Ricketts Glen State Park Waterfall Photography
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Ricketts Glen is a difficult hike. It has thousands of stairs down and then up. It can be slippery. They do have some easy trails but I don’t think they run along the waterfalls. It’s about a mile and half downhill, then a mile and half up the hill on the shortest route of waterfalls.
I arrived at 7 a.m. I walked out at 4:45 p.m. I have to admit I did skip a section. I had been photographing for hours and I was just plain old running out of steam. To do every single waterfall as I was doing takes a lot of hours of climbing over rocks, going up and down stairs and weaseling my way into the best part of the waters for the shots to get just the right perspective. I started at the Rose Lake Parking lot and went down the waterfall trail. I hung a left to go back to the top instead of going down the one trail at the bottom and coming back up the same trail before going back up. I was getting tired at this point. It was about 5 hours into the hike. You can start at either end and do the circle. If you start with the one-mile hike to the falls trail you don’t have to do it at the end. I like the falls on the Rose Parking lot side best. There were some falls I just took one picture and kept going. You can tell which falls make good photography if you have the eye as most of us do.
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Waterfall Route is on Falls Trail: 7.2 miles, most difficult hiking
Lake Rose Parking Lot is the closest access to Falls Trail. The full loop of this trail is 7.2 miles if hiking both the upper and lower sections. To see most of the waterfalls, a 3.2-mile loop can be taken by going on Highland Trail and the Glen Leigh and Ganoga Glen sides of the trail. I took the 3.2-mile loop, and it took me 9 hours to photograph properly. If you are more about hiking than photographing and doing it just right from multiple angles, you can do the full route.
Precautions to take:
To do this waterfall day, you must be in good physical condition. There are several precautions you must take.
- Always wear proper hiking boots. If you want to bring along water shoes to stand in the water to do your shots be prepared to take them back off and put your hiking boots back on. Sandals and water shoes will cause a fall on these slippery rocks you will encounter.
- Bring water or a survival water pump and food. You will be out all day. Eat right before you go.
- Check the weather before you go and make sure you plan to get out before dark.
- Let someone know where you are hiking and when you should return. I asked the Park Ranger. They are not allowed to leave at the end of the day if there is a car in the parking lot and a person unaccounted for. I pointed out my truck to the Ranger since I hike alone. I said, “If you see my truck after dusk can you come in and get me?” That’s when he told me their rule.
Maps: Be sure to stop by the office and get a map or print one to bring with you. I needed it. I actually at one point went the wrong way. Good thing I had my map.
Read more below about Winter Photography at Ricketts Glen State Park
Gear for this hike is more than just camera gear. It’s an all day event if you chose to do it this way so be prepared.
Gear: Bring your widest angle lens. The most important thing to bring is your set of Neutral Density Filters. If you don’t have them don’t go. Buy them first. Here is the link to purchase our favorite filters and the ones we used with our pictures above. xxxxx. A good tripod that is sturdy but light enough to carry all day is a must. We recommend a VANGUARD Alta+ 203AP tripod. This is what we easily carried all day and it was sturdy enough to sit in the moving waters and not get any blur in our images. Bring extra batteries. I recommend not going in unless you have 3 batteries in total if you are doing the 3.2 mile loop or the full loop. You will be shooting in live view mode all day and nothing drains the battery as fast as live view. Do not run out of memory cards. You cannot just run back to your car here. Shoot this raw so you can remove blaring white highlights if the sun pops out. Raw takes up way more room so bring extra cards. Bring them in a waterproof carrying case just in case. Bring water and food. A light backpack is good to have on. Thank you to my new friend for saving the day. I was out on the start of the hike and my backpack was killing my back. I took it off and regrouped. In my regrouping my energy bars did not make it into my fanny pack. How I did this I am not sure? But along the trail I met fellow photographer Brian Kerr and voila. He offered me a power bar which got me through to 4:45. The moral of the story – Don’t forget your power bars!! A super cool guy who saved the day! My assistant is now fired. Had he of come with me he would never let me forget my power bars.
When to go: This is the most important thing to remember. Bright sunshine is not our friend when doing waterfall photography but even the slightest drizzle will make the rocks slippery as can be here. Timing. I got it just right. Cloudy skies with only an occasional pop of sunshine and zero precipitation. I watched the weather and left the night before I saw perfect conditions. The park is closed for the winter except to those who have the proper ice shoes. Be sure to check exact details with the park on that. Do not do this on a holiday weekend. If you can do it in the middle of the week that is the best time. I think Brian and I were the only ones there at 7 a.m. There was one other car in the parking lot when I arrived.
Setting up your Shot:
Step 1: You will need to put your camera on a tripod. You will also want to use a remote shutter release to expose the image. If you don’t have one you can also use the camera’s self-timer. This will not work unless you are using a tripod so if you are new to this please know, that’s an absolute must.
Step 2: Set your camera to mirror lock-up to reduce the risk of vibrations from mirror movement during the long exposures. You can also use live view mode which is what I suggest for this location. When using this mode the mirror automatically locks up and you don’t need to manually set it. I keep my camera lower to the ground when shooting so I cant always bend to see the image so live view works best for me. Shooting from a lower angle does make more dynamic images.
Step 3: Put your filter on your camera. Even on a cloudy day you will want to use a Neutral Density Filter. It’s like sunglasses for your camera. You can do a longer exposure which is what makes the milky effect of the water movement. The darker the ND Filter the longer you can expose.
Step 4: Camera Settings – Set your camera to Manual mode, and then set the aperture to the smallest smallest one (most will be f/22, some f/29). Set your ISO to 100. Now looking through the camera roll the shutter speed so the exposure level indicator goes to ‘0’ on the exposure scale on the bottom looking in the camera. Without a filter on a sunny day you may not get lower than 1/15th sec. or even that low. This is why a neutral density filter is so important. I have a 3.0 filter. I can do a 30 second exposure at noon in bright sunshine with that bad boy.
Step 5: Set your Camera on 2 second timer or use your shutter release to expose the image. Evaluate the image. If your image has hot spots (areas of overexposed white spots) slow your shutter speed down a stop and test again until it is just right. Remember the darker the filter the longer the exposure.
Where to Eat and Stay
Pine Barn Inn – This was our obvious choice of where to stay. There aren’t many places close to the park. There are some places about 15 minutes closer but this is will worth the little bit of extra time to get there. The hotel will provide an outstanding experience from start to finish and food that is out of this world! From booking through check out you will experience nothing but exceptional service. The Pine Barn Inn thrives on hospitality in the tradition of early innkeeping. Plan to stay here on your Rickett’s Glen Waterfall Adventure.
Pleasant lodgings, a rustic tavern, and various cheerful dining rooms combine with a standard for delicious food and excellent service. The Pine Barn Inn is the premier full-service hotel in the Danville, PA area. The exposed stone walls and antique posts and beams in the Pine Barn Inn’s dining rooms date back to the 19th century when this typical German bank barn was built on one of Danville’s earliest farms. We picked this hotel due to its amazing atmosphere. You can see the in the images that when you arrive you will have a country rustic feel.
Pine Barn Inn Restaurant – Plan on eating here as part of your Waterfall Adventure.
When you are done with your waterfall photography in the park head back to the hotel restaurant to top off the day in just the right way. The seafood platter is to die for by the way.
They offer Old-world service — the kind that pampers the patron — and awaits the hungry photographer who ventures into the Pine Barn Inn’s dining rooms. The menu has just the right amount of options and the prices are very good.
The Pine Barn Inn offers an elegant full-course dining experience or casual fare in their tavern. The inn staff will exceed your expectations. Our waitress could just not stop smiling and Jon who served the table next to ours had everyone laughing. What great service and food we had at this wonderful restaurant. We chose the fine dining. On our way out to our room, we could hear the live band playing on the patio dining area. Dust in the wind was playing as we strolled to our building, full bellies and all. What a great feeling at the end of a great photography day.