Confession time: I did not plan for this trip at all. I showed up with no map, no idea what trails were best, just a certainty that there was a creek, a waterfall, and a big rock. So, I was quite happy when my wandering resulted in a lovely hike of approximately three and a half miles.
I arbitrarily picked the Copperas Rock trailhead to begin my journey. I was almost immediately confronted with a choice between continuing on Copperas Rock or taking Rhododendron Trail. I’m a sucker for beautiful streams and that’s normally where rhododendron grows, so I chose the latter. The terrain was fairly steep and rocky, the kind of trail that tests your balance and makes you spend a lot of time staring at your feet.
The trail is quite aptly named – huge rhododendron shrubs arch over the path and climb the steep hillsides throughout the hike. As I expected, the trail does switchback down to the creek from which the park takes its name.
Rhododendron Trail ends when it meets Balanced Rock Trail at a creaky but cool suspension bridge. From there it leads to Rainbow Falls, an almost magical little spot where water from a mountain stream drops down terraced rocks into Trough Creek. This is definitely one of the highlights of the park. While it makes sense to head up to Balanced Rock from here, I took a quick detour up part of Abbott Run Trail to admire the stream that feeds Rainbow Falls. It’s an absolutely beautiful path, with stands of hemlock and several small bridges that take you back and forth over the creek. The songs of Acadian Flycatchers, Black-throated Green Warblers, and Blackburnian Warblers follow your every step in this area.While the falls were cool, this was probably my favorite spot in the park.
I did end up making it to Balanced Rock, which is an interesting formation to check out. It looks like it’s about to slide down the mountainside, but apparently its mass is in the right
place to prevent this from happening. I took another detour from here to check out Raven Rock Trail, which ended up leading down to a pretty part of Trough Creek that featured a huge cliff and an abundance of Eastern Phoebes and Louisiana Waterthrushes. From there, I went back past Balanced Rock and up the Creek to where it connected with Ledges Trail. This offered a couple of nice lookouts, and connected back up with Copperas Rock Trail. Both Ledges and Copperas Rock offered beautiful woodlands of conifers and oaks.
So, was it worth the hour-long drive? Mostly. It definitely has some amazing features and scenery, plus the variety of bird and plant life was fun to experience. If I go back, it will have to be when the rhododendron blooms. Having gorgeous flowers along a whole trail can’t really hurt a hiking experience. It’s a little small to be worth more than a day trip, but it could be a really amazing part of a camping or boating trip that also incorporates Rothrock State Forest and Raystown Lake, the largest lake in the state.
Next weekend I’m planning to hit a Penn State tradition, so watch out for Weekend in the woods: Mount Nittany.