Glen Onoko Falls
Explore a series of waterfalls and vistas along a variable loop hike at Glen Onoko.
There are numerous waterfalls throughout eastern Pennsylvania, but the cascades found at Glen Onoko are particularly stunning. Paralleled by a steep rocky trail, Glen Onoko Run tumbles down the ravine in a series of dramatic falls, with views of the Lehigh Gorge and the nearby town of Jim Thorpe. Though the short falls trail can be difficult, with some scrambling necessary, several options for loop hikes make the area a great place for hikers of all experience levels.
Though the falls and trails are located within state game lands and outside Lehigh Gorge State Park, trailhead parking can be found within the park boundaries at the Glen Onoko Access Area. Follow PA 209 north (with the river on your right) from downtown Jim Thorpe until the intersection with PA 903. Cross the bridge and make your first left onto Main Street. After half a mile you'll see a sign for Glen Onoko and turn left onto the access road. Follow it to the end where there are several parking lots and a restroom.
From the parking area, walk down the stairs, turn right, head under the overpass, keeping to the right, and pick up the orange blazes. A large sign with a map marks a trail junction, with the falls trail branching to the left. After a short distance, the trail meets Glen Onoko Run and begins to climb steeply alongside the flowing water. There are three main waterfalls, with numerous smaller cascades in between. The trail crosses the stream a couple times, and can be muddy and slick for most of the climb. From the top of the middle falls there is a decent view of the valley below, though chains have been put in place to keep visitors from approaching the dangerous edge.
After reaching the top of the third waterfall, the trail veers off to the right and into the woods, branching off in a web of false trails. The key here is to look for a fire ring near a small sign marking the route to the falls. From there you can pick up either of two trails that can loop back around to the bottom.
For a 4 mile loop, follow the red blazed trail along the ridge into the woods until you reach an overlook. From the overlook the trail turns sharply right and descends to the first trail junction. For a shorter 2 mile loop, from the fire ring, pick up the blue blazed trail that branches to the right and immediately downhill. This trail will eventually meet the red blazed trail and continue downhill following its route.
No matter which route you hike, take some time near the end of the trail to marvel at the stone walls and foundations built throughout the forest. The walls are all that is left of a once sprawling resort located at Glen Onoko, complete with a hotel, railroad station, tennis courts, a merry-go-round, and pavilions. A forest fire burned down the hotel in 1911, and another fire took the railroad station in 1917. Back then, a half a million tourists passed through the resort, many of whom probably made the short hike to marvel at the same falls that continue to draw people to the area today.
A word of caution: Since the falls and trails are located within state game lands, there are no proper maps and the trails can be poorly marked or maintained. There are often several branching trails that all go in the same direction. Additionally, accidents on the trail are common, with some resulting in serious injuries and even death. Be sure to wear proper footwear, use trek poles or a hiking stick to help with balance, and maintain a safe distance from the edge of the falls.
Difficulty: The trail along the falls is strenuous, with steep rocky sections and minor scrambling. The trail is often wet and slippery. Other trails to complete the loop are moderate.
Trailhead: Glen Onoko Access Area
Route: From the parking area, go down the stairs and under the overpass. Pick up the orange blazes, for the falls trail. Return via the blue or red blazed trails, depending on desired length. Trails are sometimes poorly maintained and improperly blazed.
Overnight Possible: No, camping is prohibited on PA State Game Lands, which makes up most of the area. Nearby Jim Thorpe has options for camping.
Best Time To Go: Anytime of year, though winter can be especially treacherous due to ice accumulation. The parking area is open sunrise to sunset.
Where to Poop: Restrooms can be found near the parking area. Little to no backcountry opportunities along the falls trail.
Lehigh Gorge State Park
Glen Onoko Access Area Map* (pdf)
*This map is slightly inaccurate. The bridge over the Lehigh River has moved, and now aligns with North Street, not South Street, but it should give you a good idea of the general area.