The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area boasts a bevy of scenic attractions, waterfalls being among the chief draws for locals and tourists alike. Most of these picturesque cascades, such as Dingman’s Falls, Raymondskill Falls, and Childs’ Park are surrounded by walkways and viewing decks. While these features make viewing the waterfalls somewhat safer for the casual visitor and also concentrate the environmental impact made by hikers, at the same time they create a buffer that restricts adventurers from getting “Up close and personal” with the raw power of the churning water. However, if you are the type of outdoorsman that prefers to “experience” nature rather than just “enjoying” it, there are several, lesser known waterfalls where access is relatively unlimited. One such location are the Indian Ladders Falls.
Obtaining accurate information about these falls proved to be the first challenge. Carl Oplinger’s “The Poconos” guidebook fails to list these falls and instead addresses a like-named series of falls located on the Skytop Resort property just over the Pike County line in Monroe County; Scott Brown’s “Pennsylvania Waterfalls” mentions four waterfalls and places them off Dickinson Rd, not Emory Rd (which also has various spellings depending on the source); and the Park Service notes this is also the Hornbeck Creek Trail and that there are two waterfalls, but then goes on to explain the “Ladders” are a series of falls and another waterfall (cited as “Tumbling Waters” in Brown’s guidebook) is located along the same trail. Confused? To add another layer of befuddlement to this quest, the Park Service has closed a section of the trail between the two series of falls; removed the online map; and has a link to directions that only show the access point off US-209 for the lower falls, not the Ladders.
Brown’s book, the mislabeled road aside, proved to be the most accurate source as it has a fairly easy-to-decipher map. Get oneself to the Pocono Environmental Education Center on Emery (their spelling) Rd. and leaving the PEEC parking lot, turn left and travel approximately 1.9 miles until the road crosses Hornbeck Creek. Pull-off lots are located on either side of the small bridge and the trails meander downstream from the road.
Hitting the Trail
Unlike many other natural attractions, no signage exists here to welcome you or warn you. There’s no informational kiosk, posted map, or painted trees to even guide you through the woods. A fairly well worn trail is easy to follow but smaller paths, here and there, lead wanderers to various spots along the creek where one can walk right out on to the cliffs and crags that bound the rushing water.
The first spectacle encountered on the downstream trek was a slide where a vein of water flowed for several yards before beginning an 18-20 foot plummet to a plunge pool. Accessing the slide is relatively easy if you’ve hugged the stream the entire way, getting down to the base of the falls takes a bit more effort as there’s no clear cut trail on one side of the stream.
Loose earth and crumbling rock make for a sketchy but short hike to a head-on view of the falls, uncluttered by boardwalks and split-rail fencing. On the opposite bank a more well-worn trail appears to offer an easier access way to the same spot. The pool depth averaged around five feet and one can literally wade right up to where the falling water reunites with the creek.
Continuing downstream, next a small chute cuts through the rock for about six feet and then after a short, flat run, drops abruptly for another 20-25 feet over a cascade. One can get into the gorge in between the chute and cascade and take in the sound of the water and the shapes it has created over the past 15,000 years or so. Sand that was deposited here millions of years ago sat undisturbed until the last ice age. When the glaciers receded the water flowed and began to make light work of the brittle rock. Eons of erosion are easy to observe from this spot.
Finally, the trail drops to the base of the fourth falls detailed in the guidebook, another cascade. This one is about 40 feet high and has a less inviting pool at the base due to the swifter current and slippery rocks. However the side trail to the base puts one in a great position to view the falls head-on.
Below this the trail seemed sketchy. There were no “Closed Trail” signs indicating the restrictions set by the Park Service, but it’s possible that the closed section of trail is further along. Regardless, a nice hike that allows one to experience waterfalls without man-made interference awaits for those that desire it.