What’s up hikers,
Alright, so winter is here, at least judging by the temperature of my toes. Yeah, it’s cold out, but what the heck, that’s no reason to skip a little winter walk in the woods. This week, I went back to a place I haven’t been in almost 25 years, the Loyalsock State Forest, specifically the Haystacks and Dutchman Falls on the Loyalsock Trail. In my early 20’s, I used to camp here once a year with my brother and a group of friends. I knew the area well and loved it, but sometimes places we love can fall out of the rotation in favor of new and interesting places. So it was with the Loyalsock. Anyway, I’ve really been looking forward to getting back there and checking it out. It’s only about an hour and a half away from Scranton and is an accessible hike, albeit a little weird.
First, it couldn’t be easier to find the trail. It’s on Mead Road. Here’s the map, and the trailhead is right in the parking lot. Easy. Here’s where it gets a little odd. Most trails start off kind of easy. Not here. The most technical part of the trail hits you right in the face by starting dramatically downhill on ground littered with huge rocks and stumps and other trippers. But once you navigate that, it gets almost ridiculously easy. After maybe only a quarter of a mile of going downhill, you get to what I assume is an old railbed. To get to the Haystacks, which are giant boulders in the middle of Loyalsock Creek that look like — you guessed it — haystacks and the reason we are on this trip, go left. There is a waterfall to the right, but I was saving that as my dessert and wanted that to be last. The railbed is easy walking for about a mile, and the ground was frozen and crunchy under my feet. Winter hikes have this almost mystical quality about them. The forest seems quieter and the light softer.
After strolling the old railbed, you will get to a trail marking (the markers are yellow and red for the Loyalsock Trail) that shoots you down the hill to the right and toward Loyalsock Creek. Once at the bottom, the trail slithers toward and away from the creek, over little side streams. It’s a flat walk, for the most part. I’ve seen the hike described as easy to moderate. I’d agree. It’s probably easy in my opinion but made more difficult by winter conditions because some of the rocks and trickier areas are very slippery. I have a bruise on my butt and limp in my stride to prove it. After a couple miles, you will come to the Haystacks. They will be immediately obvious to you because they are giant rocks sticking up from the creek. Apparently, these caused some major problems back in the days when loggers sent their cuts downstream. They would be jammed and stacked in this area, unable to move. They tried to dynamite the problem away but no such luck. My first thought upon learning that was that maybe they are meant to be there and you shouldn’t be trying to blow them up. But hey, that’s just me.
This was the payoff. Pulling up a rock and settling in for some lunch, I listened to water rush over the stacks. I took some photos, gulped down a double-decker peanut butter and honey sandwich and remembered time spent here. I saw the spot we used to swim, the place I pitched my tent, the fire ring we used to sit around with our guitars. This was better than I imagined … and it was getting colder and darker. Time to boogie.
This was an out and back hike so I followed the trail out and took the railbed back to the bottom of the steep hill you navigate at the beginning of the hike. Like I said, I went left at the bottom of that hill. If you go right, it’s a short steep downhill hike to Dutchman Falls. I wasn’t about to pass that up so I zipped down the hill for a look. Worth it! It’s a big fall and oddly feels secluded even though it’s close to the beginning of the hike. I can’t imagine doing this hike and skipping the fall. It’s worth it and feeds right into the Loyalsock.
As a payoff, here’s a marginally relevant video of the Dead doing Cold, Rain and Snow. Sorry Mariah fans.