Camping in the Poconos

For Memorial Day Weekend we ventured north a few hours through Lehigh valley and up the gorge to Hickory Run State Park for camping and hiking. We loaded up the car Saturday morning and with coffees in-hand and a sunny but cool forecast we puttered up Highway 309. After groceries and a scenic tour through Allentown, we stopped at a diner in Bowmanstown for sandwiches. The last leg of the drive dropped into Jim Thorpe, PA, named for the famed 1912 Olympian who went to the Carlisle Indian School located nearby. Twenty minutes beyond, we are deep in forest and turn into the campground.

Creekside campsite

Our campsite (#9) is at the very end of the large campground area, right next to Sand Spring Run – they call all the creeks around here runs, it’s pretty steep country – and among rhodedendrons and hemlocks. It is labeled a walk-in site, but only perhaps 20ft from the shared parking spot for the 10 walk-in sites. Three of the other nearby sites are occupied, the most neighbors we’ll have all weekend it turns out. After setting up camp and studying the map we decide for some light hiking in the remaining afternoon as a warmup to a full day of hiking Sunday.

Shades of Death trailhead
Happy to be camping

The campground runs along a few creek runs, one of which is dammed every quarter mile into small deep ponds. The CCC built some of these, or perhaps repaired them all from earlier industry? The Shades of Death trail follows this run down to the main park office, dropping 300ft in a mile and cutting through and around large stone outcroppings. It is clear that the ground throughout the park is a thin layer on top of constant rock and boulders.

Through the rock
Stametz Dam
In the trees

Dinner (hamburgers and humus), a campfire, and an early night shortly after sundown. Destined to be a cold night with a fierce gusting wind: low of 41°F, to be surpassed with 36°F the following night. We were incredibly thankful for the good campfire, winter hoodies, and for bringing our winter sleeping bags and flannel liners.

Up at 7am after things warmed up a little, coffee oatmeal and a quick fire. Our plan is for an early drive over to the trailhead for Boulder Field trail, and after packing water and a lunch of peanut butter banana sandwiches and apples, we arrive 5 minutes down the road, second car. It is cool and brightly sunny, and after an initial steep meadow with wild strawberry blossoms we dive into a beech forest, a rocky trail and endless undergrowth of ferns. The trail steadily but barely climbs (a few hundred feet over 3.5 miles) and at points seems liable to be swallowed back into the forest except for the bright yellow blazes.

Beech forest, Boulder Field trail
Ferns a-swooshing
Hemlock forest, Boulder Field trail

Occasionally the forest darkens into hemlock and rhododendrons – it is through one of these after 2 hours that we encounter the first other people on the trail, and then suddenly find ourselves on the edge of the boulder field. It is imposing and a challenge to take in – the averge boulder is about a foot across, making the full 400ft across like picking your way across a creek, with occasional large boulders and some natural waist-deep depressions from the sorting of the stones. The families we meet had crossed it from the parking lot on the far side, but we’re going to save our energy for the return trip and only venture a little into the field. Lunch and soaking up some of the sun-warmed stone’s heat – the breeze has picked up again though and the relative warmth of the woods calls us for the return hike.

Up to my waist in boulders
(Photo by Stephanie)
At Boulder Field
Made it!
Drawing the boulder field
(Photo by Stephanie)

We finished the early afternoon with a quick hike on the other side of the trailhead down to Mud Run and Hawk Falls, a perfectly fine but heavily visited falls. A total of 8.5 miles for the day, we returned to camp to rest our feet. Surprising for the middle of the holiday weekend, all but one of our neighbors had left so for a few hours we were the only tent we could see. One of them, a large group of college kids who clearly had been too cold left a great large stump of firewood that would form the core, along with the remnants of our Christmas tree saved for this camping trip, of a bright warm fire all evening. I hiked down our creek a few hundred feet and found a beautiful falls right below us.


We played cards, made potatoes and sausages and s’mores, and again turned in shortly after the sun left us in the cold night. Returned home this morning refreshed and steeped in campfire smoke. Good camping.