This is not a hard-and-fast rule, but residents of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware tend to be either shore people or Poconos people. For all the folks who go down-a-shore to stroll the boardwalk and dislodge fillings with chunks of salt water taffy, there are clever counterparts who head north to Pennsylvania’s majestic mountain range for lake swimming, hiking, water parks, and summery food to match.
On the border between Pennsylvania and New York, the Poconos stand on traditional Indigenous territory known as Lenapehoking, occupying 2,400 square miles of Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) over four counties. There are dozens of special towns ranging from tiny to medium in size, including a few recognizable map points like East Stroudsburg (notable for its public university), Jim Thorpe (named for the first Native American to win an Olympic gold medal for the U.S.), or the Delaware Water Gap — though plenty of towns unheard of outside the region are worth checking out.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the nearby Catskills became overrun with eager city folk hoping to escape their crowded urban environment for a summer or forever (if you haven’t read the roughly 1 million articles on the upstate New York housing market, the general gist is it’s a free-for-all). The low-key Poconos popped up on a lot of radars as a natural, cheaper alternative, free of the sparse midcentury modern furniture stores, CBD oil shops, and boutiques selling paper-thin Victorian nightgowns that have invaded other cutesy mountain towns. The area’s small towns have been able to hold on to their charming old school spirit — yes, the Pocono Palace Resort is still open, and yes, the tub is still heart-shaped — while welcoming a few trendier newcomers to keep things interesting. The region is still as gorgeous and rich as ever, and never too far for anyone on the East Coast.
What is Poconos cuisine?
Most people will tell you there’s no such thing as “Poconos cuisine.” They’re mostly right. But what the Poconos may lack in unified culinary identity, they make up for in a true range of Pennsylvania-special experiences. From farm fresh produce, meats, and cheeses; to summery foods like hot dogs and ice cream; to breweries, wineries, and distilleries — the spectrum of Pennsylvania’s diverse food offerings are all available in the NEPA mountain range. Visitors would also be mistaken to think the food is only easy summer camp staples; there are also excellent Peruvian, Caribbean, and Vietnamese restaurants. You just have to go out there and find it, and when that hunger hits after a long hike, you definitely will.
While the Poconos may not boast quite as robust a farm scene as Lancaster (worth a visit alone for wood-fired pizza place Luca), there are plenty of farmers markets and opportunities to revel in agritourism in the lush region, where the greens are fresh, the tomatoes are juicy, and the stone fruits blush all over. The Poconos’ visitors guide has a list of farms and markets. Just check their hours in advance to guarantee you’ll get your bunch of rhubarb.
What to know before you go
Lodges: A car is essential for getting around the area, but if you’d like to give the gas pedal a rest, plop down at a giant resort lodge somewhere like Hawley or Monroe. Historically, that was the vacation move: Find your lodge and stay put, especially at the larger ski resorts like Camelback. At almost all of the lodges you’ll find today, there are restaurants and bars right on-site, with kid-friendly options and date night dinners. Some, like the Skytop, feel so large that you may never feel the urge to leave, though it’s still best to roam to try all the Poconos have to offer.
Hiking: In most AirBnbs or hotels in the mountains, you’ll find a plethora of paper pamphlets leading you in the direction of a good-ass hike in your general area. There’s something for all levels of ability, though there’s really nowhere quite as stunning as the Ricketts Glen Falls Trail, a 7-mile loop where hikers can catch 21 different waterfalls, best paired with a whole mess of seasonal produce from Retherford’s Farm Market to celebrate at the end. The Mount Minsi hike is shorter, still somewhat difficult, and the views will bring a tear to your eye, especially if you stop by Joe Bosco BBQ (below) after summiting.
Seasons: Due to its abundant natural beauty and tourist-driven economy, the Poconos is an all-season destination, except for the months of February and March, when spring hasn’t yet sprung, and September, when the kids are back in school. Pretty much any other time of the year, you’ll find folks doing seasonally appropriate activities with remarkable enthusiasm. That means skiing in the winter, hiking and leaf peeping in the spring and fall, and swimming, whitewater rafting, and ropes course-ing in the summer.
Lake Wallenpaupack: When you’re in the Poconos, you can’t miss Lake Wallenpaupack, a 13-mile-long body of water that is technically a reservoir. There are numerous ways to enjoy the majesty of water, from swimming — try the public beach at Palmyra — to jet skiing to boating. There’s even fishing, if you’ve come equipped with a camping grill and a fishing license. During the summer, there can be a lot of boats along certain shorelines, so the scene can get a little crowded, but it’s all part of the fun. The Dock at Wallenpaupack (below) is a great little spot to sit lakeside, drink cold beers, and eat the fresh catch of the day.
Families: The Poconos — much like the shore — is largely a family destination, with ski resorts, water parks, adventure activities, and swimming catered to keep the kids busy while the parents relax with a beer or four. Many of the lodges and resorts are attached to golf courses and ski mountains. That means dining with kids in the Poconos is relatively easy, as much of the cuisine is kid-friendly and spaces are large and often outside. It also means those traveling without kids may wish to avoid the major ski resorts and more crowded sections of the lake.
The Promised Land: Yes, it’s a real place. In fact, it’s a beautiful state park in Greentown with hiking trails, campgrounds, a lake, and pretty great wildlife watching. Even if you aren’t the religious type, the natural beauty may convince you that the promised land is real and it’s right here in Pennsylvania.
Where to eat
East Stroudsburg: Open all year round, Llama Ice Cream is not your average summertime scoop shop — it’s much, much better. Owner Julio Amenero opened the shop in 2017 to bring flavors of his Peruvian heritage to East Stroudsburg. The ice cream offerings aren’t limited to your classic cookies and cream or strawberry, but include flavors like lucuma, passion fruit, soursop, and tamarind. Before (or after, if that’s your thing) you pick up your cone of tamarind ice cream, head to Inti Peruvian Cuisine, which is, for maximum convenience, right next door to Llama in the same small lot. It’s not typical to associate the Poconos with lomo saltado (sauteed beef), mixed ceviche, or beef empanadas, but don’t let your expectations limit you.
Like any college town, there are lots of choices for eating out in East Stroudsburg, home to East Stroudsburg University. Simply bop along Main Street to find dinner. Renegade Winery, on the corner of Main and Sixth streets, will satisfy your drinking needs, but for lunch, dinner, or takeout try Tropical Eats, where you’ll find curry chicken, fried plantains, beef patties, and cassava. It’s a good option to pack for a post-hike lunch.
Honesdale: One of the best restaurants in the entire region, Native in Honesdale — a tiny town of 3,000 residents with a cute main street — is not to be missed when hitting the Poconos. It was started by husband-and-wife duo Caleb and Alex Johnson, who cut their teeth in the restaurant industry in some of Philly’s best-known restaurants. The pair decided to move back to Alex’s hometown and start their own venture, a restaurant with beautifully curated dishes made from the area’s abundant local produce and ingredients. There’s even a butcher paper sign in the restaurant that tells you the list of farmers that the chefs work with.
Native pulls a lot of diners to Honesdale, but don’t underestimate the other options, like the excellent Vietnamese restaurant Bà and Me, which nails the classics like pho, noodles, and rice platters. Meanwhile, every treat imaginable (okay, not every treat) is available at Be Kind Bake House on Main Street in Honesdale, from blueberry lavender pies to ginger cookies to bread for your picnic hike. The bakers show up at farmers markets around the area, so if you don’t make it to Honesdale, you still have a chance of picking up their muffins, brownies, and hand pies. Finally, a little off the beaten path (aka PA 611), Thai Thani provides all the highlights of good Thai cuisine, served Poconos-style. Thai curries, cocktails, and grilled basil steak are all on the menu, and the patio is great for dining al fresco.
Delaware Water Gap: Along a very small strip of shops and bars, Joe Bosco Authentic Smokehouse BBQ is the place to go in the Delaware Water Gap for juicy brisket, pulled pork, and an array of specialty sandwiches that always hit the spot. On a warm day, the outdoor patio at Joe Bosco’s is a lovely place to sit and eat. Just don’t forget the hush puppies. Pies and hot dogs are the specialty at the quaint roadside Village Farmer and Bakery, best enjoyed in a combo deal combining the two. All of the delicious pies, stuffed with seasonal fruits and rich custards, are sold in small and large sizes. The bakery case is a sight to behold, and the fridges are stocked with local Pennsylvania cheeses and meats, too.
Where to Drink
When you think of the Pennsylvania mountains, it’s unlikely that the first thing to spring to mind is a sake distillery and house-made ramen. Sango Kura in the Delaware Water Gap is hoping to change that. On Thursdays and weekends, visitors can enjoy an array of different sakes brewed on site, as well as sustainable sushi, yakisoba, and gyoza. You can, of course, take bottles back home with you, too.
Here & Now Brewing Company
Breweries abound in the Poconos, curated into the handy Pocono Beverage Trail. If you can’t drink your way through the whole list, head straight for Here & Now, less than half a block from Native. On the menu, you’ll find locally made cream ales and IPAs to quench your thirst before dinner — though if you forgot to get a reservation at Native, Here & Now also serves pizzas and snacks, like duck fat popcorn.
Right on the lake with an impressively large deck, the Dock is a down-to-earth, fish-focused restaurant and bar with friendly staff and local beers on tap. In the summer high season, the bar gets lively with vacationers mooring their boats right on the dock. The crab cakes are great.
Part of the Ledges Hotel in Hawley, Glass is a wine bar with a view of the Paupack High Falls that inspires jealousy in anyone not staying at the hotel. Whether or not you’re a savvy guest, you can still enjoy the view from the patio over an American-focused menu of spirits, beer, and wine. Small plates are available, too, and reservations for full dinner service can be made online.
Wallenpaupack Brewing Company
There are almost too many beers to choose from at Wallenpaupack Brewing Company, a short drive from the eponymous lake. The brewery luckily is open all day, so you don’t have to wait for happy hour for a taste of brewer’s pretzels, burgers, and other enticing bar snacks. The space is big, so if you’re in town with a group, you’ll be sure to find room to fit the whole gang.
Where to stay
This gathering of trendy, dressed-up cabins for rent in Hawley is perfect for city slickers who want to feel right at home. The midcentury modern design, scattered plants and greenery, and airy windows make each of Caitlin’s five houses a good go-to for travelers who prefer the full house experience over a hotel or lodge. Prices start at around $255.
The lodges around the area may feel kitschy, or on occasion a bit dated, but that’s all part of the fun. Try the Skytop Lodge for an upscale experience, with golfing, restaurants, hayride tours of the estate, trails, and an outdoor adventure center for those who love a bit of excitement on vacation. Depending on the season, prices start at around $200.
Rainbow Mountain Resort
For a queer-friendly stay, Rainbow Mountain Resort has a pool and dance club for those missing a bit of nightlife. Rooms are tastefully designed and bookings come with a free continental breakfast. Rates start at around $100 a night.
Cove Haven, Pocono Palace, and Paradise Stream
This trio of hotels are great for throwback romance in the style of the ’70s and ’80s. If you’re coming to the Poconos with a paramour, you can have confidence in the fact that these retreats are adults-only. Depending on your preferred scene, each hotel has something different to offer, from lakes and pools to game rooms and hot tubs. Lean into the kitsch. Rates start at around $300.
Harry Packer Mansion Inn
Established in 1874, this gothic mansion is for those who like a taste of the spooky (according to the business, the property inspired Disney World’s Haunted Mansion). Everything is of the period, including the reception area, but it’s not all dreary and dark: The outdoor patio is lovely. Rates start at $220.