The Pocono Mountains’ peaks aren’t the only high point of the region when it comes to tourism and outdoor recreation. In fact, in this case, the name does not say it all. There also are rivers and lakes and woodlands spread across 2,400 square miles, offering breathtaking natural beauty and wildlife. And plenty of activities every step of the way.
Water recreation permeates the Pocono Mountains, from the thrills of jet skiing and whitewater rafting to the calmer pursuits of fishing and pontoon boating. A wide variety of biking and walking trails traverse parts of two national parks, nine state parks and nearly 82,000 acres of state forestland. And of course, there are the mountains, providing a picturesque backdrop for summer hikes as well as a wintry playground for snow lovers, with 185 slopes and trails for skiing and riding
“There are all kinds of different outdoor activities that we offer that really showcase the natural beauty of the Pocono Mountains,” says Brian Bossuyt, vice president of marketing for the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau.
Rivers That Deliver (and a Lake, Too)
It can be argued that the heart of the region is not necessarily the mountains but rather the Lehigh and Delaware rivers, which cut through it, churning up whitewater adventure and creating many of the area’s aqua delights. Highlights include the 70,000-acre Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Area (which Bossuyt says is a “showpiece” of the Pocono Mountains) and the Delaware Aqueduct (also known as Roebling Bridge), a 535-foot wire suspension bridge that was built in 1847. The oldest such structure in the U.S., it is a National Historic Landmark.
Locals and tourists alike also enjoy splashing around Lake Wallenpaupack, a man-made lake built in 1926 that covers 5,700 acres and offers 52 miles of uninterrupted shoreline. In addition to providing year-round natural attractions, the lake is home to the Lacawac Sanctuary, a 556-acre preserve that serves as an environmental education center, nature center and biological field station.
“There’s just so much you can do there,” Bossuyt says of Lake Wallenpaupack. “You can rent pontoon boats for the day or take guided tours of the lake. You can learn how to water-ski and paddleboard. Every August they have Wally Lake Fest, where all the area resorts get involved to showcase the lake. Then they have Wally Ice Fest in the winter with ice hockey on the pond and curling demonstrations. It’s just a really nice lake community that offers a lot for families.”
Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor
One of the best ways to see all that the Pocono Mountains region has to offer is by traveling along the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, better known locally as the D&L. The entire 165-mile trail runs from Wilkes-Barre to Bristol, near Philadelphia, and encompasses rail trails, share-the-road sections and canal towpaths. A key addition to the trail was completed in 2018 with the opening of a $4.1 million pedestrian bridge over the Lehigh River in Jim Thorpe.
Perhaps the most popular section of the trail is a 36-mile stretch from Jim Thorpe to just north of Whitehaven that passes along the Lehigh Gorge. Many cyclists use the Bike Train to travel one way then bike back to where they started, passing through an area where John James Audubon did many of his earliest studies of birds in the region.
“On that part of the trail you are out in the middle of absolute nature,” says Elissa Garofalo, D&L executive director. “In the springtime, you have the laurel blossoms blooming, followed by rhododendron. Then in the fall you have spectacular autumn scenery 360 degrees around you. You can stand in the middle of the Lehigh Gorge, with 800-foot cliffs on either side and the Lehigh River roaring nearby, and you feel like you’re in a super-remote location.
“When we first started working on this endeavor 30 years ago, a trail was just a trail. It was something that was a nicety for outdoor enthusiasts. Today, a long-distance trail such as the D&L has a much more integrated relationship with the communities it passes through. It helps improve health and wellness, it increases property values, and it’s a drawing card for economic development.”