Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — May 2012

Waterfalls and Solitude!

by Gary Thornbloom

Crossing Sullivan Run

Crossing Sullivan Run · Photo by Gary Thornbloom

Heberly Run and Sullivan Run have waterfalls that rival those of nearby Ricketts Glen. The only thing missing is crowds of people. You will have the falls to yourself, but you will also have to work hard to get to them, and hikers should think it over before attempting this demanding hike. This hike is not for everyone!

The easiest way to do this hike is to go with hikers who have done it before. Recently I hiked it with a group of photographers — Ray, Joe, Lori, Tim, and Bill — who keep in touch via the Pennsylvania Waterfalls Facebook page. Most of them had hiked together visiting other waterfalls, and while several had hiked part of our proposed route, no one had hiked the entire 10-mile loop.

Equipped with several GPS units, maps, and a strong desire to explore, we started the hike at 7 a.m. and finished by 4 p.m. This was reasonable considering time for some minimal photography — the full sunshine, beautiful day provided terrible light for photographing water falls — and a lot of off-trail bushwhacking.

This hike is entirely on State Game Lands 13 in Sullivan County. State Game Lands are managed for all wildlife, both game and non-game animals. State Game Lands are purchased entirely by hunters dollars, no public tax dollars purchase or maintain these lands. Most of the year these lands are empty of hunters. People with a variety of outdoor interests are welcome to enjoy the lands, and that is what our group of photographers recently did.

Big Falls on Heberly Run

Big Falls on Heberly Run · Photo by Tim Devine

We began the hike by following a gravel road — Grassy Hollow Road — up the mountainside, steeply up the mountainside. We dropped into Heberly Run to see Big Falls and Twin Falls.  And then climbed back out, continuing up the mountain each time. The road will take you to Lewis Falls so you could get there without leaving the road.  

To continue our loop we crossed Heberly Run — here it was possible to jump from rock to rock, later this would not be the case. We soon followed Quinn Run continuing up a steep haul road, or perhaps an old tram road, as switchbacks were obvious in places. Quinn Run gave way to Shady Run and still we climbed. The stream flashed white below us, but no one opted for the steep descent necessary to check out the numerous small waterfalls and chutes.

Shanty Falls on Heberly Run

Shanty Falls on Heberly Run · Photo by Bill Mertens

After ascending 1,400 feet in almost four miles, we then had to cross the plateau that separated Heberly Run and Sullivan Run. The sometimes trail skirted two swamps. We lost the trail and wondered into a beautiful hemlock grove, quite a change from the thicket of mostly beech trees that we had been moving through. We used a GPS unit to bushwhack 500+ feet and were soon back on the trail.

After a steady descent to Sullivan Run, the challenge intensified as we began more streamwhacking than bushwhacking. We walked next to the stream where we could, and up to knee deep and in the stream when the banks became too steep. We then crawled above the stream across a moss-covered ledge beneath overhanging rock when that became the “easiest” choice. Ray, the trip leader, had no problem walking in, out, and down the stream. This was the “easiest” way to see the ten or more waterfalls on Sullivan Branch. Named falls, unnamed falls, and now named — Atticus — falls. 

Along the stream we continued to see red trillium blooming, as well as white, lavender,and deep purple “violets.”  Earlier we had seen extensive patches of Dicentra canadensis, or squirrel corn. 

Hobblebush, its low horizontal branches ready to trip you, was scattered along the edge of the stream. It has clusters of white flowers typical of some viburnums: large showy infertile flowers irregularly scattered on the edges of a tight cluster of smaller fertile flowers. The flowers rise above, and are surrounded by, heart-shaped leaves.

Beech thickets, an occasional hemlock giant, hemlock glades, large birch — yellow and black, and some huge cherry trees were the most notable trees on this hike.

But it was the waterfalls and the shared adventure that made this hike special. As in Ricketts Glen, you will find water in motion over and around boulders, water through chutes, water in cascades, water-scouring potholes and plunge pools at the foot of waterfalls. You can find both bridal veil falls and wedding cake falls.

Bridal veil falls have a hard caprock that extends across the top. Softer shale beneath the cap is eroded away, and results in a veil across the face with a plunge pool at the bottom.  Wedding cake falls have a layered look as the stream drops over a series of steps.

Shared adventure, exploring, and simply enjoying the day with a group of hikers who are both informed and passionate about, in this case waterfalls and photography, is an excellent way to get on, as well as off, the trail. And off the trail in search of waterfalls, especially with Ray, can put you in the stream!


Gary Thornbloom is the Chair of Sierra Club Moshannon Group and can be reached at bearknob@verizon.net