I love exploring abandoned places in PA, and one of my favorites to check out is Turn Hole Tunnel in Lehigh Gorge State Park.
Turn Hole Tunnel is an abandoned railroad tunnel that sits just outside of the quaint downtown of Jim Thorpe, PA, and within the aforementioned state park. It is hidden from view and doesn’t appear on the park map, but since it’s only steps from a parking area, it’s easy to find if you know where to look.
It should be noted up front that I am unsure of the stability of the tunnel’s walls and ceiling. Large rocks in the middle of the tunnel indicate that there have been rockfalls here in the past. While you can see both ends of the tunnel from the outside safely, enter the tunnel at your own risk.
History of the Turn Hole Tunnel
The Turn Hole Tunnel was completed in 1866 by the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company for its railroad line, the Lehigh and Susquehanna Railroad. The tunnel was constructed as part of the line’s extension from White Haven to what was then known as Mauch Chunk. The tunnel got its name because it crossed the Lehigh River at a turn in the waterway.
This 496-foot-long tunnel was built with two tracks so that trains could pass each other while traveling through the gorge. What has always interested me, however, is why they chose to bore through the mountain when they could have easily gone around it just a few yards downstream as the still-existing tracks do.
Regardless, in 1910, the Turn Hole Tunnel was condemned, but it remained in use, primarily for passing trains, until it was finally closed in 1956 by the Central Railroad of New Jersye, who had bought this portion of track in 1871.
In 1965, the Central Railroad’s track through the Lehigh Gorge was closed, and, for the next 15 years, this area sat totally abandoned and unused. However, with the creation of Lehigh Gorge State Park and the D&L Rail Trail that runs along the river banks, this area became a magnet for tourism.
And, while the rail trail, Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway, and, before it was closed, the hike to Glen Onoko Falls, were always the most popular uses for the park, Turn Hole Tunnel is also a neat spot to check out.
How to Get to Turn Hole Tunnel in Lehigh Gorge State Park
While the Turn Hole Tunnel is a popular spot to check out, it’s a bit off the radar as well since there are no signs pointing to it and it’s not on the park’s map. However, it’s also very easy to get to if you know how to find it.
The entrance to the Turn Hole Tunnel can be found in the woods just past the end of the last large parking area before the bridge over the Lehigh River. You’ll want to enter the woods at the following coordinates, so park as close to here as possible: 40.882133, -75.762578.
[Click here for information on how to use the coordinates in this article to find your destination.]
For those biking or walking on the rail trail, this spot is also easily accessible from the D&L Trail about 2.25 miles north of the train station in Jim Thorpe.
(Note: I have been told that there are sometimes signs or ropes closing off the tunnel. While I haven’t seen those in my visits, please respect any “No Trespassing” signs you may see.)
The tunnel is only about 100 feet into the woods, making it quite easy to reach. There is a very small hill going up to the entrance of the tunnel and then back down again to get to the floor of the tunnel, but this shouldn’t pose any issue for anyone that can tackle uneven terrain.
This dirt mound was likely built to keep vehicles out of the tunnel when it was closed to train travel. It has the effect, however, of making the entrance to the tunnel look more like a cave than anything else since the entrance is carved directly into solid rock.
It should be said again here that entering the tunnel is at your own risk, and I don’t know about the stability of the structure. Even from the entrance, you can see large pieces of rock that have fallen from the ceiling over the decades that the tunnel has been abandoned.
I am in no way recommending that you enter, and smart visitors would likely just enjoy the tunnel from the outside. I’ll also cover how to see the tunnel from the other end without going through further down.
If you do opt to enter, I highly recommend a flashlight (Something stronger than your phone). While you could get to the end of the tunnel without one (seeing as it’s only 500 feet long), there are a lot of tripping hazards including fallen rocks, old railroad ties, etc, that are hard to see without a strong flashlight.
As you walk through the tunnel, take some time to look at the amazing carved walls here. It’s shocking that no powered machines were used in the construction of this tunnel. Also, note the railroad tracks which can still be seen in some places.
At the far end of the tunnel, there is fencing set up, which is good because otherwise, it would be a straight drop down to the Lehigh River below.
Take some time to enjoy the view from here including a beautiful bend in the river and the old supports for the covered bridge that once spanned this part of the river. If you are lucky, you might see whitewater rafters exiting their boats on the far bank.
Once you are done with this spot, simply retrace your steps back to the other end of the tunnel. However, don’t leave the area just yet.
That’s because you can also see the far side of the tunnel from a bridge over the Lehigh River, which is interesting to see even if you’ve been in the tunnel.
To reach that spot, return to the parking area and turn right, staying on the right side of the road. Soon, you’ll come to a car, pedestrian, and bicycle bridge over the Lehigh River.
If you cross about halfway over the bridge and then look back, you’ll see the impressive opening for the Turn Hole Tunnel along the sheer rock face of the mountainside. In my opinion, it’s truly impressive to see this spot as it lets you fully appreciate the work that went into building this tunnel.
Overall, the Turn Hole Tunnel in Jim Thorpe is a fantastic spot to check out. Whether you hike through it or if you do the smart thing and simply enjoy it from the outside, this is an engineering marvel and a very fun piece of history to see when exploring Carbon County, PA.
Looking for more things to do in the Poconos? Check out the waterfalls of Lehigh Gorge State Park, Hickory Run State Park, the Old Jail Museum, and the best waterfalls in the Poconos.