The actual name of this Rails-to-Trails is the D&L Trail–Lehigh Gorge State Park Trail. When we were on vacation we had initially planned on riding a trail near Washington DC that encircles the nearby airport and area. As we toured around Pennsylvania, we heard that this trail might be better. With great scenery and a river to follow, it made sense to change our plans.
This trip was centered around the historic district in Philadelphia. We had ridden the train at Strasburg through the unspoiled countryside of the Amish. A drive to the north took us to Steamtown in Scranton, where we rode the trains and toured the museum. From there we headed south back towards Philadelphia. After some beautiful sightseeing in the National Park to the north, we came to the town of Jim Thorpe.
Pennsylvania being a hotbed of railroads and history, it was no surprise to see they had train rides and the such there too. But we had come to ride the trail and there was time only for some photographs before we were ready to take to the bikes. We checked out the two bicycle rental places in town and decided on Lehigh Gorge Outpost to take care of our needs. They treated us great and even discounted our bike rentals and gave us a free shuttle to the trail.
We had hoped to ride the entire trail, but the drive to get there and some stops in the National Forest put us a little behind schedule. That’s were the discounted rate came in. Normally, they will shuttle you to the north end of the trail and you ride a gentle downhill grade back to Jim Thorpe. We were concerned that the day would end before we could make it back. So they gave us a two hour rate (even though the day was only half over), and drove us to the close (south) end of the trail.
Our plan was to ride north to the half way point, u-turn and head back in time for the last shuttle ride. And that is just what we did. Our outfitters set us up on two nearly new Trek comfort bikes. Not quite mountain bikes, but well equipped for the crushed stone trail bed, they rode perfect and fit us well. Although a recent check on the Rails-to-Trails site shows the trail has been extended into town, when we where there, a short road ride would have been necessary to get to the trail. So the free shuttle ride got us to the trail in quick order. We would have taken the road, but once again, we were anxious to get started and not run out of time.
As we started up the trail, early on we spied a sign warning us to be on the lookout for black bears. As much as were wanted to see some local wildlife, luckily, no bears were around. We worked up the grade as the trail continued. The rise in the trail was not really noticeable. That is one of the great things about trails set on old rail beds, the trains needed fairly level ground with no steep climbs. Another reason these type of trails are so worth riding is that the trains go through areas with fantastic scenery, away from the sights of the highway.
When the railroads were started in the US, the old steam engines could go about fifty miles between water stops. So small towns would pop-up there to support the train’s needs. Many of the trails I read about talk of a ‘in the middle of nowhere’ ride with the communities spaced out perfect for food and refreshment stops. Also, many of the trail systems branch out to small towns near the trail and help keep a easy, car-free way to move about available to those who want it.
The D&L Trail has the Lehigh River on one side, and the active railway on the other. We crossed over the river twice on some neat old bridges. The railway had some trains I photographed, but the tourist scenic train runs only on the weekends, so it was not to be seen. The greenery and the river were our constant companions during the entire ride. We stopped many times to watch the rapids and enjoy the sights.
And there were so many great sights within our view. Jim Thorpe has been called the Switzerland of America because of the picturesque scenery, mountainous location, and architecture. It was breathtaking. It sure beats the everyday riding in the city and suburbs that I am used to. I snapped many photos of the day and most of them came out great. Some awesome memories were made on this day.
The trail length is 25 miles. We made it to half way in good time and decided to turn back. Barbara and I do everything we can when on vacation to never travel the same roads, but today was different. Even though we had traveled this part of the trail earlier, everything looked different on the way back. There were several other people on the trail, but so few, it seemed we were by ourselves.
With a few miles left to go, we came upon a couple that were looking to catch the last shuttle too. So we rode together and had a chance to a get to know them a little. They lived fairly near to the trail and had brought their own bikes with them. We had hoped to find a way to bring bikes, or purchase some there and maybe donate them to a worthy cause, but it worked out best with the rental. It was so easy and trouble-free this way.
The Rail-to-Trails Conservancy is a great organization. By all means sign-up to support them. It will get you so many benefits. Their website will give you all the details and maps of the trails. A membership will allow you their magazine with wonderful stories of the trails, those who make it possible and those who use them. They take donations too. Get involved with this fantastic group. Get out and use the trails. They are not just for bikes. Walking, cross-country skiing and other uses are allowed on many of them.
Fun times are to be had, Turbo Bob.
“Cycle tracks will abound in Utopia.”—H. G. Wells, A Modern Utopia.
Find them on the web and Facebook.