I hope you know by now I wouldn’t recommend taking a trip to visit a small town in the middle of nowhere without good reason.
When I say small, I’m not exaggerating. (Not this time!)
And when I say good reason, I have more than one!
Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, is a historic Victorian town (population 4,633) in the Pocono Mountains. It is situated approximately 1.5 hours from Philadelphia and 2 hours from New York City. (Unless you are leaving on a Friday night at 5 p.m. Then it might take
half a lifetime a little longer.)
If you don’t like 19th century architecture, great restaurants, quirky shops, eye-opening museums, outdoor recreation or picturesque scenery, then by all means, DO NOT GO to Jim Thorpe. Stay far away.
If you are even mildly interested in one of those things, then Jim Thorpe is worth a day trip – even an overnight stay.
I’ve already visited the town twice and you wouldn’t have to twist my arm to make another trip. I’d probably drive you there myself!
My first visit to Jim Thorpe was not planned in advance (and this post is NOT sponsored by anyone) and happened to occur on a rainy, dreary Saturday in early October 2018. You would think the weather would have completely dampened the visual charm of the town’s historic district, but it didn’t. That’s HOW GOOD Jim Thorpe’s architecture is – a veritable feast for your eyes.
Yes, it is a complete tourist trap. Not in a gaudy, Vegas-type of way, but in a historically accurate sort of way. If you stop and think about it, this is how the town looked (minus some cars and pavement and electricity) 100 years ago. These are the actual homes and buildings that have been preserved and repurposed as B&Bs, restaurants and shops.
Even today these buildings with their high ceilings and detailed millwork are impressive. In the 1800s and early 1900s, this architecture would have been a symbol of prosperity from coal mining.
WHERE TO PARK: The town’s historic district is entirely walkable. If you are visiting during off-peak season, I’m guessing there is probably metered street parking available. If you are visiting on a busy weekend in the fall or summer then I suggest parking at the pay lot next to the railroad tracks at the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway Train Station.
Click here for the town’s list of parking lots and pricing.
THINGS TO DO: OLD JAIL MUSEUM
If you’ve never been to a prison built in the 1800s, the Old Jail Museum will be interesting to you. The prison was actively used from 1871 until 1995. Given the prison’s lack of amenities and its close proximity to the rest of the town, you’ll see why I was surprised this prison housed inmates until the mid-1990s.
The biggest mystery in the museum is the reappearing handprint on a cell wall of an Irish coal miner who professed his innocence before he was hanged in the 1870s. Supposedly, this is one handprint that will not go away…even after the warden knocked the wall down and rebuilt it. You can be the judge of the veracity of this mystery.
Learn more about the museum here. It appears the museum is open seasonally, so check before you go.
Advice for visiting the Old Jail Museum:
1. Our kids are 8 and 11 years old and the museum was fine for them as the tour is fairly short – 30 or so minutes. If you are traveling with very young children, be aware that the museum tour is not stroller-friendly. You will be going up and down stairs and also into a pitch black dungeon. Although, you can skip the dungeon part.
2. The tickets are sold on a timed tour schedule and can only be purchased at the door. We had to wait about 30 minutes for a tour with an open time slot because we visited on a busy festival weekend. There is not a lot of indoor waiting space, so be aware that you may need to wait outside for your tour time.
3. Our tour guide was a teenager and he stuck to his tour guide script, which is to be expected. If you have a lot of in-depth historical questions about the jail, you may or may not be able to get answers from your guide.
The below video provides a really great museum overview, but it is 10 years old, so the pricing is way off.
Other museums in Jim Thorpe that you may want to visit:
Asa Packer Museum – open seasonally
The Stabin Museum – open weekends
THINGS TO DO: LEHIGH GORGE SCENIC RAILWAY
If you fancy a ride on a vintage train, then check out the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway. Many of the rides are down and back on the track and take less than an hour.
We rode the Fall Foliage Train and timed it well for peak fall foliage colors. The beauty of this train ride is that at some point you’re probably going to lose cell phone service as you go through the Lehigh Gorge. Gasp! The horror! Take it as a cue to relax and enjoy the ride.
They also offer a Bike Train where you can bring your bike (or rent one) and they will take you up and drop you off on a bike path that follows the river.
The thing that surprised me on this ride was the train staff. My kids happened to be the only children on the train that particular day. The conductor took the time to hole punch the word ‘believe’ in their tickets just like in The Polar Express movie. Even though we weren’t on a Christmas-themed train ride (which they do have), the kindest of spirit really blew me away. If you want to see a picture of the hole-punched ticket, I posted it here on Instagram.
Tips for buying tickets:
Online ticket sales are not currently available at the time of this post, but you can call and buy tickets via the phone. I called just to confirm if there were plenty of tickets available for the time we wanted to ride. That gave me peace of mind about making the trek to Jim Thorpe for the express purchase of taking a train ride.
For tickets and information, click here.
THINGS TO DO: DIMMICK MEMORIAL LIBRARY
It might be weird to suggest you pop into the local library during your vacation, but if you have any interest in architecture, the historic building of the Dimmick Memorial Library will fill your soul with warm fuzzies. I’m hard-pressed to think of a library that I’ve visited in the U.S. where I just stopped and stared at the railings, moulding and old bookcases.
Also, if you are traveling with children and need a place to just chill out for a moment, the library is a great place to spend 30 minutes. Read with the kids or let them play with the toys in the children’s section.
THINGS TO DO: SHOPPING
The stores in Jim Thorpe are eclectic. You can find antique shops, a 5 and dime store, clothing, souvenirs, sweets, art, records and I’m probably missing something!
We particularly enjoyed Antiques on Broadway and Rainbow’s End (a candy shop).
Click here for a list of retail shops in Jim Thorpe.
I previously wrote about shopping at Antiques on Broadway here as part of my Happy Thrifting series.
THINGS TO DO: MAUCH CHUNK OPERA HOUSE
Even if you don’t have tickets to a show at the Mauch Chunk Opera House in Jim Thorpe, there is a chance that the building is open. Our first visit was on a festival weekend, so the doors were open and it was fun to just walk in and take a quick peek at the architecture.
Click here for a list of other places in Jim Thorpe with live entertainment.
THINGS TO DO: OUTDOOR RECREATION
While not specific to Jim Thorpe’s historic district, many people come to the area for outdoor recreation. Specially, to go cycling or white water rafting.
Click here for information about both activities.
EAT LUNCH: MARION HOSE BAR
The Marion Hose Bar is a restored firehouse with casual food and indoor and outdoor seating.
The best part? They have fireball candies instead of mints for when you finish your meal. Remember those? Perfectly on theme for this establishment!
For a list of other restaurants in Jim Thorpe, click here.
ENJOY A TREAT: WOODS ICE CREAM
After our train ride we went next door to the train station and ordered delicious ice cream treats from Woods Ice Cream.
They have walk up service, but do offer some outdoor seating.
They also serve coffee and a quick bite to eat like soup.
For a list of other shops with sweets, treats and coffee, click here.
There’s still so much we haven’t done in the Jim Thorpe area yet, so I’m fairly confident we will be back in this town for another adventure. My kids haven’t gone whitewater rafting yet, so that’s definitely on our list.
FOR MORE INFORMATION PLANNING A TRIP:
BOOKS AND MOVIES ABOUT JIM THORPE:
Jim Thorpe: All American – starring Burt Lancaster
*affiliate links used in this post*
If you are traveling to the East Coast or New England area of the United States, here are a few other posts you might enjoy.