Playing in the Poconos

Outdoor adventures are accessible to all in northeastern Pennsylvania

By Chanize Thorpe

The Pennsylvania Poconos are a 2,400-square-mile, all-season playground. Summer means hiking and biking throughout the four counties' 261 miles of trails. Winter finds the powdery terrain ripe for skiing and sledding. Grandchildren in strollers or grandparents with mobility concerns needn't miss out on the fun as there are plenty of outdoor adventures in the Poconos for all levels of age, energy, and ability.

Here are some suggested activities everyone can enjoy. Please check ahead for possible changes in prices and schedules.

Hiking: Dubbed the "Niagara of Pennsylvania," Bushkill Falls features eight waterfalls and miles of flora- and fauna-filled trails. Walks appeal to varying ages and physical conditions. The path to the first observation deck of the100-foot Main Falls only takes 15 minutes to complete and doesn't scale any steep hills. "At first, I was afraid I'd stumble or my cane would get caught in a rock," my grandmother Dorothy Thorpe says, "but, the railings helped me maintain my balance." Miniature golf and paddleboat rentals are also available. Daily Admission: Adults $9, seniors $8, children 4 to 10 $4.

Whitewater Rafting: Climbing in and out of the raft might be the most difficult part of a river trip with Pocono Whitewater Rafting. This outfitter offers a range of mild to challenging guided excursions. All you need is a moderate range of arm motion and a motley crew to help paddle and navigate, at a mostly gentle pace, the class I, II, and III rapids of the Lehigh River. Ages 4 and older can participate in the three-hour tour. Family-style rafting is offered May through October, with a barbecue lunch included July through August. Adults $38.95, children 4 to 14 $28.95.

Fishing: Novice anglers can learn safe wading practices, proper casting form, and the habits of resident bass and rainbow trout in the lakes and streams of the Fishing and Shooting Center at Skytop Lodge. Orvis-trained guides provide hands-on instruction in knot-tying, fly selection, and catch-and-release techniques. During lessons, the Center provides all the equipment free; when going solo, you have to rent equipment. "My granddaughter wanted to fish in a canoe, and I was nervous about getting in, since I hadn’t been in a boat since my knee replacement surgeries," says Thorpe. "But, I took my time while they held the boat steady. Once I got my bearings, I had a blast!”

Canoeing: Since 1941, Kittatinny Canoes has revealed the beauty of the scenic Delaware River to families looking for a non-strenuous but exciting day of fun. Rent its sturdy canoes and explore the surrounding region with ease. The Matamoras to River Beach trip covers six miles in two-and-a-half hours. Rates start at $39 a person.

Horseback Riding: Mounting a horse need not be difficult at Mountain Creek Riding Stable. Recently, a 41-year-old woman, paralyzed from the waist down, participated in its 45-minute trail ride. Western saddles make sitting the horses easy. Horse-drawn wagon trips and winter sleigh rides are also available.

Disabled-Friendly Hotels:

Tucked into 1,000-acres of towering trees and overlooking Lake Teedyuskung, the inclusive Woodloch Pines Resort is chock-a-block with daily activities. Mini-golfing, swimming, and bumper boating consume the days, and the nights bring smorgasbord meals, Broadway-style theme shows, and entertainment from comedians and magicians. The resort is 99 percent accessible. Rooms and suites are spacious enough for extended families, and quarters for the disabled feature wide doorways and bathroom railings.

Skytop Lodge is one-stop shopping for the family that likes to play together and stay together. Choose between rooms in the elegant English country-style lodge, an amenity-filled cottage, or the Inn, located on the hotel's 18-hole golf course. Interconnecting rooms are available, as well as accommodations with roll-in showers and bathroom seats. All meals are included, in addition to activities like tennis, nature walks, and cross-country skiing on the 5,500-acre estate.

The deluxe Chateau Resort, located next to Big Pocono State Park, is home base for those partaking in picnicking and aquatic fun at Camelbeach Waterpark during the summer. Eight rooms and their bathrooms have been renovated in the past two years to accomodate guests with reduced mobility. Skiing and snow tubing are available at nearby Camelback Mountain during the winter.

Easy Eats:

The Big A Grillehouse (formerly the Big A Steakhouse) has been a Poconos institution since the 1920s. This old-school favorite serves well loved prime rib, chops, and familiar Italian dishes. The children's menu features Mozzaluna, steak bites, roasted chicken drumsticks, penne with meatballs, and cheeseburgers for less adventurous eaters. The $5.95 to $7.95 children's dinners include a soft drink and ice cream.

Torte Knox is a quaint restaurant and cooking school that bubbly Sheelah Kaye-Stepkin. owns and runs. Make it a family-affair to remember: Take part in an interactive cooking lesson or sit and watch the entertaining Stepkin work her culinary magic, creating fresh Southern-style biscuits to go with her inventive Bistro-style meals.

A kitschy favorite, Piggy’s Restaurant serves hearty breakfasts and lunches in a fun, themed-setting. The extensive menu includes cinnamon-swirl French toast, chocolate-chip pancakes, and enormous three-egg omelets, not to mention the basket of homemade blueberry muffins that grace every table. Triple-decker clubs, burgers, and classic grilled cheese fortify you after an active morning,and leave you with just enough energy to peruse the gift shop filled with pig paraphernalia galore.

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