Boasting over 6,000 acres of natural beauty, Lehigh Gorge State Park is an ideal destination for summer outdoor adventure, located just a two-hour drive from major cities like Philadelphia and New York.
Stretching between Luzerne and Carbon counties in Pennsylvania, the steep-walled gorge that is the primary feature of the park rises above the Lehigh River as it winds from the Francis. E. Walter Dam on the northern end to the town of Jim Thorpe on the southern end. Parking and access areas are available at Glen Onoko, Rockport and White Haven. 26 miles of the 165-mile Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor are located within Lehigh Gorge State Park, providing a smooth and scenic path for hiking and biking.
Watch the video above to get a taste of all the open-air adventures that await! From the park's past to its present-day offerings, keep reading to learn everything visitors need to know about Lehigh Gorge State Park.
History of Lehigh Gorge State Park
Over millions of years, the Lehigh River carved out the Gorge, cutting its way through the rocks of Pennsylvania's Anthracite Region and the Pocono Plateau. The landscape has been shaped by the industrial revolution as well; the area's deposits of Anthracite coal were mined and shipped to cities all over the East Coast in the 1800s. To transport the coal, the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company constructed a series of huge dams, locks, and canals, so impressive that they became known as the "Upper Grand."
Mining continued throughout the nineteenth century, and renowned naturalist John James Audubon lamented growing deforestation when he spent six weeks painting in the area in 1829. Audubon would be glad to know that today, much of the lush green has returned, and the land is now protected by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Some signs of the area's industrial past can still be found in the park, like Turn Hole Tunnel near the Glen Onoko Access Area. Visitors can traverse this abandoned railroad line through the mountain to find a view of the Lehigh River.
Why not dive more fully into the area's history at local museums? The No. 9 Coal Mine & Museum highlights the lives of local miners who once worked in these hills. You can ride 1,600 feet by rail into the mountain and see the original 900-foot elevator shaft. For an alfresco train tour, follow in the steps of nineteenth century tourists and hop aboard the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway for a round-trip ride from Jim Thorpe to White Haven. The beautiful train station in Jim Thorpe that visitors depart from was built in 1888 and is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
Hiking and Biking the Gorge Trail
Lehigh Gorge State Park is a fantastic place to immerse yourself in the great outdoors. Watch for wildlife as you follow the winding course of the canyon and the Lehigh River on the Lehigh Gorge Rail Trail, a 26-mile stretch of the D&L Trail. Don't forget to bring appropriate footwear, water and sunscreen. Pets are welcome too! Consult the park map to chart your trek ahead of time. Note that the Glen Onoko Falls Trail remains closed to hikers for safety reasons.
For cyclists, bring your own wheels or find bike rentals and guided excursions with local outfitters like Pocono Biking, Jim Thorpe River Adventures, Adventure Center at Whitewater Challengers and Whitewater Rafting Adventures. For a downhill course, plan to travel south along the trail; there is a 2% uphill grade as you travel north.
Waterfalls in the Park
The mighty Lehigh River isn't the only impressive water feature in the park. Popular waterfalls include Buttermilk Falls and Luke's Falls, both located a short distance from the Rockport access. Find the 50-foot graceful drops of Buttermilk Falls upstream and the cavernous cascade of Luke's Falls downstream from the parking area. Both falls are magnificent in any season, but Luke's Falls can be more difficult to see in the summer, as it is surrounded by dense foliage.
Whitewater Rafting Adventures
Looking for thrills? Take on the Class I, II and III rapids on the Lehigh River! Whether you're brand new to whitewater rafting or an old pro, local businesses offer gear rentals, experienced guides and trips to suit every comfort level. It's a great adventure for families: take a look at what whitewater rafting on the Lehigh River is like in the video below.
Book an excursion with Adventure Center at Whitewater Challengers, Jim Thorpe River Adventures, Pocono Whitewater Adventures or Whitewater Rafting Adventures; or plan to visit on a dam release day for even more adrenaline.
Fishing on the Lehigh River
To enjoy the river at a slower pace, plan a day fishing in the Gorge! From the Francis E. Walter Dam to Sandy Run, you'll find waters stocked with trout in season, and whitewater rafting is discouraged north of White Haven to leave the fish undisturbed. Don't forget, anglers over 16 will need a fishing license from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. For a guided experience, book a trip with local outfitters like Captain Joe's Fishing and Waterman Services.
Gateway to the Gorge
After a day in the fresh air, an evening on the town is just the ticket. Beautiful Jim Thorpe is located on the doorstep of Lehigh Gorge State Park. Originally known as Mauch Chunk, the town was founded when development on the Upper Grand Section of the Lehigh Canal began, and many industrialist millionaires built their mansions here. The historic streets are filled with things to do and shops and cafes to enjoy. Refuel and recharge after a day of outdoor adventure with live entertainment and delicious food. Looking to extend your time in Lehigh Gorge? Book a stay at one of the many charming accommodations in Jim Thorpe so you'll be close to the action.