Date of Trip: May 2009
On a beautiful Sunday in May, SO and I headed up I-476 to Lehigh Gorge State Park, located in the Poconos near Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. We were looking to do some hiking at a park we’d never visited, and this fit the bill. We grabbed a quick lunch at the rest stop near Allentown, and while I can’t recommend the overpriced food court (or the truly vile chicken cheesesteak that we had there), I will say that the bathrooms were very nice for a highway rest stop.
Lehigh Gorge State Park is maybe 15 minutes from the Lehighton exit of 476. On the way we passed through a few former mining towns that seemed to be a bit down on their luck, which was quite a contrast from bustling Jim Thorpe, a clean and picturesque town that serves as the base for many outdoor adventures in the Poconos. Dozens of cars were parked next to the train station where you can catch a ride on the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway.
SO and I skipped the train and instead headed to the Glen Onoko entrance to the park. We never saw a ranger station or visitor center at that access point (though I think there must have been one somewhere) — but we got lucky and met up with a ranger who was willing to give us his park map. At this access point there’s a bridge where you can look out over the Lehigh River and watch people paddling along in kayaks.
There’s a set of steps near the bridge that takes you down to the river level and the Falls Trail; make a right to cross under the bridge, walk for a few minutes and you’ll soon hear the sweet sound of waterfalls. I had read that this park had a ton of waterfalls but little did I know we’d get a whole hike full of them! Basically the trail goes up the mountain alongside the falls, which seemed to get bigger and prettier the higher we went.
The trail was definitely a bit steep in some places, and at one point I had a perilous moment trying to sidle along a rather narrow ledge of rock (I actually lost my grip and fell, but luckily I slipped down onto a lower ledge and didn’t wind up flat on my back in the water with my brains splattered across the rocks!). That said, people were hiking along with their children and dogs in tow; if you stuck to the main part of the trail (which we did on our way back down), there weren’t any parts that were too terribly challenging.
Once we got back to the main bridge area, we walked toward the parking lots to access an abandoned rail tunnel, which opens out to a viewing platform over the river. It was kind of like a big cave — very dark and cool, with swallows flying around in manic fashion. (At least they weren’t bats!) You can walk over the old train tracks and, when you get out to the river, see the huge concrete columns that used to support a railroad bridge years ago.
I wish we’d had more time in the park, which must be pretty big — Glen Onoko is only one of several access points, and it looked like there were a lot of great trails a little farther north. And there are several other state parks nearby too: Beltzville, Hickory Run and Nescopeck. Hopefully we can go back one weekend and hit a few more trails!