north of Jim Thorpe, this rugged, 4,548-acre park offers more than 33 miles of hiking trails including 26 miles along the easy-to-traverse Delaware & Lehigh Trail that follows the old railway through the gorge,
Hikers looking to explore the Lehigh Gorge will find a number of access points including Glen Onoko, Rockport and Lehigh Tannery. A great jumping off point, and one that is very popular with hikers and cyclists, is the access at Jim Thorpe. Heading north, you’ll discover several awesome photos opportunities where you capture the river, gorge and fall foliage in your shots.
One of the highlights of hiking the gorge is the opportunity to see waterfalls, old canal locks and other historic structures from the old Lehigh Canal era. Two easily accessible waterfalls are Buttermilk Falls and Luke’s Falls, both of which can be reached from the Rockport trail head. To visit Buttermilk Falls, head north from the access point about .3 miles; Luke’s Falls can be reached by venturing south from the Rockport access about a third of a mile.
Explore the Gap
The 70,000-acre Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area offers a wide array of hiking options on both sides of the Delaware River, but one of the most amazing views is from atop Mount Tammany. Accessed via the Dunfield Creek Natural Area parking lot off I-80 west in New Jersey, the mountain offers stunning views of the Delaware River, the recreation area and Mount Minsi in Pennsylvania. It’s especially breathtaking in fall.
If you’re heading to this popular hiking spot, plan to arrive early, especially on weekends, when the parking lots fill up early in the morning. It’s a good idea to pack plenty of water, as this is a steep and challenging hike, with the elevation changing 1,200 feet in just over a mile as you follow the Red Dot Trail leading up to the summit. For a longer hike, make the 5-mile loop back to the parking lot by returning on the 1.7-mile Blue Blaze Trail and the Appalachian Trail.
Hike the Moon
The 45,000-acre Pinchot State Forest offers miles upon miles of hiking trails to explore in Lackawanna, Luzerne, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming counties. Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Assistant District Forester Tim Lantz recommends the Thornhurst Tract in Lackawanna County and the Moon Lake Recreation Area in Luzerne County as two great starting points. A must-visit destination is the Thornhurst Tract’s Pine Hill viewing platform, which offers panoramic views of the Pocono Plateau. It’s accessed via a short walk from the parking area on Pine Hill Road.
“(The Thornhurst Tract) has the Pinchot Trail, a 26-mile state forest hiking trail which is very well known,” Lantz says. “There are also 20 miles of snowmobile/ horseback riding trails, as well as many offshoot hiking trails that are less well known such as the Watres Trail. It (also) has a spruce bog, natural area, a natural sand spring and even a waterfall, Choke Creek falls.”
The 700-acre Moon Lake Recreation Area, located in Plymouth Township in Luzerne County, also features 18 miles of trails for mountain biking, while the 45-acre lake, which contains trout and warm water species like pickerel and bass, is open to angling.
— Mark Demko/The Express-Times, Easton