• Gina Matarazzo

Taking Time to Explore Nature Through Hiking and Photography

One of the perks about living in the Pocono Mountains is the numerous state parks and wildlife preserves. These places are great for getting out and about, enjoying nature, seeing unique wildlife species, and, my favorite, capturing great shots. This week’s blog will highlight my five favorite go-to spots in the Pocono Mountains that feature great trails and magnificent scenery!

  1. Tobyhanna State Park | Tobyhanna, PA: I have been going to the Tobyhanna State Park since I was a kid. I used to go swimming with my Grandfather and boating with my Dad almost every summer. The park encompasses 5,440 acres, with a 170-acre lake—the Tobyhanna Lake. Most of the park is located in Coolbaugh Township, with smaller sections being located in Dreher and Lehigh townships. During World War II, the park was used as an artillery range by the U.S. Department of Defense. In fact, during the Spring of 2011, the park was shut down for a period of time while the Army Corps of Engineers cleared out remaining munitions discovered in the park. It has been said that visitors to the park took these munitions out as souvenirs, not realizing some of them had 4 1/2 pounds of TNT in them! The park was cleared out and has since been reopened. However, visitors are warned that old artillery shells may still be present in remote and undeveloped parts of the park. It’s pretty exciting to think that someplace so close to my house played an important role in World War II. At the park, there are plenty of activities for you to enjoy on a sunny day. Hiking, boating, swimming, and picnicking are some of the things visitors enjoy doing. I particularly love the scenery of the park. The Tobyhanna Lake is surrounded by trees and is picturesque during every season of the year! The park has three main trails that take you on a scenic tour of the woods. The Blue Trail is about 5.1 miles and circles the Tobyhanna Lake. I have done part of this trail a few times, and I love it. As you walk from the beach area and through the woods, you stumble upon mini hidden waterfalls. When you wrap around the trail, you see the beach area from a different view. It gives you a whole new perspective! The Yellow Trail, which is about 3.3 miles, takes you through one of the main roads in Tobyhanna, Route 196. I have yet to try this trail, but it is on my list! The Red Trail, which is the shortest of the three paths, is about 3.2 miles. The trail links the Tobyhanna State Park to Goldsboro State Park. Traveling northwest, this trail is named “red” for a reason! It is vigorous, with many areas being hard to pass through due to trees and roots. As much as I would love to see the scenery here, I think I’ll pass! 

  2. Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area | PA & NJ: If you have ever driven on Route 80 from New Jersey into Pennsylvania, you have passed through the Delaware Water Gap. For those of you who don’t know what a “water gap” is (and I learned this much later too), it is an area where a river cuts through a mountain ridge. Located on the border of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, the Delaware Water Gap is where the Delaware River cuts through a massive ridge of the Appalachian Mountains. It is said that the Delaware Water Gap began forming 500 million years ago when pebbles of quartz were deposited into a sea. The mountains are still developing to this day! Avid adventure seekers love coming to “the Gap” for activities such as rafting, hiking, and rock climbing. Although I have never hiked one of the trails, I love coming to the Gap for the scenery. Mount Tammany is one of my favorite spots there. When looking at the mountain, you can see a Native American man’s face. Many people talk about the “Indian’s face / Indian’s head,” and it took me a while to find the mountain they were referring to. However, when I found it, it was clear what they were talking about. When looking at the mountain, you see a side profile of a Native American. The luscious forests of the mountain make up his headdress. In the Autumn, the mountain is postcard perfect! The Point-of-Gap Overlook is another one of my favorite spots in the Gap. From the overlook, you can see the Delaware River as well as the Appalachian Mountains and Route 80. Occasionally, you will see an eagle or two circling in the sky. It is a great place to pull over and enjoy nature. If you are brave enough or a daredevil (depends on how you look at it), you can cross the road and venture into the forest a bit to find one of the numerous waterfalls of the Gap. Kittatinny Point is the Gap's beach area and where you pick up your raft for an adventure on the river. Being down at the beach and looking up at the mountains, you feel tiny. But it is such a fantastic feeling to be surrounded by nature and knowing that those mountains are forever changing. I absolutely love it at the Gap!

  3. Brodhead Creek Heritage Center at the Forevergreen Nature Preserve | East Stroudsburg, PA: Located on the grounds of the former Penn Hills Golf Course, the ForEvergreen Nature Preserve is a beautiful place to spot an eagle, an Indigo Bunting, a waterfowl family, chipmunks, and so many other wildlife creatures. I was introduced to this place by members of my photo group. We were on a hunt to photograph some eagles and eaglets in June of last year, and this was the place to be. Since then, I have returned several times, capturing eagles as well as other animals. The trail, called the ForEvergreen Loop, is perfect for hikers of all skills (and their dogs too!) The loop is about 1.1 miles and is mainly flat with a few inclines. Walking the trail, you are surrounded by beautiful trees. It is not uncommon to see colorful species of birds such as the Indigo Bunting or American Goldfinch. As you make your way back to the start of the loop, you pass the pond. On several occasions, I have seen the waterfowl family. Two parent (adult) waterfowl and seven ducklings. So cute! It is fun to watch their behavior and watch how the parents rear their “children”. It is also a great place to get shots of the ducklings being “kids!” My favorite spot, however, is the large area in front of the Brodhead Creek. It is here where the eagles have made their nest. On a good day, you can see the eagle sitting in the nest. Occasionally, the eagle will fly to an adjacent tree or circle the nest. Eagle spotting can be tricky, even when you are in a place where you know the eagle lives. Most time, when I go, all I see is the eagle nest in the tree, and the eagle is nowhere to be found. I have been lucky, too, to capture the eagle in flight, in the nest, and on the tree. They are a beautiful bird, and I can never get tired of photographing them! 

  4. Big Pocono State Park | Tannersville, PA: Whenever I go to Big Pocono State Park, I feel like I am on top of the Poconos! Because, literally, I am on top! Located on the summit of Camelback Mountain, Big Pocono State Park encompasses 1,306 acres and gives you a view of three states (Eastern Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey)! Most of the terrain is rugged, and a hike here is a great workout. There are many spots along the overlook to sit and have lunch. It would definitely be lunch with a view! I mainly come here for pictures and plan on attempting the trails this summer. I can’t wait to see what the scenery is like!

  5. Hickory Valley Park | Stroudsburg, PA: Hickory Valley Park is small and is mainly an attraction for trout fishers and dog walkers. However, it is quite peaceful here. I was introduced to place also by my photo group friends. We were taking a class on low light photography—photography without the use of internal or external flashes—and we met up at Hickory Valley Park with our instructor. We photographed McMichaels Creek, which runs through the park, and some of the trees and flowers. The main area is spacious, and you can easily do laps around it several times. I particularly love how there are several subjects the can be photographed here. It’s not just a park with a creek. But it’s a park with trees and flowers and trout and a fantastic view of the sunset. There is so much that can be photographed here. And it’s an excellent place for tranquility and peacefulness. 

I wasn’t always a nature lover or a person who would seek adventure on a hiking trail. However, the more I spent in nature, photographing it, learning from it, and exploring it, the more I grew to love it and went to learn more about it. When you spend a lot of time with nature, you become more appreciative of what is around you and gain more respect for the world. The beauty of flowers. The sweet sounds of the birds. The delicacy of raindrops. When you are more appreciative and have more respect, you become a better person. It is important to spend time with nature. It is important to be grateful and respectful. It is important to become a better person. And if you are ever in the Pocono Mountains or live here and need a new place to explore, visit one of these fantastic places!

Thanks for reading!

XO Gina

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