In South Jersey and much of the Philadelphia suburbs you won't find many waterfalls; the land is too flat.
But there are cascades, as small waterfalls are called, right in Philadelphia - more than just the Fairmount Dam on the Schuylkill. In Bucks and Chester Counties, where the hills are (slightly) higher, there are cascades as well. Several are showcases for dining.
And there's one little-known spot in the far reaches of Bucks that qualifies as a lifetime memory because, in addition to a 30-foot fall, it has rocks that make music. Really.
Many waterfalls are good places to gather to watch the gentle ballet of fly fishermen. Trout love the pools under waterfalls, where the insect larvae on which they feed come over in abundance. Saturday is a mixed bag in that regard: It's the start of trout season in Pennsylvania, and will offer plenty of opportunities for people-watching - too many, in some places.
So here's a guide to some of the cascades and waterfalls in our area. You'll need a map, and keep in mind that many waterfalls and pools, particularly in the city, are for looking - not drinking or swimming. Standing under one can be risky, too; the same power that flushes food for trout over the edge can dump a rock on your head. But a picnic lunch in the trees nearby . . . ahh, that's risk-free.
WISSAHICKON CREEK. Naturalist Sioux Baldwin can tell you stories about the waterfalls and cascades all along the seven-mile walk from the treehouse visitors center in the Andorra Natural Area, near Northwestern and Germantown Avenues, down to where the creek flows into the Schuylkill at Ridge Avenue, near the City Avenue bridge. Wissahickon Valley trail maps showing most of the falls can be purchased at the center, as well as at the Valley Green Inn and some other locations. You could see all of them in an afternoon's walk, including lunch on a picnic bench.
For the full hike, drive to the edge of Manayunk, near Ridge Avenue and Main Street, across from the Buten paint store. (Public-transit directions are below.) This is where Ridge Avenue passes over the creek. Find a place to park - there's an unmarked public parking lot between the electric substation and the creek - and walk up the asphalt path on the north side of the creek, where you'll find two more dams a short distance upstream, each with water rushing over the top.
Continue up the trail a bit less than a mile to a footbridge and cross over the creek, staying on the path. At the entrance to Forbidden Drive - so named
because it's off-limits to motor vehicles - turn right through the guardhouse onto the path toward RittenhouseTown. Monoshone Run is on your right. Walk up beside the run and almost immediately you will encounter a series of cascades.
Return to Forbidden Drive and continue up the Wissahickon a little over two miles to the first major - well, major for here - waterfall, at old Livezey Dam. The wide falls once served a circa-1745 grist mill, one of the largest in the valley; the even older Livezey house still stands there.
Now continue upstream to the Valley Green Inn, veer to the right through the parking lot, over the old stone bridge and onto the trail that cuts to the right, along the creek. Follow that less than half a mile to one of the prettiest waterfalls in the valley, where Cresheim Creek feeds Devil's Pool under Shakespeare Rock. The water makes a forceful, if short, drop into the pool, which, contrary to an aged tale, is deep but not bottomless. Expect to encounter large - very large - schools of fly fishermen this weekend.
Head back down to Forbidden Drive and continue upstream several hundred feet to Wise's Mill Road. There, at a dam that is visible from the drive, you will see a modest waterfall - especially dramatic when it is iced over in winter. Continue upstream again, perhaps a quarter-mile, to Lower Megargee Mill Dam, and watch the water drop six or eight feet over the top.
Your Wissahickon water hike is almost done. Continue strolling up Forbidden Drive for another mile or so to the covered bridge, the last in the city although it is not the original ancient bridge there. From the bridge you can see Upper Megargee Dam about 50 feet away. One more mile and you'll be at the Andorra Natural Area - another nice waterfall is about a block up the gravel path - a pleasant place to wind up your afternoon.
If the idea of walking seven miles uphill on even a low grade seems daunting, then start at the top and, like the water, roll down. SEPTA will help. From the Chestnut Hill West (on the R8 line) or Chestnut Hill East (R7) station, or the Broad Street Subway stop at Broad and Olney, catch an L bus - make sure it says Plymouth Meeting, not Erdenheim - to Northwestern Avenue, a short walk from the Andorra Natural Area's treehouse center. You can buy a map there, follow the creek downstream and, at the bottom, catch the R6 train to Center City from Wissahickon station or the 9, 27 or 65 bus, all at Ridge Avenue and Main Street (or the 1, 38, 61, 124, 125 or R bus a few hundred feet up Ridge).
PENNYPACK PARK. From the Pennypack Environmental Center at 8600 Verree Rd., about a mile north of Rhawn Street in the Northeast, take a trail for a few hundred feet to Pennypack Creek. There you will discover a 10-foot waterfall, the most beautiful in the park in the eyes of Steve Barras, a grounds maintenance worker at Pennypack. Below it is a pool framed by beech and sycamore trees.
Another Pennypack Park waterfall with a similar drop is near where the creek passes under Rhawn Street. There's a parking lot off Rhawn, east of Roosevelt Boulevard.
RINGING ROCKS PARK. My favorite. A 30-foot waterfall, and some smaller drops, are an absolute delight and an accompaniment to the curiosity of rocks that make music (bring a hammer). The waterfall, with its beautiful drop and gorgeous surroundings, combined with the rocks, is an extraordinary experience, well worth the close attention it takes to find it, and the rugged walk.
This Bucks County park has no amenities other than a garbage can marking a trail head. Only modest signs on Route 32, also known as River Road, mark the park. But you'll know you're close when, if you are driving north from New Hope, you reach the bridge to Milford, N.J.
(If you have forgotten a hammer, cross the bridge to Milford and turn left at the first stop light, where the hardware store employs sales people who will tell you about all the hammers they've sold - $12 to $22 - to people from all around the world. You can get lunch in town as well.)
Back on Route 32, several hundred feet past the bridge, a small sign directs you to turn left onto a meandering country road; follow it for two miles, and another sign will direct you to turn right.
At Ringing Rocks, park in the turnoff area to the immediate right and take the trail, marked by the garbage can, staying to the right for a hundred feet. A vast field of boulders will appear on the left, waiting to ring for you. Strike the rocks with a hammer and they sound like well-made bells. The more musically talented may even be able to knock out simple tunes by finding rocks whose rich iron content makes them ring with different notes.
Only rocks suspended between other boulders ring, just as a musician's triangle must be suspended to vibrate. And those in the center seem to ring clearest.
After making music for a while, return to the trail and continue downhill, where falling water will soothe the soul. This is about as quiet and secluded a spot as you will find within an hour of Center City, a perfect place to forget the world for a while. Or eat lunch on a rock.
A word of caution: This is not an easy walk, but the waterfall makes it well worth the careful negotiating of incline, dirt and rocks.
CASCADE LODGE. A few more miles up River Road, where a sign directs a left turn for a short uphill drive, is this pre-Revolutionary War farmhouse that over the years has grown into a multilevel dining room with two bars, one looking out over manmade cascades, a meadow and the forested hills.
The inn, run by Howard Knueth since 1959 and by his parents for 24 years before that, has a spring that cascades beside a dining room, flowing into a pond full of trout.
Order fresh trout for dinner - $16.95 to $18.95, among the cheapest entrees on the menu - and Knueth will take you back into the wine cellar, where another spring flows through the basement and a half-dozen rainbows swim until it's their turn to die for your dining pleasure. He sells about 150 trout a week at his charming and romantic restaurant. Dinner is served daily, and reservations are a good idea, particularly on Saturday night; lunch is available Tuesdays through Fridays, and there is a Sunday brunch. Phone: 215-346-7484.
CUTTALOSSA INN. If, upon leaving the high falls at Ringing Rocks, you head back toward New Hope, watch on the right for Marilyn MacMaster's Cuttalossa Inn, which has a picturesque 25-foot waterfall. You can sit out on the deck at an unusual table covered with a pink tablecloth. The tables are ancient wrought-iron sewing machine tables, many with the treadles still underneath. Newlyweds often pose for pictures on a little wooden foot bridge above the fall. MacMaster and partner Jeff Sharer serve outdoors in a covered patio every day it's warm and on the flagstone deck when it's not raining. The inn serves lunch and dinner every day but Sunday. Dinner entrees range from $18.95 to $28, and reservations are taken only through the end of April. Phone: 215-297-5082.
FRENCH CREEK. This creek in Chester County has several small waterfalls, including one at the St. Peter's Inn, where - when he reopens for the season in two weeks - owner Arthur Weiler will serve drinks and meals on a large open-air deck under the name Arthur's Key West. Entertained by the incongruous reggae music beside a creek in the countryside, you'll be able to buy your
steak, shrimp or chicken and barbecue it yourself on the deck. (Salad, bread and vegetables are available from a buffet; drinks are served at the table.)
Go for a hike up the creek and you'll find more waterfalls.
From the Pennsylvania Turnpike's Downingtown Exit, go north on Route 100 to Route 23 and turn west into St. Peter's Village. At St. Peter's Road, turn right; you'll see St. Peter's Inn ahead.
Dinner will be served seven days a week, lunch on weekends, beginning April 29. Dinner entrees run $10 to $17, and Weiler recommends reservations on the weekends. Phone: 610-469-6277.