Go Poconos


Thunder Swamp


Where: Trailhead is off Flat Ridge Road, Dingmans Township, Pike County, Pa.
Take Route 402 to Bushkill Road (the road sign is missing — it’s the road between Porters Lake to the north and Burnt Mills ATV parking to the south). Take Bushkill Road 1.3 miles to Flat Ridge Road on your left. Two stone pillars mark the dirt road. Follow Flat Ridge 2.1 miles to parking area on the right, just past Bergof Road.

Trailhead GPS coordinates: 41º 14’ 32” N 75º 1’ 42 W


Trail information: Trails are often rocky and may be wet. Sturdy, appropriate footwear is essential.

Thunder Swamp trails are blazed with orange. Other trails, such as Painter’s Swamp, are blazed with red. Trail intersections are marked with white way-finding signs.

Mallards at Thunder Swamp

Beavers at work at Thunder Swamp


• Delaware State Forest offers hiking, snowmobiling, ATV trails, camping, hunting, and other recreation. Information is at www.dcnr.state.pa.us, or call your local Department of Forestry office. Maps are provided in boxes at trailheads.
• Hike with a buddy, and make sure someone knows when you left and will return. Take a map, water, high-energy food, and a whistle.
• Leashed dogs are welcome in day-use areas, and their owners must pick up and carry out waste.



To the edge of Thunder Swamp

By Carol Hillestad


Wherever you are in Pike County, you’re never far from Delaware State Forest land. A constellation of 84,000 acres of wild, natural places, it’s a grand place to shake off civilization for a while.

In the heart of it all is Thunder Swamp Trail, totaling 45 miles of hiking through glacier-carved landscape, with dozens of swamps and creeks. Wetland-born creeks like Nebo Swamp creek and Painter’s Swamp creek pour into the Little Bushkill on its way to Bushkill Falls. But whether named or nameless, waterways that rise here all flow to the Delaware River and the Atlantic Ocean.

To get a taste of the place, I set out on a 3.5-mile walk in the woods to Painter’s Swamp, where a spur would take me to the edge of Thunder Swamp itself, and then back.

It was one of those unreliable days in early spring — grey and cool, then sunny and warm, then bitingly breezy. Red blazes from the trailhead pointed the way down a rocky path, where I soon saw a lichen-covered boulder sporting fresh coyote droppings, the first of several I’d find today.

The woods and terrain are an extension of the rocky, varied landscape of Promised Land State Park, further west along Pocono Plateau. Big slices of slate lie every which way along the trail, like unbound pages of rock. The woods are full of boulders covered with moss and ferns, often sprouting seedlings and even fair-sized trees. White and chestnut oaks abound, along with stands of beech, white pine, and the cold-loving red spruce.

Like so much of the Poconos, this area was heavily logged to support the leather tanning trade, and by the end of the 19th century the big trees were gone. The debris and scrub left behind fueled terrible fires that further ravaged the land. Low-growing sheep laurel — an evergreen that moves in after fire or logging clears swaths of land — is still here, along with blueberries, witch hazel, and wintergreen.

A great blue heron flapping up and away framed my first glimpse of the pond above Painter’s Swamp. Seven of the 15 lakes and ponds in Delaware State Forest are natural, created by the receding Wisconsin Glacier 10,000 years ago. But this pond is manmade – with a little help from beavers. A chain of three lodges lines the west side of the pond, and recently felled trees are proof the beavers are in residence.

Beavers are the largest rodents in North America, with adults weighing in at 60 pounds these days. But at the height of the last Ice Age, when Pennsylvania was covered with tundra, beavers the size of black bears roamed here. No worries, though: They went out with the mammoth.

I’ve spent too much time enjoying this part of the hike, and the spur to Thunder Swamp will have to wait for another day. But if you’re inspired to check it out, the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has an excellent map at www.dcnr.state.pa.us. Backpack camping is allowed along the trail, and no permit is needed for single-night camping.

And if you’d like to leave civilization behind for just an hour or two, swamps in Delaware State Forest are calling your name.

Carol Hillestad is a hike leader and writer for Get Outdoors Poconos, a grant-funded series administered by Brodhead Watershed Association.


Photos and videos by Nancy J. Hopping


A nesting swallow on a mission. A mallard couple bask in the sun at Thunder Swamp.  


The wild beauty of Thunder Swamp.  


False hellebore sprouts from the leaf litter.  


There's much evidence of beaver activity at Thunder Swamp, as Bear the dog found out.  


A beaver lodge, and a glimpse of the beaver who built it.  


Comments from other hikers:


JOHN: As always, it was a wonderful hike. I am constantly amazed at the hidden treasures of our area. I was amazed at all of the beaver "deforestation." I can't wait to bring others there. I am sure it is beautiful in the fall, too. I never fail to learn something new on each hike, and I enjoy sharing my local knowledge with others when I take them on my little treks. I am so glad to have found this group to hike with.



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