If you’re looking for an “easy” weekend getaway without spending a fortune, and if you don’t mind the great outdoors, then camping may be the perfect option for you.
My lovely intern, Brianne, shares her camping experience with us all; the good, the bad, and the buggy!
Written by: Brianne Addison
A little over two weeks ago, I visited Hickory Run State Park with my boyfriend. It was a spur of the moment trip – campsite booked less than 24-hours prior- but we were excited to explore what the Poconos had to offer. I had seen pictures of Hickory Run State Park, read some reviews, and saw that there was a waterfall (needless to say this sold me). We decided that this was the place we wanted to spend our weekend.
What can I say about this trip? It was…. rough. Mingled with unlimited fun and unforgettable moments, but ultimately, it was a test of our patience. At least, that’s what it felt like to me. The 15,990-acre state park is nestled within the western foothills of the Pocono Mountains and contains over 40 miles of trails. If you’re like me and you adore hiking, than this is a dream. I only wished I’d been more prepared.
First tip, don’t forget to pack a tent. We arrived at our campsite at 9pm only to discover that the tent was not in the bag. We ended up sleeping in our car the first night. Second tip, no matter how much firewood you have brought, it’s not enough. Over pack on firewood and leave the extra box of cereal at home, you don’t need it. Also, use flashlights to set up your campsite, not your car’s headlights, otherwise you might have to rely on the kindness of your very grumpy neighbor to jump start your vehicle. Oh, and bring newspaper to fuel your fire…. not every camp store is going to carry fire starters. Without paper or fire starters, you’ll be out of luck, unless you feel like burning your socks.
Onto the park itself….
As someone who is from New Jersey, and has frequented all the county parks as well as many (if not most) of the State Parks, I thought hiking in a Pennsylvania State Park would not be too different.
Pennsylvania is an entirely different beast. Sure there are fun and “easy” trails that lead to spectacular waterfalls and pretty streams, like the Shades of Death trail, which follows the course of Sand Spring Run through thick rhododendron bushes (they smelled SO good), but those were not the trails that we ended up taking.
First trail we took was Boulder Field trail which led to…. Boulder Field, located in the northeast corner of the park. The field can be reached by car, but we decided to hike the 3.5 miles instead. 3.5 miles is nothing- I’ve hiked much, much more- but those trails were in New Jersey, or in popular state parks in places like Northern California or more suburban areas of PA. You usually pass at least a couple of people on your journey. This trail, though quite short, felt longer. Probably because I was terrified of running into a Black bear the entire time; I was told they littered the surrounding forest. Boulder Field trail ran through areas of spruce, hemlock, and beech forests; landscapes out of fairy tales (or perfect Instagram, hiking pages).
It took us roughly 2 hours to reach Boulder Field. It was nothing like I’d ever seen before. The field is vast, 400 by 1,800 feet, and deep, 12 feet to be exact.
You may be asking yourself why exactly there is a gigantic field of boulders in the middle of an otherwise dense forest. Well, my friends, to find the answer we must look to the last glacial period, some 20,000 years ago.
The field was created from the intermittent freezing over and thawing out of the ridges southwest of the field. As the ridges separated, they gathered on sands, clay, and ice at the foot of those ridges. When the weather warmed, the ice would melt and bring the boulders to the current location of Boulder Field. This process occurred countless times over many years, hence the field is so enormous, and the reason why it is a National Natural Landmark.
The boulders are made up of conglomerates and sandstone, for those of you interested in a tad bit of geology.
We ate lunch on a boulder and watched the enormous spiders scuttle in between the crevices of the rocks. Then we tested our balance and agility as we hopped from boulder to boulder to reach the other side of the field.
We decided to go back a different route, figuring it would take roughly the same amount of time as Boulder Field Trail, but what we thought would be short-ish hike turned into an 8 hour ordeal.
We took three separate trails to reach our car. The first was Stone Trail; 2.8 miles of ultimate seclusion. A narrow trail, guarded on either side by thick, knee-high brush. When not being smothered by brush, we traipsed through wide open forestland. It was all absolutely gorgeous back-country, bordered on the right by an area that was not part of the park, but open, unregulated, wilderness. It was not a long trail, but nothing feels longer when you are constantly on the lookout for bears.
Being from Central New Jersey / the Jersey Shore, I am the biggest predator when I go hiking in the woods. It was quite a different experience hiking in the Pocono Mountains, knowing that neither I, nor my boyfriend, were at the top of the food chain. Not to mention we were the only souls out there. I can only describe the feeling as highly exhilarating.
If we had run into a bear, I knew the best procedure was to keep calm and not appear threatening. Also not to run or climb trees since bears can run up to 35 mph and climb trees like raccoons. If a bear advanced, the best thing to do was make myself as big and scary as humanly possible. Naturally when I got home I read up on Black bears and discovered that attacks are EXTREMELY rare, so that made me feel rather ridiculous, but relieved nonetheless.
A tip to anyone who loves hiking, but has not done many back-country, totally secluded trails…. read up on the local wildlife first so that you can prepare ahead of time and not give yourself a heart attack every moment you hear a strange sound in the trees.
We made it off of Stone Trail alive and followed the 3 mile maintenance trail, a long and winding path that led to…. isolation once again. Just when I was beginning to miss it.
The entire point of taking this particular journey back to our car had been so that we could walk the Stage Trail, for the sake of history. Once the stagecoach road from Bethlehem to Wilkes-Barre, Stage Trail is wide open, quite flat, and shows the expertise of early road builders. It was fun to imagine the trail many years ago.
Midnight…. a lone stagecoach rides through the dense and wildly populated forest…. the only light comes from a single lantern swaying with the movement of the horse which pulls it….
OK, I’m done writing the opening line to a creepy novel.
The hike was long, but every step was worth it. What was even more worth it was hiking Hawk Falls Trail after. To get to the waterfall, we traversed though a tunnel of rhododendron bushes beside a flowing river.
The natural 25-foot waterfall is a popular destination for swimmers. What is truly fun about the waterfall are the number of rocks and ledges just begging to be climbed. We ambled up the rocky side of the Falls to the top, where we were welcomed by a snake; a truly “Amazonian jungle” type of moment. We studied the reptile until it raised its head and began slithering towards us, obviously annoyed by our continual presence. That was the end of our camping adventure.
So, to recap about this short camping/hiking trip: learn about the local wildlife, don’t forget to bring extra firewood/newspaper, pack flashlights, and don’t forget to check your tent bag to make sure the tent is actually in there before you travel three hours into the mountains. I’ve made that mistake twice now….
All in all, it was a beautiful three day “vacation”. We ate too many hot-dogs, had several delicious bonfires, and my boyfriend even read to me by light of the flames. We looked up at the stars, laughed a lot, got injured, and eaten alive by mosquitoes. We ended up buying a one person tent from the camp store and it couldn’t have been crappier, but we managed to sleep in it overnight, and yes it did downpour, and yes we did get soaked.
Despite everything, this trip has me thirsting for more camping adventures. The most important lesson I learned on this trip was that you cannot plan everything; that is the nature of camping. Whatever can go wrong, will most likely go wrong, and to remain level-headed enough to think logically is quite a test; an excellent one at that.