What was once known as the “honeymoon capital of the world” has evolved into a full on family destination. We’re talking about visiting the Pocono Mountains! If you’ve never been, it’s a quick drive from New York City, Philadelphia, D.C. and other bigger cities on the East Coast. Many go there as an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. In the Poconos, you’ll be greeted by mountains and valleys, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, hiking trails, and wildlife. When you dig a little deeper, you’ll start to learn of the area’s rich history in railroads, coal, and agriculture. For families, it can be a fun and enriching experience for all ages.
NYC (Manhattan) to Jim Thorpe - 111 miles (about 2.5 hours, without traffic)
Boston to Jim Thorpe - 318 miles (about 5 hours and 10 minutes, without traffic)
Philadelphia to Jim Thorpe - 83 miles (about 1.5 hours, without traffic)
Pittsburgh to Jim Thorpe - 271 miles (4.5 hours, without traffic)
Washington, D.C. to Jim Thorpe - 210 miles (4 hours, without traffic)
In general, the Poconos is geographically defined as 2,400 square miles of rolling mountain terrain in Wayne, Pike, Monroe and Carbon counties in Northeastern Pennsylvania. It is a quick drive from big cities like Philadelphia and New York. You can get there on the PA Turnpike or Interstate 80. While driving, you will see thriving woodlands and 170 miles of winding rivers. Obviously, carting the kids around to every nook and cranny is not practical, but the region will provide enough “eye candy” to keep the kiddos engaged. First approach your accommodation choice as “the hub” starting and ending point to each day you’re here.
Places to Stay:
I’ve found that the best bang for your buck, when it comes to family fun in the Poconos, is to stay at a large resort such as Kalahari Resorts. Here there’s an indoor waterpark, outdoor waterpark, treetop adventures, game room and much more to keep the kiddos content. For the adults, there are adults-only pools, pool bars, nightclubs, and spas.
Another option to consider to stay for families in the Poconos is Camelback Resort. On the property, there’s an indoor waterpark, laser tag, bumper cars, escape room and arcade room for kids of all ages. Outside, there’s a mountain coaster, waterpark, ziplining and UTV tours. There are also many fire pits outside and smores kits. For the adults, there is a spa and poolside bar.
As you already know, selecting the best lodging option for your family's needs is a critical decision and should be considered carefully. Convenience the driver here and not just price. As a matter of fact, you may find you’re paying a slight premium to ensure convenience of walkable activities and flexibility with dining options. Traveling with picky eaters or cranky teens is NOT a unique problem to resorts and hotels which cater to families.
On the more DIY side, you may want to consider an Airbnb or Vrbo vacation rental for more square footage in common spaces, a full kitchen and bedrooms for all. If that’s the case, a central location with a lot of B&B options is Mount Pocono. You’ll find grocery stores, a farmers market (seasonally) and organic food options close by. The downside to an Airbnb is more time which you (as parents) will need to program to keep the family engaged.
Duration & Booking Window:
It is possible to spend a week in the Poconos and have enough to do and see for families with kids of all ages. If your drive time is under six hours to get here, then I suggest a minimum of three nights. Keep in mind, The Poconos are conveniently located near major cities with big family populations. Therefore, book as far in advance as possible if you’re traveling during times when other families are also traveling such as the Summer, Fall or Winter breaks. If you are considering a holiday trip here, then book those accommodations no later than July.
Family Activities in the Poconos:
My family’s favorite spot is Beltzville State Park in Lehighton. This is a beautiful park with a glistening lake. This is a relaxing destination. Here, you can bring (or rent) kayaks and paddle boats. Everybody will enjoy the sandy beach and swim in the roped off area. It does get crowded and will often reach the maximum guests, so get there early to ensure parking! I recommend packing a picnic lunch or grabbing hoagies from a sandwich shop such as Cindy’s Deli.
If that’s too leisurely for you, I suggest making a trip to Bushkill Falls. Here, the family can hike to eight waterfalls. There’s also a fishing lake where you can catch bass, bluegill and pumpkinseed sunfish. If you don’t want to bring your own gear, you can rent it for $20 a person, permit included. There are other family-friendly activities to do at Bushkill Falls. You and the kids can be gold miners for the day, and also learn about wild animals with the Pocono Wildlife Rehab program.
For a one-stop-shop destination, I recommend spending a day in Jim Thorpe. Here, you can start off the day with a train ride on the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway. You’ll discover the rich history of the area, while taking in the sights of the mountains and river. After the train, walk up town to Antonio’s Pizza on Broadway.
One of the greatest things about visiting the Poconos is, you don’t have to bring much with you. If you choose not to bring your own bikes, you can easily rent them at places like the Lehighton Outdoor Center and hop on the D&L Trail along the Lehigh River. This trail is a leisurely trail used for bike riding, walking dogs and sightseeing.
If you are not staying at a resort, then you can purchase day passes to Aquatopia Indoor Waterpark, Skytop and Great Wolf Lodge.
Other Attractions to Consider:
Pocono Snake and Animal Farm
Claws ‘N’ Paws Animal Park
Costa’s Family Fun Park
Coal Mine Tour
Of course, good food with an excellent value (and taste) is always a consideration for families. Look for diverse menus, children's menus and restaurant options that don’t mind going out of their way for reasonable requests to accommodate children. While I can speak to all of those specific criteria points, here are a few “must eat” places to consider in the region depending on your length of stay and proximity convenience. In addition, I am including locally owned and/or unique to the area options to sample “local flavors”.
Places to Eat:
Cook’s Corner- Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner - Henryville
Slopeside Pub & Grill at Blue Mountain - Lunch, Dinner - Palmerton
The Original Bailey’s - Early Bird Dinners, Dinner - Mount Pocono
Dom N Ali Family Restaurant - Steaks and Seafood, Lunch & Dinner - Jim Thorpe
Amici Pizza & Pasta - Lunch, Dinner - Tannersville
The Poconos have been a family destination for generations. The destination itself has had to evolve based on consumer demands and technology advances. At the heart, it’s a gorgeous place to vacation with the family (or anyone for that matter). The Pocono Mountains region has an official tourism office with more detailed information on everything mentioned in this article. Give them a call if you have questions as you begin your planning. If you have other suggestions, tips or pitfalls to avoid, then please share them in the comments section and have a fantastic family vacation in the Poconos.
I am on a mission to get you traveling more often. As the host of the Emmy award- winning, nationally syndicated television television for PBS and the Create channel, "Beyond Your Backyard," I travel (on average) 25 weeks per year. I am very grateful for the opportunity to meet cool people, experience new places, eat delicious food and work with the best production crew in the world. Hopefully, through this blog, you will join me on my travels and be reminded just how exciting it is to be alive!