Located just a short drive from both the New York and Philadelphia metropolitan areas, Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains has been attracting tourists for more than two centuries. No surprise why: The Poconos is an outdoor adventure paradise, with a bounty of year-round options for enjoying nature.
In the summer, beaches, waterfalls, and rivers beckon for swimming, sunbathing, and floating. Fall offers a spectacular backdrop of changing leaves for incredible hiking and mountain biking. The fun continues in the winter when the mountains transform into a mecca for skiers and snowboarders. And no matter when you visit, you can always stop by the world’s largest general store or the country’s oldest continually operating jazz club. Here are just a few of the unique adventures you can have only in the Poconos.
In the Pocono Mountains, there are plenty of ways to soak up the vibrant seasonal transition. The region has three distinct color zones and is home to more than 127 different types of trees, shrubs, and plants, making for an especially colorful seasonal display. Discover the region’s northern, central, and southern color zones on a panoramic hike, scenic drive, or aboard one of the area’s fall foliage train excursions.
A few area highlights include riding the Pocono Foliage Express between Honesdale and Hawley, hiking the Raymondskill Creek Trail to Pennsylvania’s highest waterfall, or cruising Scenic Route 6, celebrated as one of the country’s most scenic motorways.
2. Cycle the Lehigh Gorge Trail
The 26-mile Lehigh Gorge Trail is ideal for cyclists of all experience levels. Threading Lehigh Gorge State Park, the crushed-gravel path parallels the Lehigh River between White Haven and Jim Thorpe, providing beautiful views of the Pocono Plateau and the Lehigh Gorge. This multi-use trail is also studded with scenic highlights from secluded waterfalls to panoramic viewpoints and a variety of regional wildlife such as white-tailed deer, beavers, and magnolia warblers.
Following an abandoned railroad grade, the Lehigh Gorge Trail also gives a glimpse into the region’s recent industrial past by showcasing remains of what once was, like the Upper Grand section of the Lehigh Canal.
3. Ski an Iconic East Coast Resort
Skiers have been flocking to the snowy slopes of the Pocono Mountains since the 1940s. Home to the first commercial ski area in the state, Big Boulder Ski Area, the Pocono Mountains region has a rich history as a hub for winter sports.
In the 1950s, Big Boulder was also the first resort to use commercial snow-making, a pioneering move that would significantly extend the region’s ski season. Today, the region has a half dozen ski resorts, catering to visitors of all skill levels. Seasoned skiers can make tracks on epic descents at Camelback Mountain and Shawnee Mountain Ski Area, while youngsters can get their ski legs with lessons at family-friendly Jack Frost Mountain. Blue Mountain Resort in the Pocono Mountains boasts the longest vertical drop in the state at 1,082 feet.
4. Explore Pennsylvania’s Portion of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
Preserving the striking cleft in the Kittatinny Ridge carved by the Middle Delaware River, the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is one of the East Coast’s most magnificent natural wonders. The 70,000-acre protected area is also an adventure hub for outdoor lovers of all types, with more than 100 miles of trails to explore, three family-friendly swimming beaches, and access to a 40-mile stretch of the Middle Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River. The 32-mile McDade Recreational Trail along the river is popular with cyclists.
Just outside the recreation area, the cozy town of Delaware Water Gap offers a handful of historic accommodations, eateries, boutiques, and even a local outdoor shop, Edge of the Woods Outfitters.
5. Visit the World’s Largest General Store
There are plenty of enticing boutiques and markets to peruse in the Pocono Mountains, but one of the region’s more unique shops is Country Junction. Located just outside the historic town of Jim Thorpe, the venue is hailed as the largest general store on the planet, stocking everything from fudge to fine wine.
The business started as an insulation installer and provider, and the owners kept expanding the wares available to customers; first adding a hardware store, then a garden supply center, and eventually selling home goods, gifts, and decorations. Now the location offers everything from pet supplies to homemade peanut butter and as well as an array of family-friendly attractions, including a petting zoo, restaurant, and ice cream parlor.
Country Junction also hosts seasonal events throughout the year, including The Great Pocono Pumpkin Festival, an annual celebration of autumn held from late September through October.
6. Hike to a Geological Wonder
Located at the western edge of the Pocono Mountains, Hickory Run State Park is home to a mysterious natural wonder—an ancient boulder field. Named a National Natural Landmark in 1967, the 18-acre sea of rocks formed by a receding glacier during the last ice age nearly 15,000 years ago.
Beyond the Hickory Run Boulder Field, the nearly 16,000-acre state park also has family-friendly campsites, swimming at Sand Spring Lake, stocked trout streams, and access to almost 40 miles of trails.
7. Visit America’s Oldest Continually Operating Jazz Club
The longest continually operating jazz club in the United States, the Deer Head Inn has been entertaining patrons since the end of World War II. Located in the town of Delaware Water Gap, the Deer Head Inn became a creative hub for jazz musicians in the mid-20th century, but the venue is even older. Built in the middle of the 19th century, the location was first known as the Central House and later renamed The Deer Head Inn during the 1930s.
The longstanding establishment is still a cultural hotspot, featuring an in-house restaurant and live music every week (Thursday through Sunday nights). For overnight guests, the inn has eight elegant and recently renovated rooms, along with two suites. For outdoor lovers, the inn is located beside the iconic Appalachian Trail and adjacent to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.
8. Experience the Annual Bald Eagle Migration
During the winter, particularly in January and February, the Poconos is a hot spot for bald eagles migrating south from locations in Maine and Canada. Approximately 150 to 200 bald eagles frequent the area every year, and the region provides vital habitat and hunting grounds for the birds of prey. In Pennsylvania, nearly 75 miles along the Upper Delaware Scenic & Recreational River, plus almost 40 miles located inside the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, are designated as an Important Bird Area (IBA).
Bald eagles also frequent the two lakes adorning Promised Land State Park, another Important Bird Area known for harboring a diversity of woodpeckers and boreal songbirds. In the Pocono Mountains region, visitors can also partake in eagle watching and educational opportunities organized by the Delaware Highlands Conservancy.
Written by Malee Baker Oot for Matcha.