The Pocono Mountains region of northeastern Pennsylvania, typically called “the Poconos,” encompasses parts of Wayne, Monroe, Pike, and Carbon counties. The Poconos has long been a popular tourist destination for those seeking an escape into nature, as the region contains some 150 lakes and countless streams, hills, overlooks, trails, and more. While perhaps not as popular of a honeymoon destination as it once was, in recent years the Poconos has become—oddly enough—a mecca for indoor waterparks. As befitting this unique mix of nature hikes and climate-controlled thrills, the Poconos has several distinctive small towns that are well worth a visit.
Bushkill is a small unincorporated community that is partially contained within the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, one of the most beautiful and most popular destinations in the Poconos. The village also has the distinction of being the closest community to Bushkill Falls, the “Niagara Falls of Pennsylvania.” Bushkill Falls is actually a series of eight waterfalls that cascade spectacularly through the largely-untouched natural landscape, accessible primarily through several hiking trails suited to varying skill levels. After satisfying your thirst to get back to nature at this unique natural wonder of the Poconos, satisfy your sweet tooth with homemade fudge or ice cream at the Sugar Mountain Sweet Shop!
Delaware Water Gap
The village of Bushkill’s nearby neighbor, the town of Delaware Water Gap, gets its name from another one of the Poconos’ most spectacular natural features. The town sits in the valley next to the Delaware Water Gap, a tall, narrow mountain pass cut through over millennia by the Delaware River. The view of the gap is amazing from town and even better from nearby lookout points, especially Mt. Minsi, which is accessible via the Appalachian Trail. After a day spent enjoying the view, enjoy dinner and some great jazz music at the Deer Head Inn. Even better, come in September for the town’s annual Celebration of the Arts jazz festival.
While many towns in the Poconos speak to its history as a tourist destination, Honesdale represents its commercial and industrial past. During the first half of the 1800s, coal from the surrounding mountains came to Honesdale for shipment on the Delaware and Hudson Canal, bound for New York City. Honesdale is also the “birthplace of American railroading,” as the nation’s first steam locomotive, the Stourbridge Lion, departed from there in 1829. The Wayne County Historical Society Museum has a replica of the Lion, and many great exhibits on Honesdale’s past. To combine history and sightseeing, book a ride on the 25 mile Stourbridge Line scenic railway along the lovely Lackawaxen River.
The town of Mauch Chunk was renamed for famous American Olympic athlete Jim Thorpe and became his burial site in 1954, all under questionable circumstances that have led to years of lawsuits. Regardless of all that, the town stands as the most architecturally beautiful community in the Poconos, with well-preserved structures in diverse styles including Federalist, Greek Revival, Romanesque, and more. Architectural highlights such as the Asa Packer Mansion Museum represent the wealth accumulated by some from the local coal mining industry. After enjoying a downtown walking tour, be sure to experience another feast for the eyes by taking a leisurely sightseeing ride along the 16 mile Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway.
Stroudsburg has about 6,000 residents, which is enough to make it the biggest town in the Poconos. Stroudsburg also has the most defined downtown area in the region, with dozens of restaurants and businesses, such as the well-known Dunkelberger's Sports Outfitter. Architectural highlights include the sandstone Monroe County Courthouse (1890) and the Stroud Mansion (1795), now home to the county historical association. The outskirts of town include strip malls with a range of national retailers, chain restaurants and hotels, and so on. But Stroudsburg is still close to nature—take a hike or bike ride along Brodhead Creek, or the 5 mile trip to Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.
From its founding back in 1750, Tannersville has been a small, rural crossroads community. While the unincorporated village still maintains some of those qualities, Tannersville is now home to two of the biggest tourist draws in the Poconos. One of these is Pocono Premium Outlets, which is a great option if you prefer a day of hiking around 100+ shops for deals instead of hiking in the woods. The other big draw is Camelback Resort, which offers a seemingly endless array of activities, including zip-lining, laser tag, and skiing at the adjacent Camelback Mountain. The resort also has Pennsylvania’s largest outdoor waterpark (Camelback Mountain Waterpark) and Aquatopia indoor waterpark, with the largest transparent roof in the state.
Tobyhanna shares a lot in common with Tannersville. Tobyhanna spent most of its history as a small, quiet, rural community, known in its case for ice harvesting in the days before electrical refrigeration. But now it has been transformed to a significant degree by the arrival of one of the Poconos’ mega-resorts: Kalahari Resort. Does a resort named for an African desert, with an African plant and animal theme, feel uniquely out of place in the middle of forested mountains in Pennsylvania? Sure. But it is a fun time! Kalahari’s indoor waterpark covers some 220,000 square feet, and the resort also includes a spa, shopping, restaurants, and a host of outdoor activities.
Over the past 50 years or so, the Poconos region has slowly transformed from being a somewhat kitschy honeymoon destination to a hotbed for resorts that include giant indoor waterparks. One of the few constants over the years is the stunning natural beauty of the surrounding mountain landscape. So, go ahead and enjoy the waterparks, but also give yourself some time to explore the Poconos’ unique small towns and the fantastic connection with nature that they offer.