Whether you're an avid fan of architecture, thrive on culture, or simply crave stamps in your National Parks passport, the 2400 sq miles of land within the Pocono Mountains doesn’t disappoint when it comes to saving money.

If you want to experience history or connect with nature without busting your budget, here’s our guide to the best free things to do in Pennsylvania’s Poconos.

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Observe historic engineering at Roebling Bridge

You may already be familiar with John Roebling, the engineer of New York City’s Brooklyn Bridge. However, you may not realize that the Poconos has its own version, constructed 20 years before its NYC counterpart.

Today, Pennsylvania’s Roebling Bridge stands as a testament to its engineer as almost all the ironwork, such as the suspension and cable, is original.

The 535ft-long structure is part of the National Parks Service and is the oldest surviving wire suspension bridge in the United States. You can traverse the former aqueduct on foot or drive across – we recommend parking up and exploring on foot to fully appreciate the incredible views. Be sure to bring a camera!

Not only is the design of the structure appealing, but there are markers at several vantage points that provide a peek into history amidst stunning views of the Delaware River.

A man sits beneath a tree in the middle of Boulder Field in Hickory Run State Park, Poconos Region
Wander through Boulder Field and try to guess the origin of this unique landscape © Delmas Lehman / Shutterstock

Marvel at natural wonders at Boulder Field

Located at Hickory Run State Park, Boulder Field is perhaps one of the most interesting free things to do in the Poconos. Over 16 acres of seemingly flat land, void of vegetation and filled with boulders. Although there are many theories about what formed the area, no one is certain about its origins. However, some geologists theorize that moving glaciers are responsible for the unique landscape.

The biggest boulder is 26ft long, and the stones are stacked 10 to 12 ft deep. Guests should keep safety, and the park’s regulations, in mind while visiting, although trying to balance on the rocks is both a fun and vigorous activity.

Moving or stacking rocks is prohibited. Wear proper footwear and keep valuables and small items, such as keys and phones, in the vehicle as these can slip through the rocks, never to be seen again.

Experience life behind bars at the Old Stone Jail

Located in the quaint town of Honesdale — about an hour from the Poconos — the Old Stone Jail is a relic of a past era. It’s also an unassuming structure on a side street, so many folks miss it as they make their way through the center of town.

The stone walls and imposing metal doors of the circa-1859 building should have been enough to deter crime, but those damp cells stayed full until its closure in 1935. These days, volunteers lead visitors through the dungeon-like 9 x 12-foot cells as they recount tales of prominent occupants and the jail’s history.

Tours are complimentary, although donations are appreciated and help with upkeep. Hours vary from season to season, so check the website before heading out.

Go for a stroll at D&H Canal Park at Lock 31

Prior to the railroad industry, utilizing waterways in the Pocono Mountains was vital for transporting coal from the Pennsylvania mines to New York. The D&H Canal Park at Lock 31 details this history over 16 acres along the Lackawaxen River and features the historic Daniels Farmhouse, Canal Lock 31, and part of the D&H Canal.

Not only can you see the former canal, but you can walk along the path, enjoy the views, observe wildlife and see a to-scale replica of a canal boat cabin.

The 108-mile canal was in operation from 1828 to 1898, but once the last boat completed its journey, the channel was closed and drained, leaving a host of natural areas lined with trails throughout the Poconos.

A tall waterfall surrounded by greenery in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, USA
Pack your camera and take a hike through the stunning waterfalls in Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area © Justin Bereman / EyeEm / Getty Images

Spend a day at a Poconos park

There's more than compelling historical sites and culture to enjoy in the Poconos region – many of the parks contain hiking trails, wildlife observation and waterside activities. Although some additional amenities — such as renting kayaks or camping — cost money, exploring the grounds of the Pennsylvania parks is free.

See a covered bridge at Beltzville State Park, enjoy the views from the summit of Camelback Mountain in Big Pocono State Park or walk amidst the stunning waterfalls scattered throughout Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.

Explore nature at Dorflinger-Suydam Wildlife Sanctuary

Those that appreciate handicrafts and enjoy learning the intricacies of how they're made should prioritize a stop at the Dorflinger Factory Museum in Hawley, PA and the Dorflinger Glass Museum in White Mills, PA.

For $5 at each location, you can tour the former 1800s glass factory and museum to view exquisitely cut lead crystal pieces.

For a completely free activity in the Pocono Mountains, the grounds surrounding the historic buildings are a worthwhile stop. The complimentary 600-acre Dorflinger-Suydam Wildlife Sanctuary encompasses the glass museum and offers serene walking trails, which are also open during the colder seasons. In addition, the property has streams, a pond, and a lake and hosts the annual Wildflower Music Festival.

Observe hydropower in action at The Upper Mill Grist Mill

Learn how grain is ground using hydropower at the Upper Mill Grist Mill in Milford, PA. View a 24-ft (three-story) working water-powered wheel through the glass walls of the on-site Waterwheel Cafe Bakery & Bar.

While there, watch the water flow over the wheel, causing a chain reaction of gears, belts and pulleys. The tour is self-guided and teaches how hydropower once milled grain. Afterward, you can relax with a coffee and a snack while still observing the internal mechanics at the connected cafe.

A festively decorated street in the town of Jim Thorpe in the Poconos Region, PA
Visit the town named after Olympic hero Jim Thorpe and learn about his extraordinary life © Westersoe / Getty Images

Pay homage to a sports hero at Jim Thorpe Memorial

Heading to the town of Jim Thorpe, about a half hour from the Pocono Mountains, almost certainly requires a stop at the Jim Thorpe Memorial to learn the history of the man himself.

Originally from Oklahoma, Thorpe was an accomplished Native American athlete (from the Sac and Fox nation) who moved to the area to attend the controversial Carlisle Indian Industrial School, where he played for the football team and won the national collegiate championship.

Thorpe also won two gold medals — in the pentathlon and decathlon — at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden. The memorial pays homage to Thorpe and sits in a park that features other statues of him playing sports. Although Thorpe is buried in Pennsylvania, his relatives have unsuccessfully long petitioned for his remains to be brought back to Oklahoma.

See wildlife at the Van Scott Nature Reserve

The land that makes up the Van Scott Nature Reserve was settled in the late 1700s and used to be a dairy farm. Today, the property serves as the Delaware Highlands Conservancy headquarters and has over three miles of hiking trails, forests, wetlands, a tributary and two ponds.

The area serves as a habitat for insects and ground-nesting birds. It’s the perfect place to go birdwatching or observe butterflies, so purchase a book or download a free app to identify the various species. In addition, the conservancy hosts various educational programs and activities year-round, focusing on nature and local history, so take a peek at the reserve’s calendar before heading over.

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