The town of Jim Thorpe, Pa.’s mountainous beauty, cosmopolitan vibe, and wealth of year-round activities are why it’s called “the Switzerland of America.”
This little town has also been called the Gateway to the Poconos due to Its location in eastern Pennsylvania, just southwest of the Poconos Mountains. Its other name, though, “the Switzerland of America” refers to the stunning Alpinesque scenery of this little town, as well as its mountainous surroundings and beautiful architecture. In 2009, respondents to a poll by Budget Travel Magazine declared Jim Thorpe, PA one of the top 10 “Coolest cities in America.” In 2012, the Rand McNally/USA Today Road Rally series called it the fourth most beautiful city in the United States.
Whether you’re interested in architecture, cultural history, outdoor adventures, or just enjoying the gorgeous scenery, this little gem of a town has something for everyone.
— Big Creek Vineyard (@bigcreekwine) October 27, 2017
Located in the center of Carbon County, the town of Jim Thorpe was founded in 1818 as a company town for the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company. The town was originally called Mauch Chunk, an Anglicization of Mawsch Unk, which means “Bear Place” in the language of the native Munsee-Lenape Delaware peoples. Its current name also has a Native American connection. When the boroughs of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk merged in the early 1950s, they renamed the new borough, Jim Thorpe, in honor of the renowned Native American athlete and Olympic medallist. There is a monument to Jim Thorpe in the town that bears his name, and his remains rest there as well.
Jim Thorpe is located at the foot of Pisgah Mountain, just above the Lehigh River. The majority of the tourist appeal of the town itself lies in its architecture. The town is home to a vast range of building styles, including Federalist, Greek Revival, Romanesque Revival, Second Empire, Queen Anne and Richardsonian Romanesque, which reflect the history of the boroughs. The town center is eminently walkable, and on its scenic streets, one can enjoy wine tasting, live entertainment, shops, pubs, and restaurants both formal and casual.
But this isn’t just another overpriced tourist town. The area offers tremendous opportunities for outdoor adventure, whether you’re a seasoned athlete, or an average family hoping to try a new activity. The area boasts a wealth of opportunities for hiking at various levels, whitewater rafting, paintball, and much, much more.
How to Get There
Jim Thorpe is located just one and a half hours from Philadelphia, two hours from New York City and less than three hours from Baltimore. The borough is served by US Route 209.
Jim Thorpe, Pa. Hotels
If you’re looking for a luxurious experience, try these two highly rated Jim Thorpe hotels:
The Inn at Jim Thorpe: Definitely your first choice for opulent accommodations. Built-in 1849 on the grounds of the old White Swan Hotel, the Inn is situated in the heart of Jim Thorpe’s National Register Historic District. In addition to its luxurious rooms and spa services, the Inn boasts a colorful history as a getaway for important personages of the 19th century, including General Ulysses S. Grant, President William H. Taft, Buffalo Bill, Thomas Edison, and John D. Rockefeller. The Inn is walking distance from shops, restaurants, and live music venues. It also offers different adventure packages including bike and whitewater rafting tours. Even better? They’re running seasonal online discounts from October 19-November 21 and November 26-December 21. See their website for details.
The Harry Packer Mansion: Mystery-minded folks can partake in murder mystery weekends in lavishly appointed, 19th-century surroundings. Enjoy an in-room massage, a Victorian-era “libations lounge,” and various packages including wine-tasting and a New Year’s party. The Packer Mansion was built in 1874, by Asa Packer, the founder of the Lehigh Valley Railroad and of Lehigh University, as a wedding present for his son. The house was purchased in 1984 by Patricia and Robert Handwerk, and transformed into the luxurious Bed and Breakfast that it is today.
There are also numerous chain and budget hotels in surrounding areas.
Things to Do in Jim Thorpe, Pa.
Shopping a stunning variety of artisanal delights await you in Jim Thorpe. Try some locally-made mead handcrafted from Pennsylvania honey and fruits from the Stonekeep Meadery. Enjoy handmade soap—as well as pottery and artwork from local artists—at the Conjured Soap Boutique. You can even take a soapmaking class there. Enjoy traditionally-made letterpress products at Somersault Letterpress, or explore any of several local vintners. And much, much more.
Jim Thorpe Jail Museum: The seventy-two room facility was a working jail as late as 1980, but now it’s a well-maintained historical and entertainment attraction. Visitors can explore the museum and its colorful history, join a guided tour, or even take a ghost tour. Opening hours are seasonal, so check the website carefully.
Lots of restaurants: From fine dining to craft brew pubs to health food to a quick cup of coffee, you can get just about anything you want to eat in Jim Thorpe, and you can get it with character. For a unique and upscale bar experience, try the Marion Hose Bar, located in a renovated historic firehouse. The Stone Row Pub & Eatery offers made-from-scratch food and craft beers in a more casual— and family-friendly — environment. For breakfast or lunch, try The Bagel Bunch. Many of the restaurants in Jim Thorpe take pride in serving locally-produced products with locally-sourced ingredients, so enjoy your culinary experience with pride.
Bear Mountain Butterfly Sanctuary: Another seasonal attraction, this is a fun and educational experience for people of all ages. See exotic butterflies and frogs, visit an indoor live “flight room,” and enjoy loads of activities for the kids.
Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway: Ride in vintage train cars over one hundred years old, and powered by diesel. Most of the reasonably priced tours are forty-five to seventy minutes long, and take passengers along the majestic Lehigh river, through Glen Onoko, and into the beautiful Lehigh Gorge State Park. The schedule varies from month to month, so be sure to check the website to plan your trip.
Glen Onoko Falls Trail: This scenic, tree-covered 3.7-mile loop trail is moderately trafficked. It is steep, however, and is rated as “difficult.” Hikers will be rewarded with spectacular views of mountains and waterfalls. Glen Onoko Falls Trail is open year round, and dogs are welcome but must be kept on a leash. More information is available at Alltrails.com.
Lehigh Gorge State Park: This 6,017-acre park features a variety of seasonal outdoor activities, including hiking, snowmobiling, biking, hunting, fishing, whitewater rafting, nature viewing, and cross-country skiing. The Lehigh Gorge Trail follows twenty miles of abandoned railroad grade, providing an ideal surface for hiking and biking.
Mauch Chunk Lake Park: Mauch Chunk Lake Park is a year-round, county-run facility that offers numerous seasonal activities, including camping, autumn hayrides, swimming, beaches, boating, fishing, hiking, and wildlife watching. Check the park’s website for events near your time of travel.
Events and Festivals in Jim Thorpe, Pa.
The Victorian Ball: If you’ve ever wanted to step back into time, and experience the very best of the nineteenth century, Jim Thorpe’s annual Victorian Ball is a must. The 2017 Ball will take place on November 11, in the Mauch Chunk Ballroom. Tickets are $75, and all proceeds go to support the Mauch Chunk Museum and Cultural Center. This is a costume event, and the Victorian Ball website has information about where to buy or rent appropriate period clothing.
Olde Tyme Christmas: This free celebration stretches over three different weekends: December 1-3, December 9-10, and December 16-17. Some activities include a tree-lighting ceremony in Josiah White Park, train rides with Santa, strolling carolers and musicians, and much more. Fees apply to some events, but there’s plenty of free fun for the entire family.
Winterfest: This is another great one for the family. You can take train rides aboard the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway, experience exhibitions of ice carving, wood carving, and magic. Go for a ride in a horse-drawn carriage, and participate in the famous “Mug Walk,” where participants can take their souvenir mug from door to door and have merchants fill it with treats. Winterfest runs from February 18-19, 2018.
— Reesa Lewandowski (@mommalewsblog) October 15, 2017
Jim Thorpe Independent Film Festival: This is a relatively new event—the 2018 festival (April 12-15) is only the second one. However, between screenings of independent films, and parties every night, it promises to be a great time. Last year’s festival screened 86 films, including 17 world premiers. The festival’s motto, “Eyes and Minds Wide Open” reflects the diversity of films it strives to present—from polished traditional films to gritty independents, with a variety of budgets and subjects. The festival will be held at the Mauch Chunk Opera House. You can find more information on the Festival website.
— VixenWulf (@VixenWulf) September 16, 2017
The “Switzerland of America” doesn’t just share its mountainous beauty with its European namesake. Like Switzerland itself, Jim Thorpe is a thriving, cosmopolitan place with a wealth of year-round activities, festivals, and celebrations for people of every age and inclination.
CC 3.0 Hshuvaeva Central Railroad of New Jersey Station, Jim Thorpe, Pa. via Wikipedia Commons.