July 20, 2021 – Delaware Township, Pennsylvania
Length: Approximately 2 miles
Max elevation: 835 ft.– total elevation gain approximately 275 ft.
Route type: Out and back
Avenza App Map: 2021 – Delaware Water Gap & Kittatinny North #122
Trailhead parking: Hornbecks Trail – Emery Road, Delaware Township, PA 18328
No bathrooms on site – limited roadside parking
Please note: Waterfall conditions are dynamic, changing with weather and seasons. Stay on the trail when possible and be cautious of your surroundings, like slippery or rocky terrain, fast moving water, or steep drops.
The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (DWGNRA) straddles a stretch of the Delaware River on the New Jersey and Pennsylvania border. It encompasses forested mountains, grassy beaches and the Delaware Water Gap, which slices through the Kittatinny Ridge. The DWGNRA encompasses more than 70,000 acres and has over 150 miles of trails.
The DWGNRA is on the eastern edge of the Pocono Mountains in Northeastern Pennsylvania, where 40 miles of the Delaware River runs briskly between high bluffs and forested shores. There is almost nowhere with a higher concentration of great waterfalls than the Pocono Mountains. The region is home to some truly stunning waterfalls. Some of these waterfalls are located along well-established trails and are popular tourist attractions, while others are hidden away in relative obscurity. The waterfalls of Hornbecks Creek (which flows into the Delaware River) might be the best hidden gem in the Poconos, with its scenic cascades and deep gorge. While it might not have the height that the more well known waterfalls have, Indian Ladder Falls is one that shouldn’t be missed when hiking in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.
Hornbecks Creek had an early grist mill at the base of the mountain by 1775. In 1870, Jacob Hornbeck bought the property along the stream that eventually took on his name. The creek cascades over stair-step layers of shale between two larger drops. This gave the stream its 19th-century name of Indian Ladders Creek. The name also applied to a tourist boarding house in the valley.
At one time Upper & Lower Hornbecks Creek Trails were one continuous trail from US Route 209 to Emery Road. Due to severe storm damage over the years, the middle section along the steep gorge was closed by the National Park Service. That section of trail in the gorge area has sloughed off and has caused a hazardous condition. There are numerous downed trees blocking the trail along the steep hillside. The closed section should be avoided and instead the trail can be accessed from separate trailheads on US Route 209 and Emery Road.
Please Note: On some apps and trail maps, the Upper and Lower Hornbecks Creek Trail are shown as one continuous trail. The closed section of the trail does not appear to have any signs, but it is dangerous and should not be attempted.
A week earlier we visited the Lower Hornbecks Creek Trail and afterwards came up to the upper section as well. We ended up walking on the wrong side of the creek on another unmarked trail, thinking we were on the Upper Hornbecks Creek Trail. Although we got a good view of one of the upper falls, it was not the trail that we were seeking. We returned the following week and got it right.
This short trail although relatively easy to follow, is unmarked and is intersected by several other trails. Staying close to the creek is the obvious course of action, because after all you are searching out a waterfall. Using the Avenza Maps app is a good choice for this hike because it will keep you on the right trail. With that being said, This short out and back hike starts out relatively level then descends steeply to the base of a magnificent waterfall where you may want to spend some time enjoying the cascading water. Keep in mind that the volume of water varies throughout the year and the best times for viewing most waterfalls are during the Spring thaw and after heavy or prolonged rainfall.
The hike begins on Emery Road, on the eastern side of Hornbecks Creek where there is pull-off parking for about 3-4 cars on the south side of the road. Walk west along the road, crossing the road bridge over Hornbecks Creek. There is more parking available on the other side of the bridge, closer to the actual trailhead. You may see a footpath on the left (south) after crossing the road bridge. That is a fisherman’s trail that runs close to the creek, but ends a short distance in. Continue a little farther up Emery Road until you see a wider opening with a kiosk to the left (south).
Continue past the sign and head south on the unmarked, but well worn trail, with Hornbecks Creek down below on the left. As you walk along the trail, there are some spots that allow you to view some attractive cascades. Care should be taken if you choose to do this as there are steep drop offs and some of the ground can be unstable and rocks slippery.
Along the way there are strategically placed benches if you choose to take a break.
When you reach a fork in the trail, go left to reach the waterfall. The trail is bordered by logs which helps to guide the way. The trail will lead to a set of steep stairs with metal handrails (always check any handrails for sturdiness before leaning on them). Follow the stairs down to the base of the waterfall and you will be rewarded for your effort.
Indian Ladder Falls, the unofficial name, is a 35-40 ft. tall waterfall and about 75 feet wide at its base and is described as a Veiling Horsetail waterfall. During the Spring thaw and after prolonged and/or heavy rain, the volume of water is much more impressive.
The Upper Hornbecks Creek Trail continues downstream, climbing the hillside and ends at a junction with the Green Connector Trail that leads into the Pocono Environmental Education Center (PEEC), another great place to visit.
This is the end of the Upper Hornbecks Creek Trail. Hikers should not go beyond this point. To reach the Lower Hornbecks Creek Trail, return to your vehicle and drive to the other trailhead on U.S. Route 209.
If you would like to extend the hike, you can enter Pocono Environmental Education Center (PEEC) utilizing this trail.
Retrace your steps back to Indian Ladders Falls, climb the wooden steps, turn right at the junction and head north back to Emery Road.
Turn right on Emery Road and return to your vehicle.
The unmarked trail begins on the eastern side of Hornbecks Creek. It is a short hike to an attractive waterfall that can’t be safely viewed from the Upper Hornbecks Creek Trail.
The trail begins at a narrow opening by the end of the guardrail in the small parking area. It can get overgrown in the summer and becomes hard to see. If you go through the narrow opening, it soon leads to a wide path which is easy to follow.
Although the trail is easy to follow, there are numerous blowdowns along the way that one has to navigate around. This area has been ravaged by storms in recent years and care should be taken where there are leaning trees or dangling branches (widowmakers).
There are some massive trees along the trail that appear to be hundreds of years old.
Soon the trail narrows, but in a short distance comes out into an open area with a large keyhole view of one of the Upper Indian Ladder Falls.
After about 0.4-mile from the road, this attractive 25 ft. waterfall comes into view. The unmarked trail continues downstream, but this is as far as we went. If you are done exploring, retrace your steps back to Emery Road.
A nice short hike on lesser traveled trails to beautiful waterfalls and cascades. Definitely worth a day trip to the Delaware Water Gap that can be combined with other trails in the area if so desired. If you like waterfalls, this is the hike for you. Combine this hike with Lower Hornbecks Creek Trail for 2 short hikes with great payoffs.
A little off the beaten path, scenic cascades and attractive waterfalls, Delaware Water Gap.
Take a hike!
- Lower Hornbecks Creek Trail – Delaware Water Gap
- A hike on this unmarked trail includes many of nature’s wonders – Pocono Record
- Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area