Hiking Pennsylvania: Wild Creek Falls and Beltzville State Park

Sometimes, the best adventures we have are the ones we don't fully and completely plan out. For someone who's a self-identified obsessive planner, that's a tough thing to admit! I've had a running list of day hikes I want to do in Pennsylvania since I moved here in 2007, and most of them are at least four miles to make it worth more than a quick drive from home.

What I haven't done a great job of is seeking out shorter hikes that can be combined into a longer day. In an attempt to fix that on a recent trip to the Poconos, a friend and I combined what was a shorter hike than we anticipated to Tank Hollow Vista with a trip to nearby Beltzville State Park.

We had Wild Creek Falls mostly to ourselves, and I can't believe I didn't know it was there!

Prior to this day trip, I'd never heard of Beltzville State Park, nor had I been to Tank Hollow Vista. In general, I get anxious hiking with friends I don't hike with often when we go to a place I've never been, much less two places I've never been! I feel responsible for making sure the hikes are fun and beautiful, that I don't get us lost, and that we stay safe. In this case, everything went just about as perfectly as it could have.

Getting to Beltzville State Park 

We spent about an hour visiting Tank Hollow in the morning and refueled at Molly Maguires Pub & Steakhouse in Jim Thorpe while we chatted about what to do next. We decided the rainy, chilly weather wasn't enough to keep us from adventuring a bit longer. In search of waterfalls that weren't Glen Onoko, we drove to the Beltzville State Park visitor center to pick up a map with the goal of making it to Wild Creek Falls.

Our route, which basically involved going counter-clockwise and turning right at every junction but one.

Visitors with an interest in the falls can park at the Wild Creek Trailhead here, but we wanted to make our hike a longer loop that included the Christman Trail and a visit to Wild Creek Cove. We parked in the Christman Trailhead lot here.

Hiking From the Christman Trailhead to Wild Creek Falls and Back (~1.5-2.0 Miles, Minimal Elevation Gain)

We parked at the Christman Trailhead, which was easy to spot from Pohopoco Road. I'd estimate the lot could fit half a dozen cars, but we only shared it with two other vehicles, and both departed before we got back from our hike. The first section of the trail was wide, grass-covered, and followed a cross country ski route. We walked side by side until we noticed a small green blazed side trail heading down toward Wild Creek Cove, and we turned right to follow it.

Walking along the creek toward Wild Creek Cove. The cloudy skies and rain sure made everything look green!
The trail dropped down a steep, wet, muddy slope to the creek. We saw a handful of little red-spotted (eastern) newts, which are bright orange in the juvenile stage. Continuing to follow the green blazes, we turned up a hill, heading back toward the yellow blazed Christman Trail. 

After a very short walk, we came to another junction with the blue blazed Falls trail, turned right, and made our way toward Wild Creek Falls. I wasn't sure what to expect; the creek was wide and definitely high enough to be home to an impressive waterfall, but I didn't see or hear anything until we got right up in front of it. We came down a series of wooden stairs, crossed a beautiful bridge, and the falls came into view on our left.

My hiking buddy taking in the views. The water was raging after all the rain we got!

We spent about as much time running around the banks of the falls as we did actually hiking to and from the falls. We only saw two other people on our hike, and it felt amazing to be in a place like that on our own. There were a number of downed trees across the creek, likely a result of some of the winter storms we had and recent strong winds.

Picking up the blue blazed Falls Trail again, turning left after crossing the bridge, we wound along the creek, up a small hill to our right, and through thick forest before dropping back down toward the falls.  Turning around at the falls would've been an option as well, but we opted to add the extra 0.25 miles to the loop instead.

One last view of the falls before heading back across the bridge.

The blue blazed Falls Trail brought us back across the bridge, back up the same stairway we came down, and back to the Christman Trail. Instead of turning left to head back the way we came, we turned right with the goal of making the hike into a loop. The remainder of the trail felt like the beginning - wide, grassy, and mostly flat - and we arrived back at the car about 90 minutes after starting the hike.

Things to Know Before You Go
Crossing the Wild Creek Falls bridge. (PC: C. Coleman)

In this section of my trip reports, I typically share "gotcha" sort of tips I'm either glad I found in advance, or wish I'd known before I started the day. But this hike is about as straightforward as they come! 

The visitor center was easy to find, maps were in a plastic holder on the outside of the building, and we didn't have any trouble locating the trailhead. We did make one wrong turn at a junction less than 0.25 miles into the hike, but quickly realized our mistake and found the right route. Aside from the beginning of the hike, blazes were obvious, easy to spot, and easy to follow.

Beltzville Lake is the park's main attraction, and the size of the parking lots along the lake by the visitor center made it clear the areas gets crowded in summer months. Playing fields, boating (there's a special water skiing area indicated on the map!), swimming, a playground, and food concessions all look like great options when the weather gets warmer.

Have you been able to combine visits to places nearby to make a full day's adventure you wouldn't have considered before, like we did? Have you been to Beltzville State Park? I'd love to hear from you in the comments!

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