Jim Thorpe is one of my favorite small towns in Pennsylvania in large part because of how many great things there are to do in the “Switzerland of America”. And, one of the most fun and most popular things to do in town is to ride the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway.
The Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway has been running excursion trains into the Lehigh Gorge from Jim Thorpe, PA since 2005. It is part of the Reading Blue Mountain and Northern Railroad that both runs excursions from other communities in the area and operates a busy freight line.
The Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway continues Jim Thorpe’s rich railroading history, which dates back to the Switchback Railroad that opened in 1827 to haul coal from mines down to the canals along the Lehigh River. Later, passenger rides were added to this line and many consider this gravity railroad to be the precursor to roller coasters.
Wanting to both experience this rich history and to see the beauty of the Lehigh Gorge, I boarded the train on an overcast day in late summer.
Trains leave year-round from the historic Mauch Chunk Station, which was built by the Central New Jersey Railroad in 1888. It is located on the eastern end of town near the Lehigh River. Even if you aren’t riding this train, make sure to take a few minutes to enjoy this beautiful station and the bustling square around it.
There are several different seating options aboard the Lehigh Gorge and Scenic Railway, including both indoor seats in traditional train cars and open-air cars with bench seating. I opted to ride in an open-air car as it provides the chance to get better photos, walk around the car to see both sides of the track, and, on nice days, the opportunity to enjoy a nice breeze.
That being said, the seats within the standard cars are going to be more comfortable, and there are three different classes that can be chosen that provide different levels of comfort. Make sure to look at all of the options before buying your tickets.
The train starts boarding approximately 30 minutes before departure. While there are typically several cars in the open-air seating area, I opted to board as early as possible to make sure I could have my choice of seats.
Whatever class of car you go with, I recommend sitting on the side of the car facing the Lehigh River and away from town. This side has significantly better scenery for the majority of the trip. That being said, it matters a little less in the open-air car as you can walk around this area more easily than the other cars.
The Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway leaves Jim Thorpe and heads north out of town and along the Lehigh River. Interestingly, despite running about a hundred feet of the river for the nearly entire route, views of the river are actually somewhat sparse as there is a section of trees between the track and the water. Still, what can be seen is very beautiful.
Most of the trip is within Lehigh Gorge State Park along tracks once owned by the Lehigh Valley Railroad. For the entire trip, the popular D&L Canal Trail runs adjacent to the track, so you’ll see lots of people walking and biking on this popular rail trail.
On select days, the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway runs bicycle trains that go further into the gorge and allow you to take your bicycle to ride on the way back. Definitely a great option for those looking for a chance to ride this trail.
The standard sightseeing trains run a total of 16 miles (eight miles out and eight miles back) from the train station in Jim Thorpe to an area known as Penn Haven Junction. During most of the year, this round trip takes 70 minutes, though they shorten it to 45 minutes in October and early November to accommodate more people wanting to see the fall foliage in the area.
As the train goes down the track, there is live narration that offers a lot of great history of the area, as well as commenting on things seen along the train including spots like Glen Onoko and the Turn Hole Tunnel. This is very well done, but since the train is so long, some things get talked about well before you actually get to them if you are near the back of the train.
Since you are riding the same route back, the narration is a bit more sparse in the second half of the trip, but this allows you time to more fully enjoy the scenery along the tracks.
Overall, I had a fantastic time riding the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway, and this is definitely among the best excursion railroads I’ve ridden in PA. Both the scenery and the overall experience here are great and offer a bit of something for everyone.
If you are looking for a fun way to spend a bit of time while exploring Jim Thorpe, PA, the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway is a fantastic choice.
Parking and Tickets
Despite there being a very large public lot on the eastern end of town, parking in Jim Thorpe can be a bit limited, especially on weekends. Make sure to plan to arrive well before your scheduled train time.
Parking in the public lot near the train station is one price for the entire day and is $8 on weekdays and $12 on weekends and holidays. If you can find street parking in town, which is often difficult, the cost is $1.25 an hour for up to four hours.
It is recommended that you purchase tickets online before arrival, especially if you are visiting on a weekend, for a fall foliage train, or for other special trains (Santa, Easter bunny, etc). Check in at the ticket window prior to your train to get a paper souvenir ticket.
Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway
Hours: Trains run on select days year-round.
Cost: Adults: $19-29, Children: $9-19
Address: 1 Susquehanna St