Whenever I think of the Pennsylvania Poconos, images of those cheesy champagne glass bath tubs inevitably pop into my head. And although there’s certainly no shortage of cliché romantic retreats, gaudy theme parks and overpriced attractions in this neck of the woods, the area also boasts a decent supply of peaceful natural attractions. So hop off the fast track and enjoy these accessible and affordable outdoor areas on your next Northeastern Pennsylvania visit.
Catch Your Limit
Located two miles north of the community of Tobyhanna, 5,440-acre Tobyhanna State Park (www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/findapark/tobyhanna/) boasts a 170 acre lake brimming with bass, pickerel, yellow perch, catfish, sunfish and trout. And the good news is, disabled anglers will have no problem catching their limit, thanks to a bevy of access upgrades.
Accessible parking is available in parking lot 1, with a level asphalt path over to the barrier-free pier. And because of the installation of some lowered rails, wheelchair-users have a very accessible spot to drop their lines. There are also several benches for slow walkers to sit back and enjoy the beautiful view.
And if you’d like to take a stroll, the Lakeside Trail begins just a short walk from the fishing pier, near the accessible picnic shelter. Although not officially rated as wheelchair-accessible, this hard-packed dirt trail follows the alder-lined lakeshore, past the playground and beach, and circles the lake. The undulating trail has a few steep spots, where some folks may need assistance, but it’s easy to do as little or as much or this five-mail trail as you like. There are a few rocks here and there along the trail, but for the most part they’re easy to dodge. Give it a try — you can always turn back if you encounter access obstacles.
Ride the Rails
A must-do in the Pennsylvania Poconos, the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway (www.lgsry.com) offers an accessible train excursion along the Lehigh River and into the adjacent state park. There’s accessible parking near the historic train station in downtown Jim Thorpe, with barrier-free access over to the ticket window.
There’s ramp access to the train station, which once served the Central Railroad of New Jersey, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Inside there’s plenty of room to maneuver a wheelchair around the exhibits, and barrier-free access to the accessible restroom. There’s also a staffed visitor information desk which offers maps, brochures and information about the local area.
When it’s time to board the train, wheelchair-lifts are available for the coach car or the open-air car. Wheelchair-users can stay in their own chairs, or transfer to seats for the the 70-minute narrated tour. The train travels 16 miles from Jim Thorpe, through Glen Onoko and into Lehigh Gorge State Park, with plenty of cliffs and mountain scenery along the way. And after the tour, stick around and enjoy a picnic lunch at one of the accessible tables in the park across from the train station.
Take a Hike
Lehigh Gorge State Park (www.dcnr.pa.gov/StateParks/FindAPark/LehighGorgeStatePark/Pages/default.aspx) is also a good place to enjoy the local flora and fauna. From the train station, head north on Highway 209, turn right on North Street, and cross the river. Then make a left on Front Street and follow the signs to Lehigh Gorge State Park — Glen Onoko Falls, about two miles down the road.
Accessible parking is available in the falls parking lot, next to the accessible restrooms. From there it’s just a short walk across the parking lot to an accessible 2.5-mile section of the Lehigh Gorge Trail. This paved multiuse trail runs alongside the river, and travels through the woods back to Jim Thorpe. This section of the trail is fairly level, and it offers a closer look at some of the areas along the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway. It’s especially beautiful in the fall, when the leaves begin their colorful transformation.
Another place to enjoy the peaceful Pennsylvania Poconos is up at the Pocono Environmental Education Center (www.peec.org) over in Dingmans Ferry. Located in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, this non-profit focuses on sustainable living and an appreciation of nature.
Accessible parking is located behind the office near the yurts. From there it’s just a short walk across the bridge to the .4-mile Trail for Everyone (purple blaze). This hard-packed dirt trail loops through the forest, around the pond and across the wetlands. Some manual wheelchair-users may need assistance on one short steep section, but other than that the trail is fairly level. Interpretive plaques are located along the trail, which also passes a sensory garden filled with instruments made from recycled materials. Accessible restrooms are located near the yurts, and there’s also an accessible picnic table in a gazebo near the trailhead.
Enjoy the View
Last but not least make sure and stop by Big Pocono State Park (www.dcnr.pa.gov/StateParks/FindAPark/BigPoconoStatePark/Pages/default.aspx) for one of the most expansive views of the area. Located just off Interstate 80 in Tannersville, this 1,306-acre park is mostly composed of rugged terrain that dots the slopes of Camelback Mountain. That said, the summit offers a fairly accessible view that spans three states.
Accessible parking is available in parking lot 2 at the summit, near the accessible vault toilets. There’s barrier-free access around the parking lot, which offers a different view from every vantage point. Save some time to look at the outside of the historic cabin that was constructed by Henry S. Cattell in 1908. Although there are a few steps up to the structure, the cabin is not open to the public. Cattell often said that he built the cabin for the view, and after taking it all in, you can definitely confirm he made a good decision. The drive to the summit is certainly quite scenic, but on a clear day the view is simply breathtaking. You can literally see forever. It’s the perfect way to end a Pennsylvania Poconos visit.