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Jersey Jaunts - Biking in (and around) New Jersey

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Lehigh Valley Gorge Trail

Biking downhill to Jim Thorpe PA

Thorpe ReDux! 2008 – An update from a recent trip in October during "leaf season".

Thorpe ReDux! 2006 – A summer overnight trip in 06 that includes the Jim Thorpe switchback rail trail.

OK, so this isn’t in NJ, but it’s worth the drive to PA. What makes this trial unique, besides being a really great trail, is Pocono Whitewater’s bike shuttle service to the trailhead that enables you to ride “downhill” on the trail to Jim Thorpe. When I say downhill, I don’t mean kickback & coast, nor do I mean you will be screaming down slopes with your brake pads smoking. Starting up river in White Haven you will ride down the trail with the river as it drops in elevation, since this is a former rail-road bed, the trail will appear flat, although you will be slowly descending; perhaps a better description is that you will NEVER ride up hill!

Even without the downhill attribute, the Lehigh Valley Gorge Trail is a fantastic trail in its own right, there are many interesting sights along the path to stop at and explore, and the natural beauty of the gorge is stunning. Before the rail-road the Lehigh canal ran alongside the river, though much of the “soft” canal construction was reclaimed long ago by the river, some of the “hard” structures, such as locks, still remain intact to explore (use precaution for ticks, poison ivy, etc).

 The upper section, starting at White Haven was fairly quite on our ride (Columbus day Monday), we only saw the folks from our shuttle bus along the trail, the gorge trail is pretty isolated since it runs though a state park. As we got nearer to Jim Thorpe we began to encounter oncoming riders from the other direction. The upper section contains lots of interesting sights (waterfalls, locks, etc) that you will miss if you take the 15 mile ride from Pocono Whitewater.

The middle section contains a rest room building and water fountain, this is the only piece of civilization (besides architectural ruins) you will find on the trail. This is the point where the 15 mile riders are dropped off, as well as a drop-off point for whitewater rafts, as evident from the “raft racks”. Be sure to check out the rock strewn stream (creek) that runs down the hillside here.

The lower section begins to remind you that you are returning to civilization; as your near the Jim Thorpe end of the trail an active rail line will join alongside the gorge trail. There is a safe separation between the trail and the rail, however standard rail safety rules should be observed (stay off the track!). During our ride we were treated to a maintenance crew working to lay new ties under the existing rails, it was quite interesting to watch the automated equipment remove, install, and spike the new ties in place.

The gorge trail ends near Glen Onoko falls, and Pocono Whitewater’s buses are located just outside the park. Before you set off to see Glen Onoko falls, be warned that it is not a short, nor flat hike, after 25 miles of biking we quickly gave up and turned back. You can also start your own “up & back” ride from the Glen Onoko area as well.

Besides biking there is also whitewater rafting, and family float trips during the summer months, and for a romantic bike trip a stay at the Inn at Jim Thorpe or one of Jim Thorpe’s B&Bs is a nice diversion.

A word about safety

I treated the Lehigh Trail ride as I do every ride, self-sufficient, however I know not everyone thinks or rides this way so I feel a special note is in order. Because the gorge trail is isolated, and never crosses any roads, you need to have the ability to service your own bike should it become necessary, (i.e. fix a flat). You should also carry sufficient water for the entire distance as well; while being unprepared in an eastern PA park may not be a life threatening error; it sure can make for an unpleasant day. We did pass a ranger patrol during our ride, and the folks at Pocono Whitewater assured us they have never left anyone on the trail, but pushing a bike for 10 miles or running out of water on a hot day is miserable.

We had no cell service at all (ATT/Cingular), I’m doubtful any carrier has service here; even my GPS unit had difficulties acquiring satellite signals because of the steep gorge walls, and tree canopy. I don’t recall if the rest rooms at the 10 mile mark had a phone.

There is lots of wildlife (including bear) in the park that might venture out along the trail, treat it with respect and don’t leave trash, or food behind.

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