ice hiking at Ricketts Glen

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Last summer, I saw the Ricketts Glen State Park waterfalls for the first time and absolutely fell in love! As beautiful as it is in summer, ice hiking at Ricketts Glen in winter is like nothing else I have ever done. For hiking Ricketts Glen in winter, it’s best to work with a tour company. I used Valley to Summit Guided Wilderness Adventures for ice hiking the Ricketts Falls Trail.

Frozen waterfalls seen hiking at Ricketts Glen in winter.

Hiking Ricketts Glen in Winter

As far as my winter ice hike in Pennsylvania, I was in awe. It’s one of the best things I’ve done in my entire life! The falls, still flowing, but also shrouded in ice and snow, were magical. The quiet trail, our chatter and the stomp of our boots the only noise, was mesmerizing. And, the sense of accomplishment at doing something so challenging, spectacular!

Looking up at frozen waterfalls from below.

What should I expect when booking an ice hiking tour?

After registering for the ice hike with Valley to Summit Tours, I had to complete a health form and activity waiver. I then had to gather the required gear and clothing. I was able to borrow several of the items from the list above, but I did have to buy a few things. Make sure in advance that you have everything you need.

On the day of my hike, I arrived at the trail head where Carlos, our guide, went over the gear — clothes, crampons and ice picks. He helped fit our crampons properly and had us test them out in the parking lot before setting out. Then, he provided the ground rules — follow the safety rules, drink lots of water and stay together.

And then, we set off on our hike!

We started on level terrain, getting used to walking on spikey shoes. Then, Carlos demonstrated the proper way to go up and down inclines and watched each one of us to make sure we were following the proper technique.

As we walked along the trail, Carlos kept a decent pace, slowing down when we got to interesting scenery.

The river with snowy rocks on either side.

At the first waterfall, we had a steep descent. He used a lead rope which he tied around a tree and tied us into the rope with carabiners so that if we did slip, we wouldn’t fall far. No one in our group lost their footing, thankfully.

We continued along the trail, marveling at the frozen waterfalls and walls of icicles we saw along the way.

Tour guide making hot chocolate on our ice hike during a break.

Before descending to the base of the last waterfall, we stopped for snacks and hot chocolate on a sheltered ledge. I, for one, was grateful for the break! Ice hiking at Ricketts Glen is a bit tiring, especillay on the hike down to the base of the falls.

A wall  of icicles hanging from a rock ledge.

We then descended 94′ feet to the base of Ganoga Falls, saving the best for last. After spending a few minutes at the base of Ganoga Falls, but before the mist of the falling water got us too wet, we started our return climb to where it all began.

Ganoga Falls frozen and snow covered at Ricketts Glen State Park in Pennsylvania.

Believe it or not, the climb back to the top was easier than the hike down to the falls — even after two hours on the trail.

Snow covered rock steps at Ricketts Glen in winter.

Back in the parking lot, we took off our borrowed gear and said our group good-byes. It was a phenomenal experience shared with new friends from Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

What to wear ice climbing at Ricketts Glen

Before going on an ice hike, whether at the Ricketts Glen Falls Trail with Valley to Summit or on another tour company somewhere else, it helps to have the right ice hiking gear!

On an ice hike at Ricketts Glen State Park, the tour company provided the specialty gear needed.

But, you need to have your own cold weather gear.

I got a list of everything I needed to have with me far in advance of the ice hiking tour. If you plan on winter hiking, this is a good list of gear, even if you won’t be hiking water falls.

Essential gear for ice climbing

Can I wear regular hiking boots in snow and ice?

Choosing the right boots for ice hiking is probably one of the most important decisions you can make.

Waterproof hiking boots with good tread for winter hiking

I wondered if I can wear hiking boots in snow and ice, or if I need special boots for ice hiking. Luckily, waterproof hiking boots work well. Though, in really cold climates, insulated hiking boots are better. Just look for hiking boots that will support your ankles on difficult terrain, keep your feet dry and allow the crampons to grip to them.

My boots, pictured above, are Oboz waterproof women’s hiking boots. From the moment I put them on, they were comfortable.

Gear needed for ice hiking at Ricketts Glen

One of the most important tools you need when going ice hiking is crampons — though ice climbing tour companies will probably provide them along with the rest of your safety gear.

safety gear for ice climbing at ricketts glen state park

What are crampons, you ask? Good question!

Crampons are essentially spikes to help you maintain your footing on icy terrain. They have adjustable straps to fit over boots, kind of like chains for car tires!

Other safety gear that the adventure tour company will provide includes helmets, an ice pick, and a harness with carabiners for the safety rope. Basically, if it’s something you wouldn’t use to go sled riding, the tour company provides it.

General tips to prepare for ice hiking

You don’t have to be marathon runner ready to go ice hiking, but it does help to be reasonably fit. To prepare, I walked about five miles per day the month before my hike and did a whole lot of squats! That core strength is critical to balance and having the stamina to carry the load.

Between clothing, a pack full of snacks and water, and an ice pick, you carry more weight on an ice hike than normal, so those squats were a huge help!

Besides that, make sure you have the proper clothes — NON-COTTON is important. Cotton clothes, like blue jeans, do not dry quickly. If you get wet, that trail is going to be miserable. If you don’t want to buy it all, borrow from friends. And, if they don’t have what you need, consider second hand sports stores or clearance racks at sporting goods stores.

If you go ice hiking at Ricketts Glen, check out some of the other trails in the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania. They aren’t as difficult as hiking the waterfalls, but beautiful none-the-less.