Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania
Where can you find an incredible historic town nestled in the mountains of Pennsylvania that is a tourism success story? Look no further than the town of Jim Thorpe located in the Poconos of Pennsylvania.
There’s a lot of history here and this historic and charming small town could well be one of many old towns in this part of Pennsylvania that have all the basic infrastructure and potential but no tourists and no local attempt to create a tourist destination. Jim Thorpe, once known as Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk, figured it out long ago and is a success story in tourism thanks in part to active historical preservation and the Mauch Chunk Historical Society.
Sure, it is surrounded by incredible beauty in the mountains. Its small streets and mountain views combined with the Lehigh River below remind you in some way of a foreign land though the architecture is purely American.
What makes Jim Thorpe so special beyond these natural resources? It has taken advantage of the natural resources and provided visitors plenty of things to do and plenty of reasons to stay here. Let me start with the river. There are a number of white water rafting companies operating in the area providing all sorts of options from the very basic and beginner experience right the way through to dam release opportunities for the more experienced.
Off the water, there are a lot of bicycle rental options as well and plenty of nature to ride around. There are shuttles that pick you up as you ride mostly downhill or you can set off on your own through the trails in the area. The Poconos even has its own website for biking. You can’t go wrong if you’re up for a bit of exercise and Jim Thorpe is the perfect place to base yourself.
Along with biking and rafting there are plenty of other things to do. If seeing the regions natural beauty sitting down is your thing, why not pick up the train at the historic train station in the center of the town. The Lehigh Gorge Railway offers tours of the area by rail.
There are no shortages of restaurants, bars and shops in the town and it is easily walked. You can park your car at the main parking lot by the railway station and there is even room for RVs. The cost is $5 and from here you can spend the day exploring the town or taking up one of the excursions whether it is cycling or rafting or taking the train.
We ate at an historic restaurant called the Molly Maguires Pub and Restaurant which is part of the Hotel Switzerland and is the town’s oldest pub. It was easy to imagine the “good old days” in this pub as it is full of character. We weren’t all that hungry and so I opted for the clam chowder and my partner wanted a kids meal which he wasn’t allowed to get per our waitress. So he opted for something else. We noticed a few NO signs around the pub and just figured it was more of a policy and procedures approach to service rather than a customer-focused approach. It certainly wouldn’t cause us not to return – it was a great place, just not as service-oriented as it could be.
Looking to camp in the Jim Thorpe area? We did. The Jim Thorpe Camping Resort is located a few miles up the hill from the town and had everything we needed including a camp store, laundry facility and even a pool. It was a nice wooded place and there were some seasonal sites here. It is easily an area that is attractive to visitors. We were there in July/August and the temperatures were perfect at night. In fact, being from Florida, the reason we didn’t go white water rafting is we were too cold! In our defense, it was unseasonably cold and was a low of 50 the morning we were planning on doing it.
Jim Thorpe is called the Switzerland of Pennsylvania. Having been to Switzerland a number of times, I kind of see how it can be called that. It is more magical and special in some ways though as it is purely an American story steeped with American history and beauty. I cannot wait to return!
The State of Pennsylvania offers a free guide to the state and it is very well done. If you’d like a digital version or a printed version you can go to their website. Enjoy your travels – you can’t go wrong with Jim Thorpe!