Unfurling for almost 2400 sq miles, the Poconos Mountains in Pennsylvania is a vast outdoor playground of forest and rock that offer everything from skiing and snowshoeing to white-water rafting and biking across the calendar. It's also stuffed full of some incredible hikes – and most of the trails are quiet and peaceful.

With crashing waterfalls to discover, more than 150 lakes to circumnavigate or swim (yes, including the great Lake Wallenpaupack), and a host of wildlife to spot from bald eagles to black bears, the Poconos has it all. From leisurely saunters to expert-only treks, these are the best hikes in the Poconos Mountains.

Two girls sits at the bench in the winter forest. Pennsylvania, Poconos, Austin T. Blakeslee natural are
Make sure you pack the right gear if traversing the trails in winter © Alex Potemkin / Getty Images

Mount Minsi via the Appalachian Trail

Best hike for fall leaf-peeping
5 miles, 2-3 hours, moderate

The Appalachian Trail cuts across Pennsylvania for more than 229 miles, including some 45 miles through the Poconos. Starting at the village of Delaware Water Gap, this well-marked trail is open year-round. The route can be rocky at times and, depending on the weather, icy too. During the colder months, consider wearing crampons or Yaktrax, a winter traction device that fits over your hiking boots.

While traversing the five-mile loop, you’ll pass through enchanting rhododendron tunnels and moss-covered rocks as well as a number of waterfalls, including the Caledonia Creek cascades. From the summit of Mount Minsi – marked by a radio tower and rocky remnants of a fire tower – there are sweeping views of the Delaware River and New Jersey’s Mount Tammany.

Back down, Council Rock and Lookout Rock are both prime spots to take in the views, particularly leaf-peeping in the fall. Dogs are welcome as long as they’re on a leash.

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Lock 31 Canal Trail

Best hike for exploring a historic towpath
1.6 miles, 1 hour, easy

In the 19th century, mule-pulled barges traversed the Delaware and Hudson Canal (the D&H Canal, as it’s known locally), delivering coal from Pennsylvania to New York City. Starting from Hawley, this out-and-back trail follows in their hoof steps, running along the canal’s grassy towpath and cutting through a 16-acre park that showcases the area’s natural beauty and rich, historic past.

Passing the remnants of the original canal lock and the Daniels' Farmhouse, a red timber home built in 1820 known as the Lock 31 House, this hike is popular with birdwatchers in the summer who look for bald eagles and other endemic species. Come winter, the trail lends itself to snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Pack mosquito repellant in summer and early fall. 

Two teenage girls resting at the top of the rock nearby Dinging Rocks waterfall, Upper Black Eddy, Pennsylvania, Poconos, USA
The Poconos Mountains are dotted with crashing waterfalls © Alex Potemkin / Getty Images

Dingmans Creek Trail

Best hike for families
1.4 miles, 45 minutes, easy

For a close-up of Pennsylvania’s second-tallest waterfall, take this breezy hike to the 130ft-high Dingmans Falls. Part of the George W. Childs Park in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, the trek begins at the Dingmans Falls Visitors Center (currently closed to the public) in Dingmans Ferry. Open May-November, the center offers guided walks and nature exhibits. The recreation area is open year-round. 

The main trail is currently closed on weekdays for maintenance, but there is an alternative (non-wheelchair accessible) route that begins behind the visitor center. If you decide to hike the main trail on the weekends, show up early, as the parking lot fills quickly.

Just after the start of the main trail hike, you'll see Silverthread Falls, a slim, 80ft-high cascade on the right. Hikers will then pass a hemlock ravine and some rhododendron shrubs – visit in late summer when they’re in bloom. Most of the trail is on a wide boardwalk, making it accessible for wheelchairs and strollers.

Once you reach Dingmans Falls, there’s a staircase leading to the top for views of the upper falls and a rest area. The ease, accessibility, and view payoff make this a popular trail, so come on a weekday for fewer crowds.

Bushkill Falls Trail

Best hike for seeing waterfalls
1.8 miles, 2 hours, moderate

The Bushkill Falls are a series of eight waterfalls in a 300-acre wooded enclave hidden amongst the Poconos. Known as the Niagara Falls of Pennsylvania, there are four trails that lead to the cascades from the Bushkill Falls trailhead, each ranging in difficulty and duration – from the 15-minute, no-climb Green Trail to the more strenuous, nearly two-mile Red Trail.

The Main Falls can be seen from the primary observation deck, which is visible early in the trail, but to see all eight falls – including a close-up look at the beautiful Bridal Veil Falls – follow the Red Trail. You’ll need a couple of hours to traverse the boardwalk and climb some 1200 steps.

Popular with birdwatchers, it’s possible to see songbirds, owls, hawks, and eagles en route. An exhibition at the park’s entrance highlights the area’s endemic wildlife, which includes black bears. It costs $15 for adults to enter and $9 for children aged four to 10. 

Teenager girl walking on the falled tree over the Mauch Chunk lake. The sunny autumn's day in Poconos, Pennsylvania, USA
The Poconos Mountains have more than 150 lakes to swim or circumnavigate © Alex Potemkin / Getty Images

Promised Land Boundary Trail

Best hike for spotting flora and fauna
6.3 Miles, 3 hours, moderate

The 3,000-acre Promised Land State Park was once a hunting ground for the indigenous Lenape people. Today it is ribboned with more than 50 miles of hiking trails, including this rewarding hike along the 1800ft-high Pocono Plateau.

The trail is largely flat but rocky and strenuous at times. The flora, especially in the warmer months, makes for this a beautiful hike as rhododendron, mountain laurel, and wild blueberries complement a forest filled with hemlock, oak, and maple trees. 

Starting at the north end of Promised Land Lake, popular for fishing and boating, the trail winds around the eastern side of the water, passing fern fields and bubbling creeks. Keep an eye out for white-tailed deer, black bears, wild turkeys, and bald eagles.

At the southern end of the lake, the Pickerel Point campground is a perfect place to pitch a tent and spend the night. The park is open year-round and dogs are welcome, as long as they’re on a leash. 

Tobyhanna State Park Trail Loop

Best hike for summer swims
5 miles, 2-3 hours, easy

Anchored by the scenic, 170-acre Tobyhanna Lake, this state park is webbed with 10 miles of hiking trails that range in difficulty. For an easy hike that will pass a morning or afternoon, follow the trail loop that circumnavigates the lake and passes by bogs, evergreen forests, and a plethora of plant and animal life. In the spring, look out for Jefferson salamanders and wood frogs, which come to the bogs to breed.

The strong, well-maintained path makes the route good for trail runs and summertime biking as well as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter too. From Memorial Day (the last Monday of May) to mid-September, finish your hike at the sandy beach on the northeast side of the lake.

Here you'll find changing rooms, showers (accessible for a fee), and restrooms, as well as picnic tables. Pack your bathers for a swim.

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