Hiking Glen Onoko Falls Trail – Pennsylvania
Guest Post by Marc Andre of Loaded Landscapes
I’ve lived in Pennsylvania for most of my life, but it wasn’t until the past few years that I really started to explore the state’s natural beauty. My interest in photography ultimately led me to begin researching places that I could visit within a few hours of my home. When I started to look for the best hikes in Pennsylvania, one name that continued coming up was the Glen Onoko Falls Trail. Could it really be that special if I had lived in the state for 25 years without having heard of it?
My research led me to discover that this trail, featuring various waterfalls, cascades, and scenic overlooks, was in fact quite dangerous and many hikers have died over the years. That definitely got my attention, and made me a bit apprehensive about what I would be getting myself into. In one report a service worker said there had been 4 rescue efforts in a single week! At this point I was curious to see what was so special, and potentially hazardous, about this trail.
Glen Onoko had been on my list of places to visit for quite a while before I actually got around to making the trip. Since the main purpose of my trip was landscape photography, I wanted to avoid fellow hikers as much as possible, so I left my house at 4:00 AM and arrived at the trailhead by 6:30, shortly after sunrise. Sure enough, I hiked for 4 hours and didn’t see another person until I was almost back to my car. By that time the parking lot was filling up and many people were getting started on the loop.
An important thing to know about the Glen Onoko Falls Trail is that it is somewhat of an unofficial trail. The parking lot and trailhead are within Lehigh Gorge State Park, but within the first hundred yards or so you leave the park limits and for the rest of the hike you are on state game lands. The state doesn’t maintain game lands trails the same way they do for state park trails, so this trail is rugged, inconsistently blazed, and not officially mapped.
Before visiting I read several blog posts of hikers that had gotten turned around or had a hard time following the trail, so I was especially careful about knowing where I was going. Although there are not official maps, I printed the one on this page and found it to be extremely helpful. If you are just going up the trail to see the waterfalls and then heading back the same way (about one mile out and back), it’s not too difficult. But if you are continuing to some of the viewpoints (can be about 6 miles in total), you’ll definitely want the map.
Early on in the trail you reach Glen Onoko Run, which tumbles down the mountain. The trail goes along the side of Glen Onoko Run past 3 named waterfalls and countless beautiful cascades. As soon as you reach Glen Onoko Run you will be greeted with a truly beautiful scene. I was there in the spring when the plants and trees were full of life, and the water level was higher than at other times of the year. Although I had high expectations for this trail based on how many people recommend it, I was still pleasantly surprised right from the beginning by the natural beauty. The thick Rhododendrons that line the area make it feel like a jungle.
The first waterfall that you come to is Chameleon Falls. It’s not a tall waterfall, but it is picturesque. You can walk up pretty close to it on the rocks.
Just beyond Chameleon Falls you will reach the second waterfall, Glen Onoko Falls. This is the highest of the falls on the trail, at about 50 or 60 feet. It’s a very wide waterfall and the flow of water usually isn’t great, so it forms a small veil over the rocks.
Next, you’ll come to some impressive, but unnamed, cascades.
After that you will quickly come to Cave Falls. There is an area behind the falls. It’s not exactly a cave, but you can walk behind it if you want to.
The way up the trail is a bit challenging. In many places, the trail kind of disappears and you just have to climb over some rocks until the trail is visible again. In other places you have to decide which is the best, and safest path. But from my experience, the trail really isn’t dangerous if you’re careful. Most of the accidents over the years have happened at the second waterfall. People have gotten too close to the edge, slipped on the rocks, and fallen. That area is now roped off, so if you follow the signs and stay back there isn’t much to worry about.
Following Cave Falls you can either turn around and head back the way you came in, or you can continue a short distance until you reach a fire pit. At the fire pit you can turn right and you hit a return trail that leads back to the parking lot. The return trail doesn’t feature views of the water, but it does have a lot of stone steps and is a little easier, and faster, on the way down as compared to returning the other way.
The other option is to extend the hike once you reach the top. There are a few viewpoints that can be reached. The most noteworthy is Oxbow Bend, which adds about 2 miles each way to the hike. At the Oxbow Bend overlook you can see a u-turn in the Lehigh River below. Since I had never been on the trail before, I decided to head to Oxbow Bend. While it is a nice view, the trees are a little overgrown and block parts of the view. Next time I’ll probably only hike to the waterfalls and back.
If you’re looking for a great hike and looks of picturesque scenery in eastern Pennsylvania, I definitely recommend the Glen Onoko Falls Trail.
Check out another great waterfall trail: Arethusa Falls