Our Secret Garden

Story by staff writer Betsy Villanella. Photos Copyright © Betsy Villanella.

MY FAMILY used to have our own version of a secret garden, though it is much bigger than a garden. We live down the road from a state park. It’s not large compared to a lot of state parks in the US, but it has some beautiful and very peaceful spots.

There’s a gorge with three magnificent waterfalls at the top of Falls Brook, surrounded by virgin hemlock forest and trails winding through 842 acres. The waterfalls end and Falls Brook babbles along in a clear, cold rush, over the smooth rounded stones, being constantly polished by time and moving water at the base of the gorge.

Falls Brook waterfalls

Falls Brook turns into the waterfalls here

Falls Brook overlook

The overlook for the top and middle falls

This is where you will find a salt spring. Not much to see really and if not for the sign you probably wouldn’t even know it was there. It looks like a hole in a bedrock landing with water bubbling up from it. There is a picnic area here. It’s a nicely shaded area along the brook and a good base from which to launch an afternoon of exploring. 

Salt Springs

This is the picnic area with the salt spring. It's just a bubbling hole in the ground.

Mushrooms and lilies

Left: Day lilies on the trail | Right: Mushrooms grow everywhere by the falls

I would often walk our favorite trail along the upper part of the park 2-3 times a week with our dog Albert. My husband Mike and I would enjoy the dappled sun through the trees, and the coolness of the forest at the end of a hot day.

Walking the dog

Left: These trees are just before the big drop-off
Right: Albert on the steps to the overlook

We would also take our grandchildren on walks along the trails, and marvel at the huge hemlocks. It would take our five young granddaughters—arms outstretched and touching each others’ fingers—to wrap around one of the massive trunks. Then we would all go down and play in the deep pools at the bottom of the waterfalls, splashing each other and enjoying the simplicity of it, the way people use to entertain themselves, pre-Wii. 

Arms around the hemlock

It takes all our five granddaughters to encircle this giant hemlock tree

Playing in the forest

My granddaughter playing in the forest

Playing in the waterfall at Brooks Falls

Mike (Grandpa) got into the fun too!

Waterfall fun

Even in the summer the water is very COLD!

Here is one of the most natural environments you can come by in this day and age. When we went, we were virtually alone. We might encounter a hiker now and then, or a family on the weekends, but that was about it.

The reason I opened by saying we “used to” is because, like most secrets, our secret didn’t last very long. After a while the word got out and we now share our secret little sanctuary with a growing number of visitors. We still love it, we don’t mind sharing, and feel lucky to live close enough to be able to visit our now not-so-secret garden during the weekdays, and later in the summer season and even into the autumn.

View from the top of Salt Springs State Park

View of a cow farm from the top of the park in the fall

Salt Sprngs in fall

Dark clouds rolling in

Autumn skies

Autumn skies

Autumn is a very tranquil time to go to our garden, with fewer people visiting. The trees are painted with their autumn reds and golds, leaves shimmering in the cool breezes against the canvas of the blue sky. You may even be graced by the sight and sound of a flock of geese on their way south, or by a hawk circling overhead, or a deer, or one of the other creatures that call this place home.





Spider webs

Spider webs in the sunshine

There’s a large rock on one of the main trails above the falls made up of stone layers. Through the years hikers have wedged pennies and other coins in the crevices of the layers. Almost every visible crevice is filled. The name of this rock, naturally, is Penny Rock.

In the upper portion of the park is a trail that has been made so you can get to the falls even in a wheelchair. A gravel path leads you to a boardwalk that takes you to an overlook above two of the falls. It’s a very peaceful area of the park and a favorite part of my walks.

Handicapped trail, Salt Springs

This is the trail for handicapped. It will take you to the
overlook. It makes the best walking/jogging trail.

Handicapped trail Salt Springs

View of the handicapped trail from the woods at the overlook

The park is full of interesting history, including remnants of an 1850s woolen mill, mid-19th century farmhouses, and an old barn.

Rev. Davis Dimock wrote about it in his diary in 1813:

 “I dined with four gentlemen from Philadelphia who . . . stayed the night before at the Salt Springs . . . they dealt in extraordinaries about it, as though they had been on a voyage around the world.”

Forest walkway

Forest walkway

Well . . . I guess I’ll have to tell you where our Eden is. You can come and visit it for yourselves (but please keep it a secret). It’s called Salt Springs State Park in Montrose, Pennsylvania.


Betsy Villanella

Our Disney specialist Elizabeth Villanella has lived in the Montrose, Pennsylvania area most of her life. Betsy married her high school boyfriend in 1973. As an Air Force wife, she has lived in Texas, Italy, and Virginia. Between the two of them, her sons have given her fourteen grandchildren and counting. Betsy and her husband currently live with Albert K. Ninestein, a mini Schnauzer who’s as smart as his namesake. She loves to travel and wants to experience (and share) as many places in this world as she can! Betsy tweets as @betsy_v.



  1. Wow Betsy, your not-so-secret garden looks truly enchanting.

    Your photo of the autumn trees is beautiful, such a glorious range of colours. And I’ve never seen a newt that colour before! The one’s in my parents pond were all mud coloured!
    And of course, Albert is adorable.

    Thank you for sharing your Eden with us.

    • Jo,
      Thank you! I really enjoy it there.
      As I understand it, newts get this bright color as they are maturing on land. The coloration is to warn predators of its toxic skin. When they are mature they go back to the water to live and get their normal coloring back. Fall is my favorite time of year, because of the wonderful colors, and the nice crisp sunny days! It’s especially beautiful at Salt Springs. Albert thinks the park is his back yard!

  2. Renee Haripal says:

    We have been there thousands of times and each of those times something new can always be discovered. Betsy you have described the secret garden perfectly.

    • Thank you Renee!
      I hope you will come and enjoy it again soon! I miss you.
      Its always more fun when you are all exploring it with us!

  3. That looks like a nice garden to plant some great memories in. I really enjoyed your article.

    • Mike,
      It has already grown many great memories! It’s a beautiful place.
      Thank you for reading and commenting. I really enjoy all the great comments!

  4. Nice article. Salt Springs looks like a great place to ride bikes.

    • Thank you Tony,
      It has some very good bike trails, and the roads around the park are nice to ride on too.
      You should bring your bikes and a picnic lunch and try it out some day, but I’d wait until spring/summer.

  5. Betsy – this is GREAT! How lucky you are to enjoy such a paradise at your back door! I bet the kids have a GREAT time in the park and Albert is such a cutie…’s gotta be his favorite!

    Thanks for sharing your secret garden…it’s stunning!

    • Hi Ann,
      It’s a great place to take kids out to enjoy nature. There are so few places left that feel untouched by progress.
      Albert does love it there, he has a great time taking us for a walk. LOL!

      Thanks for reading.

  6. leslie Jill Mullen says:

    What a great story. I love the secret garden, I can’t to go. The pictures are beautiful. I like that spider webb is cool. The story was written with style. I will be going there to see all those beautiful views.

    • Leslie,
      Thanks you for your kind words. I am glad you liked it. You should wait to go til spring. while its beautiful in the winter, its pretty cold there right now.
      I love taking pictures of webs, and mushrooms, and nature.
      Its a great place for a photog!

  7. Such a pretty place! I’d love to visit sometime soon! 🙂

    • Isn’t it!Maybe in the spring time when all the trees are budding out…That is one of the more beautiful times to go, but fall is my favorite.
      Thanks for the comment. I’m glad you liked the article!

  8. Great article,maybe you can guide us this summer when the grandchildren are there.

    • Hi Betty!
      I would be glad to be your guide this summer. I think it would be a fun day. We can have a picnic and spend the afternoon! Its a beautiful place!

  9. Absolutely beautiful! My children love going there as well. Such a fun place to be with so much to do there. Thanks for a great read!

    • I am glad you enjoyed it!
      It’s a great place to play with the family. The kids have fun, and learn a bit about nature too. The information signs along the trail give insight to the history of the park and great information about the different things that grow there.
      Thanks for your comment!

  10. Allison J. Ingram says:

    This is a great place for camping. Well is camping allowed in this place? lol!

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  12. Great photos. Like the spider web one and wild-colored mushrooms.

    it’s a great place. I live nearby in Laurel Lake, Silver Lake Twp..

    Do you still live in Susquehanna County?

    All the best

    • Vera,
      I’m glad you enjoyed them. That mushroom photo is one of my favorites.
      Yes. I live right down the road from Salt Springs. I know Laurel Lake well. I use to live there years ago.

      Isn’t it nice to have a beautiful place like Salt Springs to play in?!

      Thanks for reading and your nice comments.

  13. Oh, all I can say is this is such a great article, and looking at your wonderful pictures I sooo wish I had this in my backyard!

    • Estrella,
      Thank you for you kind words.
      I am blessed to have the park so close. Every time I have to drive 20-30 mins. to get into town for my shopping,I wish I lived closer, but then I remind myself how I would hate NOT living here. I am a country girl at heart, and am happiest surrounded by nature.

  14. Hello Betsy when I see your post my first impression was a big WOW…you are really lucky enough to have this secret garden. Hope we can go their with my family to enjoy the beauty of nature.

    • Hi Amanda, Thanks for reading!
      It’s a Beautiful area. If you ever get the chance go there. I’m sure you will enjoy it!

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