For Pocono, Pennsylvania travellers looking for an interesting attraction that includes beautiful mountain scenery and a whole lot of nostalgia, the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway is for you.
Located at the Gateway to the Poconos, in the historic township of Jim Thorpe, you’ll find what used to be the Central Railroad of New Jersey Station. Graced with a black turret, it’s difficult to mistake the building for anything other than a quaint, old-fashioned train station. It was built and opened in the late 1800s, at a time when the town was still known as Mauch Chunk. The Mauch Chunk and Summit Railroad was initially for coal-hauling and then was the first US railway of notable length to transport paying passengers.
In 1953, the mountainside colonial township of Mauch Chunk was renamed Jim Thorpe to honour the US Olympian athlete after his death. The train station closed in 1976 but was reopened in ’83 as the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway at which time it was entered into the National Register of Historic Places.
Today, it serves as a tourist attraction that allows visitors an up-close look at the Lehigh River, as well as mountain scenery and local wildlife. Guests can also gaze upon the natural beauty of whitewater rapids, Glen Onoko Falls, and Lehigh Gorge State Park, as well as train bridges, switchbacks and turnabouts.
The train runs parallel to the Lehigh River — a tributary of the Delaware River, and gives riders the opportunity to relax and take in the lush scenery from their choice of a standard coach car, which features bus style seats that face forward, or from an open air coach with a lengthwise bench seat down the middle. If you plan on taking pictures, this is your best option for clear and unobstructed views. Not to mention that during the hot summer months, the open cars provide a fragrant, gentle breeze.
When viewing the coaches, guests immediately get a feel for the history of the train and can clearly envision passengers in the early 1900s. Conductors dressed in old fashioned uniforms assist in keeping the vision alive. They even hole-punch the ticket of each guest, just as they did back in the day.
The 70-minute tour is reasonably priced, with Standard Coach tickets costing $15 per adult, $9 per child (ages 3-12), and free for children 2 and under. Open Air Coach tickets are $19 per adult, $10 per child (ages 3-12), and free for 2 and under. Trains run from February 16 through December, though open-air coaches are available only from May through October.
At the halfway point of the trip, guests can watch as the engineer unhooks the engine, switches tracks, and then pulls in front of the caboose to haul the train back to the station. While stopped, riders that have brought their bikes along (for $5 extra) can disembark from the train and hit the bike path for a ride through the state park or peddle back to the station.
Given the sheer number of trees alongside the track and up the sides of the rolling mountains, its easy to see how this trip would be stunningly beautiful during the autumn months with wall to wall colour. The area is gorgeous and serene during the summer months as well; however, the sheer growth of trees tends to occlude partial river views as well as Glen Onoko Falls. In the winter months, Santa trains operate from Black Friday until the weekend before Christmas. Ticket pricing is $15 per adult, children 3 to 12 are $9 each, children 2 and under are free.
For convenience, there is a clean washroom on board, and for any questions about the train, the town, or the countryside, there are several friendly attendants at the ready, in addition to narration from the engineer. There is also a bear mascot at the station that greets guests and poses for photos.
Returning to the town of Jim Thorpe, we highly recommend taking some time to look around. The area is affectionately dubbed the ‘Switzerland of America’, due to the mountainous backdrop and surrounding architecture, and it is undoubtedly a picture-takers paradise. The main street is delightful with unique shops and eateries, and a clock tower that can be seen above most of the buildings. Plus, there is plenty to do and see in the area, including the Jim Thorpe memorial, 2 museums, and an eye-opening tour of the old jail which features the authentic cell block, a dungeon, the original gallows, and a few resident ghosts. For more natural attractions, there is Bear Mountain Butterfly Sanctuary, hiking, whitewater rafting, horseback riding, and much more.
So, if you plan to visit the Poconos, be sure to add the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway to your list of things to see and do. It’s a charming step back in time that’s sure to evoke visions of a simpler era, and its all set to an endearing clickety clack rhythm with a picturesque view.
For more information on the railway, click HERE. In the meantime, have a look at our video of the scenic railway ride. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy it as much as we did.
All Photos and Video belong to Go GlobeHopper. Please do not Copy or Share without Credit and Link Back. Thank You.