Jim Thorpe: A must for rail enthusiasts
LEFT: A woman takes a photo of a train crew member before boarding in Jim Thorpe.
An engine of the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway. (Ron Gower/Special to the Times News)
The 425 steam engine always draws train enthusiasts to Jim Thorpe. They come for a chance to photograph it. TIMES NEWS FILE PHOTO
Riding the rails during the summer in Jim Thorpe has become very popular, with many of the trains selling out. This photo is inside an old-time passenger car. RON GOWER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
An open-air car is a favorite on the Jim Thorpe train rides during the summer.
PHOTO COURTESY OF LEHIGH GORGE SCENIC RAILWAY
ABOVE: A train is ready to board at the former Central Railroad of New Jersey passenger depot built in 1888 and located along Route 209 in downtown Jim Thorpe. RON GOWER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
If you are looking for a trip into the past, Jim Thorpe is a destination spot that shouldn’t be missed.
The town, which is referred to as the Switzerland of America for its picturesque scenery, old world architecture and rich history, has much to offer visitors, from eclectic dining to shopping in unique boutiques that you can only find in small towns.
In addition to spending time taking in the beauty of a town with deep roots from when coal was king, visitors should make sure to take a trip on the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway.
The 16-mile round-trip excursion transports its guests back in time on a ride through Lehigh Gorge State Park in one of its vintage passenger coaches, pulled by a diesel engine.
The 70-minute trips leave from the Old Mauch Chunk Train Station, located in the heart of downtown Jim Thorpe, and travel into the gorge where it parallels with the Lehigh River as it winds between the mountains.
It continues through unspoiled woodlands over a trestle bridge, along the Lehigh Heritage Corridor, around the famous ox bow curve and ends at Old Penn Haven Junction, a once vital location for railroad mail routes now only accessible by rail, foot or bicycle.
One of the fun parts of taking the train rides is that along the whole trip, a narrator details history highlights and sites of interest.
The trip has grown in popularity since Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway, owned by Reading and Northern Railroad, started operations in 2005. Last year, over 143,000 visitors rode one of the many trains excursions offered by the company.
On a recent weekend, William Strance of Chester rode for the first time.
“I heard a lot about the Jim Thorpe train so I thought we’d come and take a ride. I love trains and have been to Lancaster, Scranton and other places,” he said. “I think this train has become my favorite. It’s a nice ride through a beautiful area with interesting narration. I will be back.”
The railway operates from mid-February to the end of the year with weekend schedules and expands to daily operations from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
During the summer months, riders have the option to choose from three different style coaches — the always popular open air car, a standard passenger coach or the caboose — as well as an option to purchase a seat in the engine.
For outdoor enthusiasts who want to ride the train, but also want to enjoy the Lehigh Gorge trails, there are special Bike Train weekends throughout the year where a special train carries visitors and their bicycles 25 miles to White Haven. Riders can then get off the train and enjoy a 3- to 4-hour bicycle ride back to Jim Thorpe.
The popular bicycle weekends, which run one weekend a month from May to September and November, usually sell out and should be booked ahead of the trips.
“You can bring your own bike or rent from our partner, Pocono Biking,” Fisher said. “For those who don’t want to ride a bike for 25 miles, ride the Bike Train in both directions to see the entire Lehigh Gorge State Park with plenty of river views on both sides of the train journey.”
From May to October, visitors can upgrade to the open air car to enjoy the breeze as they ride through the gorge.
The open air cars have roofs, but the sides are open and riders can sit facing outward to view the Lehigh Gorge through the open sides.
In October, the passenger service out of Jim Thorpe boasts two different routes, one into Lehigh Gorge State Park and one to the always popular Hometown High Bridge.
The two-hour ride through the town of Nesquehoning, then Lake Hauto and Greenwood Lake before arriving at the main attraction — the 1,168-foot-long, 168-foot-tall Hometown High Bridge, giving a spectacular view of the Little Schuylkill River.
In addition, special RDC trips and full-day excursions bring hundreds of passengers into the town from the Berks and Schuylkill County areas.
Although the rail company has special excursions from its other stations outside the Jim Thorpe area, Matt Fisher, general manager of the passenger department at Reading and Northern, said that about 90 percent of the total ridership consists of riders who came to Jim Thorpe and boarded the train.
Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway doesn’t forget the holiday seasons. The Easter bunny, Santa Claus and winter character themed trips for families to enjoy.
Fisher feels the trains have come full circle in Jim Thorpe.
“The first trains came in here in the 1850s. It’s been a tourist destination ever since.”
For a complete schedule of trips, times and excursions leaving out of Jim Thorpe, visit www.lgsry.com or to purchase tickets, call 570-325-8485.