Three Days in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains
Home to historic and charming towns like Jim Thorpe, Milford, Stroudsburg, and Honesdale, the Poconos have been Pennsylvania's top vacation destination for more than a century. Its rolling mountain terrain, beautiful waterfalls, pristine rivers and lakes, dense forests and swanky stays are often the perfect weekend getaway for millions of nature lovers. It's also a region with several millennia of history. Long before tourists began flocking to the Poconos, the lands were inhabited by various Native American tribes including the Iroquois, Delaware, Shawnee and more. Archaeological evidence suggests that the Delaware inhabited the land near Stroudsburg as far back as 10,000 years ago, making it one of the oldest Native American sites in the northeastern US. Before European settlers began settling in the region, the Delaware referred to the land as "Pokawachne" meaning "river between two hills" and from where the name Pocono is derived. In the 1650s the Dutch established settlements near the Delaware Water Gap and in 1727 the first permanent residence was established at Shawnee by French Huguenot Nicholas DePuy. Today, the region has become a haven to even the most casual outdoor adventurer. The 2,500 square mile region is home to more than 250 miles of hiking trails, 45 of which belong to the Appalachian Trail, more than 170 miles of riverway, and more than 250 lakes. Whitewater rafting, parasailing, kayaking, skiing, biking, and trout fishing are all popular outdoor activities throughout the region. On this adventure you'll hike to the area's most picturesque waterfalls, venture up to a breathtaking view of the Delaware Water Gap, explore the Appalachian's largest boulder field, and more.
Day 1: Dingmans Ferry
Raymondskill & Hackers Falls (2.2 miles/300')
Silverthread & Dingmans Falls (0.8 miles/250')
Hornbecks Creek (3.7 miles/450')
Kick off a great few days with a hike to the tallest waterfall in Pennsylvania, the 178' three tier Raymondskill Falls. The entire hike is beautiful and the views along it are exceptional. It has a very Pacific Northwest feel to it actually. Hiking this one counterclockwise from the lower parking lot, the second lot on Raymondskill Rd from Rt-209, gives a good buildup to the best view of the falls in our opinion. You'll hit the upper and middle falls viewing areas, both of which provide amazing views, before taking a well trodden unofficial trail down to Raymondskill Creek where you'll have a view similar to that in the photo below.
In springtime and after a heavy rain you'll find an unnamed falls cascading from the cliffs on the far side of the creek near the lower tier. Swimming is prohibited in this area, but we've seen people swimming in the pool upstream from the upper falls on more than one occasion. A short distance east of the trailhead and on the other side of the road you'll find the trailhead to Hackers Falls, a smaller fan shaped waterfall along Raymondskill Creek. There are several spur trails on this hike and using the AllTrails app can be helpful. There isn't a whole lot to see before reaching the falls, but it's worth the time, especially if you dare to break the rules and cliff jump into the pool below.
The next hike is one of the most popular in Pennsylvania, the 130' and highest single drop waterfall in Pennsylvania, Dingmans Falls. If you can get an early start to the day think about hiking out to this before Raymondskill and Hackers Falls as this one can get pretty damn busy. The trails to these three falls are all within ten minutes of each other. From the Dingmans Creek Trailhead at the Dingmans Falls Visitor Center, proceed a few hundred feet or so along the boardwalk trail before reaching Silverthread Falls, an 80' three tier waterfall that you'll swear was man made. After snapping a few photos continue along the trail before reaching the base of Dingmans Falls a short quarter mile later. This is the best view of the falls, but you can also snag a different view by hiking up the stairs to the top of the falls. The trail continues for a short bit after, but we recommend ending the hike at the falls.
If you're looking for a place to grab lunch near here check out the empanadas at Goodies On 739 or Log Tavern Brewery in Milford. The brewery has finger food type foods and sits near the base of the popular Milford Knob and Cliff Trail.
The last hike of the day is a roughly three and a half mile trip along Hornbecks Creek, locally known as the Indian Ladder Falls Trail. There are two ways to access the trail, one from Emery Rd and another from Rt-209. We recommend hiking upstream from Rt-209. From the parking area follow the gravel road for a quarter mile before reaching the dirt trail. The first waterfall comes at about three quarters of a mile and is pictured below. Here, you'll find a rope swing to the left of the pool which is awesome on warm summer days.
After this you'll encounter two small waterfalls, but reaching them can be a bit tricky. Shortly after this you'll reach the 50' Indian Ladder Falls, the most impressive waterfall along Hornbecks Creek in our opinion. Explore the area here and even take one of the spur trails to climb up into the middle of the falls if the flow allows.
After this, there are at least three more waterfalls, one that's about 25', before reaching Emery Rd. Your best bet is to turn around after the last waterfall since there isn't much to see the remainder of the trail. This is a really fun trail and one you'll have plenty of opportunities to snag some awesome photos along. Don't pass up the opportunity to swim in the lower falls pool!
There are a couple decent campgrounds nearby if you're looking to camp. Dingmans Campground is a couple minutes from the Hornbecks Creek Trail, has nice riverside campsites, but it's a bit pricey, no showers and only has porta potties. We preferred the Delaware Water Gap/Pocono Mountain KOA on our last trip. As with all KOA's their facilities are top notch and the sites were great. Showers, flush toilets, sinks, campstore, firewood, etc. and twenty minutes south of the Hornbecks Creek Trail. If you chose the latter, check out Cedar's Mediterranean Grill for dinner, fifteen minutes south of the campground. The shawarma wraps and hummus are really good. We've only camped in the Poconos so can't help with resorts or other lodging options, but there are tons of Airbnbs, hotels, inns, etc. in the area. Just be prepared to open the wallet a bit as they often aren't cheap.
Day 2: Hickory Run
Hawk Falls (0.7 miles/100')
Shades of Death (2.2 miles/250')
Hickory Run Boulder Field (varies)
An hour west of the Delaware Water Gap you'll find Hickory Run State Park, home to amazing hiking trails, waterfalls, a massive boulder field, and more. Start with a short hike to Hawk Falls, the park's most frequented trail. The waterfall isn't nearly as impressive as those from yesterday, but it's definitely worth the time to get to.
A few minutes away from the Hawk Falls Trailhead you'll find one of the more interestingly named hiking trails in the country, the Shades of Death Trail. Widely regarded as one of the top couple hikes in the state, the trail follows Sand Spring Run through thick swaths of rhododendron, awesome rock formations, cascading waterfalls, and the remains of a logging mill and dam.
In the park's northern reaches you'll find the Boulder Field, the park's most notable feature. The 16 acre, mostly red sandstone geologic wonder is the largest boulder field in the Appalachian Mountains and since 1967 a National Natural Landmark. A 6+ mile trail will get you to the field, but it can more easily be reached by parking in the lot next to it and walk a few hundred feet from your vehicle.
We saw a rattlesnake in the field the second to last time we were here so keep that in mind when walking through it. The boulder field is believed to have been created during the last Ice Age, but it's still up for debate. Regardless, it's definitely worth taking some time to explore.
An awesome way to spend some time later in the day is parasailing on Lake Wallenpaupack, an hour northeast of the boulder field. Pocono Action Sports in Greentown does a really good job with this and the staff are extremely friendly. You'll have truly awesome views of the surrounding area and the second largest lake in Pennsylvania. This is roughly forty-five minutes north of the Delaware Water Gap/Pocono Mountain KOA. A decent amount of windshield time today, but it's all worth it.
Day 3: Bushkill
Bushkill Falls (1.8'/350')
Mount Tammany (2.5 miles/1,100')
Begin your last day with a short hike to the Poconos most impressive waterfall, the 100' Bushkill Falls. There are several trails inside the park, but you'll want the Red and Blue Trails Loop. This gives access to Bushkill Falls, Lower Gorge Falls, Lower Bridesmaid's Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Upper Bridesmaid's Falls, Pennell Falls, Upper Canyon Falls, and Laurel Glen Falls in order going clockwise. There are more than 1,200 stairs on this loop, but they're evenly dispersed and not as rough as it might sound. Still, plan on being here for a while, especially if you're planning on photographing. The privately owned park charges an admission fee to enter and with this being one of the most beautiful trails in the state it's worth it.
A great way to spend time nearby is at the Pocono Indian Museum located a few minutes away in East Stroudsburg. You'll learn a ton about the Delaware tribe and its fascinating history on the highly recommended self guided audio tour. The museum displays authentic ancient artifacts, weapons, tools, and more with some dating back more than 10,000 years. Make sure to check out the gift shop after for some really interesting buys. This is a can't miss experience and one of the best museums in the region.
Near the end of your day make your way to the Red Dot Trailhead on the New Jersey side of the Delaware Water Gap, about fifteen minutes from the KOA. The trail is pretty steep during the first mile, gaining almost 900' in elevation, but it's worth it. From the Mount Tammany Overlook, the second of the two major overlooks on the trail, you'll have dramatic views of the Delaware Water Gap and Pennsylvania's Mount Minsi. Sunsets here are often incredible. The Appalachian Trail runs up Mount Minsi, but the views from its overlooks aren't nearly as impressive as those from Mount Tammany. When you reach the Mount Tammany Overlook walk down the rocky hillside as far as you like for the best views. This will be your turnaround point on the hike. Kind of a no brainer, but bring a headlamp if hiking for sunset.
And that's Three Days in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains. Have a blast, enjoy the outdoors, and make some memories!