Last year for my birthday, Tom took me to Jim Thorpe for Labor Day weekend. With him gone this year, I wanted to keep up with tradition and take a trip up to ‘Little Switzerland’ over the long weekend.
So, this past Sunday, Hannah, Jordan and I packed up the Subaru and drove the hour and a half to my favorite little spot in PA.
If you’ve never been to Jim Thorpe, there’s a few things you should know. First, it’s a kickass place to swim, bike, hike, fish, kayak and do pretty much anything outside. Second, it’s situated right by the Poconos and features drop dead gorgeous views. And third, the town is named after the Olympian Jim Thorpe, considered one of the greatest athletes of all time. It has a bit of a soap opera-y background (via Wikipedia, aka the best source for random facts):
…Meanwhile, Thorpe’s third wife, unbeknownst to the rest of his family, “stole” Thorpe’s body and had it shipped to Pennsylvaniawhen she heard that the small Pennsylvania towns of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk were seeking to attract business. She made a deal with officials which, according to Thorpe’s son Jack, was done by Patricia for monetary considerations. The towns bought Thorpe’s remains, erected a monument to him, merged, and renamed the newly united town in his honor Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania even though Thorpe had never been there. The monument site contains his tomb, two statues of him in athletic poses, and historical markers describing his life story.
The town is also known as “America’s Little Switzerland,” thanks to its small-town, European, hilly feel. There are tons of little shops that carry various trinkets and treasures, and small restaurants serving gourmet local food. Surrounding the town are swaths of mountains, trails and rivers.
When Tom and I visit, we always try to do the long, hard hike up to the waterfalls. But with limited time, Hannah, Jordan and I decided to stick to town and explore.
After arriving, we walked around the hilly town, popping in and out of gift shops, picking up little treasures along the way. Wanting to see more of the beautiful mountain scenery, we forked over $13 at the train station in the center of town to ride the train. For 70 minutes, we winded our way around the Lehigh Gorge State Park, checking out the sites.
Then it was time for a drink.
Last year when I visited, Tom and I stopped in this teeny tiny winery called Big Creek for some wine tasting. We both fell in love with it, and I wanted to take Hannah and Jordan there. But, when we walked down the side street where I had visited the year before, it wasn’t there. Disappointed, we continued down the street and found that Big Creek had expanded — a lot — since last year.
The small corner shop has been replaced with an open barn-like store that features a massive bar where you can taste 6 wines for $5. After picking out the ones you want to try, one of their experts walks you through the tasting. I loved every one I tasted, but ended up choosing a semi-dry white and rosé.
It was time to start heading home, but only after a pit stop in Port Clinton. Port Clinton is a tiny, tiny town that you drive through as you head up to Jim Thorpe. There’s a great restaurant there called the Port Clinton Hotel and Restaurant that has a strange, kind of home-y feeling and serves HUGE portions of food. Seriously — I had a crab cake sandwich that was the size of my head and the fries come in massive baskets. Make sure you go hungry, and early, since it fills up fast.
Another tip: next to the restaurant is an old fashioned candy shop. If you can stomach it after your massive dinner, go in and find your favorite treats from your childhood.
Jim Thorpe is a great if you want to take a day trip, or stay a weekend. Personally, I think spending two or more days there is perfect, since you spend one playing tourist in town, and the other hiking, fishing, swimming or kayaking.
And if you aren’t convinced yet, here’s one more little tidbit that might convince you — Jim Thorpe was at one time the second most popular tourist destination in the U.S…. only after Disney World.
Hannah, Jordan and I are planning another trip in late September to do the hike up the waterfalls, since it can take 3-4 hours to complete the whole thing and the fall foliage views are to die for. I know I can’t wait to get back up there.
P.S. Thanks to Jordan for taking most of these pictures. You are now designated the Living in Lanc photographer!