Photography Guide to Sullivan Falls and Big Run Falls (Pennsylvania)

Sullivan Falls photographed with a Canon 6D and 16-35mm f/4 lens

With more than 20 significant waterfalls, Ricketts Glen State Park is one of the best places to photograph waterfalls in Pennsylvania, and possibly among the best in the entire United States. And with that many waterfalls in close proximity it only makes sense that there would be even more waterfalls outside the boundaries of the state park. In fact, State Game Lands 13, which is a neighbor of Ricketts Glen, is a waterfall paradise of its own. Unfortunately, most of these waterfalls are difficult to reach. If you follow the creeks in the area you can find them, but it takes some effort (bushwhacking and/or hiking in the creek). However, a few falls in State Game Lands 13 are a little easier to find. The most significant one is Sullivan Falls. And just about a quarter of a mile away is Big Run Falls.

If you are visiting Ricketts Glen it is well worth the side trip to also see these two waterfalls, especially Sullivan Falls. Sullivan Falls is every bit as impressive as more well-known waterfalls in Pennsylvania, and the fact that it is relatively unknown makes it kind of special. It is about 30-40 feet high and has a strong flow.

→ See More of The Best Places to Photograph in Pennsylvania

Getting to Sullivan Falls and Big Run Falls

The short trip to Sullivan Falls from Ricketts Glen is really easy if you are coming from the parking area near Lake Jean and the Lake Rose Trailhead. Just a few hundred yards north on Highway 487 is Jamison City Road, which leads to Sullivan Falls. When I was there in May, 2017 the road sign actually said “Sullivan Falls Rd”, although Google Maps and GPS have it listed as “Jamison City Road.”  This is an unpaved dirt/gravel road, but in good weather you won’t need a 4-wheel-drive or even a high clearance vehicle. I was a little hesitant to try the road in my low-clearance vehicle, but I had no problems. There is no winter maintenance or snow removal, and I’m not sure how great the road would be after a really heavy rain. But normally it should be fine for any car.

If you are heading west on Sullivan Falls Road the parking area will be on your right. There is enough room for a few cars in this lot. The approximate GPS coordinates of the parking lot are: 41.335133, -76.338967.

Photography Guide to Sullivan Falls and Big Run Falls (Pennsylvania)

At the back of the parking lot there is a small trail that leads a short distance to Sullivan Falls. You’ll be able to hear the falls almost immediately, and I would guess it is no more than 200 yards from the parking lot to reach the top of the falls.

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→ Related reading: Photographer’s Guide to Ricketts Glen State Park

Getting a View of the Falls

Now comes the tricky part. The trail takes you to the top of the falls. To get a decent view of the falls you need to get to the bottom. There is a path to the bottom, but it is steep with a very narrow ledge. There are rocks at the bottom, so you don’t want to fall. And also, you don’t want to get down and not be able to get back up. This is a remote area, so there will typically be no one else around. That means if you get injured or stuck you may be there for a while.

I had read about this challenge of getting to the bottom and I was interested to see it for myself. When I got there at first I was unsure if I should try it or not, because I was alone. Ultimately, I tried it because there was no decent view without going down. In the end, I had no problems getting down or up, but I would have felt a little safer if I had someone with me. I would recommend going with someone else if at all possible, because honestly, I wouldn’t even recommend making the effort to go to Sullivan Falls if you are not going to get down to water level. The view from the top just isn’t that great.

Photography Guide to Sullivan Falls and Big Run Falls (Pennsylvania)

Sullivan Falls photographed with a Canon 6D and 16-35mm f/4 lens

Photographing Sullivan Falls

Once you are at the bottom there are some large boulders that you can use to get a nice perspective and stay dry. If the water level is low you should be able to work your way out into the water a little more by walking on some rocks, or just getting your feet wet. I was there during high water, so there weren’t a lot of options. But the views that were available were still quite good.

Photography Guide to Sullivan Falls and Big Run Falls (Pennsylvania)

Sullivan Falls photographed with a Canon 6D and 16-35mm f/4 lens

Big Run Falls

If you’re coming from Ricketts Glen and heading west on Jamison City / Sullivan Falls Rd. you will pass Big Run Falls just a short distance before you reach the parking area for Sullivan Falls. There is a small pull off area for one or two cars at Big Run Falls, or you can just walk about .25 miles from the parking area for Sullivan Falls. I missed Big Run Falls when I was driving because it was blocked by some trees, so I just walked from the Sullivan Falls parking lot.

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Photography Guide to Sullivan Falls and Big Run Falls (Pennsylvania)

Big Run Falls photographed with a Canon 6D and 16-35mm f/4 lens

Big Run Falls is much less powerful or impressive than Sullivan Falls, but it is still a nice roadside waterfall. Big Run and the Sullivan Branch meet just upstream of Sullivan Falls. Big Run has a decent flow, but much less than at Sullivan Falls.

Your views are pretty limited at Big Run Falls unless you want to work to make your way to the bottom. That’s not really possible from the road, but you might be able to do it if you hike along the run. That’s not really necessary though, because the views from the side of the road are pretty good.

→ Related reading: 10 tips for Fabulous Waterfall Photography

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Recommendations

Be Safe – As I mentioned, getting down to water level at Sullivan Falls can be dangerous. Don’t attempt it, especially by yourself, unless you are confident you will be able to make it back up. There are many other beautiful waterfalls in the game lands, but you’ll need to bushwhack to reach most of them. I plan to explore here someday, but I’ll wait until I have an opportunity to go with someone else for safety reasons. Also, remember that you are in game lands and there may be hunters in the area. It is best to wear bright colors.

Wide Angle Lens – All of my photos at Sullivan Falls and Big Run Falls were taken with a Canon 16-35mm f/4 lens. A wide angle will be best for getting everything in the frame. See our Reviews of the Best Wide Angle Lenses for Canon DSLRs and Reviews of the Best Wide Angle Lenses for Nikon DSLRs.

Tripod – A tripod is essential for getting the best waterfall photos. Sullivan Falls is in shadow most of the time and you might need a slower shutter speed, so a tripod is pretty much a necessity.

Polarizer – A polarizer will help to cut the glare coming off the water and wet rocks.

Proper Footwear – Don’t attempt the trek to the bottom of Sullivan Falls without shoes/boots that have good grip.

Combine with a trip to Ricketts Glen. The waterfall loop hike at Ricketts Glen is one of the best photography opportunities in all of Pennsylvania. Fortunately, it’s very close to Sullivan Falls. Visit both on the same trip. Even after seeing more than 20 waterfalls at Ricketts Glen I was still impressed with Sullivan Falls.