Pocono Pedaling

The Switchback Trail
Switchback Trail
Length/configuration : 11-mile loop.
Aerobic difficulty : Easy to moderate.
Technical difficulty : Moderate single-track and a steep descent on the Back Track; the rest is easy.
Scenery : Woods, views of Lehigh River Gorge, a babbling brook, and an old house in Jim Thorpe.
Special comments : Ride the Back Track into Jim Thorpe to avoid a huge climb.
General location : Jim Thorpe.
Elevation change : About 600 feet.
Season : Year-round.
Services : Camping is available at Mauch Chunk Lake Park. Mountain bikes can be rented at Blue Mountain Sports & Wear. All other services are available in Jim Thorpe.
Hazards : Novice riders may want to walk the steep, rocky descent from the Back Track into Jim Thorpe.
Rescue index : Good. The Back Track follows a ridge away from roads. The rest of the loop is either in town or parallels a paved road.
Land status : County park.
Maps : Blue Mountain Sports & Wear and the tourist bureau in town carry maps.
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Switchback Trail is the old right-of-way of one of America's first railroads, the gravity railway between old Mauch Chunk (part of Jim Thorpe today) and the coal mines of Summit Hill. Cars full of coal rolled to waiting barges in Jim Thorpe (the Down Track), and mules pulled the empty cars up a steep incline where they rolled back to the mines (the Back Track). Later, steam power replaced the mules. The gravity railroad began operation in 1828 and ran until 1933. After the Civil War and the decline of the canal system the railroad fed, the system was converted into a passenger ride, foreshadowing the development of the roller coaster. It was a major national tourist attraction in the last half of the nineteenth century.

Today this venerable route is best enjoyed on a mountain bike, which lets fat-tired cyclists with a yen for adventurous riding explore the hills surrounding Jim Thorpe. The 11-mile loop for intermediate mountain bikers (and adventurous beginners who don't mind a little walking) features forest trails, great views of Lehigh River Gorge, a ramble through old Jim Thorpe, and a spin through a thick rhododendron and hemlock forest along a fast-flowing mountain brook. Sound too good to be true? That's not all. With only 2-percent grades along most of the ride, there are no steep climbs.

© Article copyright Menasha Ridge Press. All rights reserved.



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