Lots of Philly folks discovered — or rediscovered — the Poconos over the past few summers, driven by a quest for nature, fresh air and open spaces. But winter in the Poconos is a completely different thing. The chilly months are the Poconos’ best season — the one that put our mountain refuge on the map in the first place. Just two to three hours by car from Philly, the region has outdoor adventure, stylish (and cozy!) accommodations, endless antiquing, bustling breweries and more. There are a million reasons to love the Poconos in winter. Here are 23 of our favorites. — Edited by Erica Moody
1. Because the cold is highly underrated
Winter is coming. In the shorthand of premium-cable pop culture, that’s a warning: Bundle up. Hunker down. Things are about to get bad. But not for me. My wife, who breaks out the sweaters when temps drop below 70, doesn’t get it, but I love the cold. I savor the bite in the air when the thermometer plunges. I find it life-affirming when you can literally see your breath. I’m what you’d call a crispness freak. I’ve got nothing against summer. But here in the Delaware Valley, where swampy-armpit season recently intruded into November (November!), I find the bracing blasts of bomb cyclones and polar vortices that come with the winter months a welcome respite. How much better to work up a sweat trying to stay warm than to perspire simply sitting still! And when it’s chilly here in Philly, it’s fantastically frosty in the Poconos. While many of us embraced Pennsylvania’s storied mountain range during the pandemic’s summers, winter is truly the region’s prime time: The confluence of outdoor activities (skiing, hiking, snow tubing) and warm-up endeavors (lodges, spas, drinking) makes the Poconos the perfect place to embrace your inner Wim Hof — to experience, and recover from, the cold. A song of ice and fire indeed. — Brian Howard
2. Because you can ski, ski, ski — whee!
Whether you’re an aspiring Mikaela Shiffrin or the mere sight of a black diamond causes you heart palpitations, there’s something for everyone at the region’s six resorts. Pick which is right for you with our guide. Keep reading here.
3. Because you can go to the world’s largest general store
That’s how Lehighton’s Country Junction bills itself, and we have no reason to doubt it. The place is huge and an absolute hoot. Yes, you can pick up all sorts of Amish pickles and pretzels and various groceries and sundries. You can get a $3 kielbasa sandwich. You can buy furniture sets. Get keys made. Buy rare lizards and bizarre creatures like an axolotl in the pet shop. Oh, how about the $7,500 set of plaster Rolling Stone caricature statues? We haven’t even mentioned the mini-bowling lanes and Skee-ball. Truly a one-of-a-kind shopping experience — and an excellent place to stock up on snacks for your hotel room. — Victor Fiorillo
4. Because indoor water parks are a thing
“I want to do this the rest of my life,” my eight-year-old said as we floated down the lazy river at Kalahari (rooms from $199). To be fair, it wasn’t the laziest of rivers — we kept bumping into other drifters and getting doused by waterfalls, and the on-ramp to launch our giant tubes into the flow rivaled merging onto the Schuylkill Expressway after an Eagles game. But for a kid driven upstate to an indoor oasis out of the cold where the arcade is open till midnight and you can literally buy a whole cup of cookie dough in the lobby, this was heaven. The safari-themed resort boasts a 220,000-square-foot indoor water park that ranges from a colorful splash pad for toddlers to steep, high-speed corkscrew waterslides; the giant game room will keep you busy all night with bowling, black-light mini golf, and countless arcade games. (Our favorite was life-size Hungry, Hungry Hippos.) Older kids will also like the VR experiences and escape rooms. End your night with a sweet treat from the Last Bite, which has Bassetts ice cream, candy and more — plus a cafe next door for some much-needed caffeine after 12 straight hours of play. — Laura Swartz
5. Because there’s a good Cheesecake Factory
The Pocono Cheesecake Factory has little in common with the ubiquitous mall restaurant. Since 1985, the bakery has been producing hundreds of cheesecakes a day. Try the original topped with fruit or a frozen slice dipped in chocolate, or pick up an entire frozen cheesecake made up of half a dozen different-flavor slices and stow it away for a cheesecake emergency. — Maddy Sweitzer-Lammé
6. Because you can, believe it or not, hear some great jazz
When we heard there was a jazz club in the Poconos — not just a jazz club, but one calling itself the oldest continuously operating jazz club in the country (well, except during COVID) — we rolled our eyes a bit. But the Deer Head Inn takes its jazz seriously and has a solid lineup of groups ranging from bebop to big bands on weekends. For a taste of the local music crowd, the Thursday-night jazz jams are where it’s at. — V.F.
7. Because you can take a cold-bucket shower in a snow room
For respite from skiing and sipping hot toddies by the fireplace, take your pick of a number of luxurious, perfect-for-winter spa treatments. The Lodge at Woodloch recently launched three new amenities: a sauna equipped with a Himalayan salt wall that works to promote healthier breathing through air purification, a cold-water bucket shower that’s said to improve circulation (and will make you gasp!), and the aptly named Snow Room, where you can chill out amongst compact dry snow and reap benefits like reduced inflammation and boosted energy. Or opt for the signature Rosemary Awakening, featuring a rosemary and mint body polish plus essential-oils-enhanced Swedish, scalp and foot massages that will leave you feeling refreshed and ready to cozy under blankets. For the best of both temps, try the Fire and Ice treatment at the French Manor’s eco-friendly Le Spa Forêt. It starts with a naturally warming body scrub and shaping gel, then cools you with a facial mask made from spirulina and snow algae. Couples shouldn’t sleep on the Fireside Massage, which is as romantic as it sounds. For Reiki that really works (literally; you’ll feel the heat at your heart chakra as the healing takes place), ask for Carol at Mount Airy Casino Resort. — Laura Brzyski and Erica Moody
8. Because you can learn something new
Why on earth would somebody build a majestic sanctuary on the second floor of a church instead of the first? Find out at the architecturally astounding St. Mark’s & St. John’s (hey, why one saint when you can have two?) Episcopal Church in Jim Thorpe. Just how horrible were conditions in Pennsylvania county jails in the 19th century? The Old Jail Museum (also in Jim Thorpe) will quite literally show you, though if an actual dungeon and gallows aren’t your thing, might we suggest learning more about yourself on a wellness retreat at the oh-so-introspective Himalayan Institute in Honesdale? Or stop in at East Stroudsburg’s Pocono Indian Museum, where the 30-minute audio tour is an excellent (and super-informative) rainy-day activity. — V.F.
9. Because there’s a drinking trail
The Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau recently introduced a new beverage trail, a program meant to connect eager drinkers with discounts at spots across the region. While not all our favorite watering holes are yet on the list, it’s a good reminder that there’s a whole lot of sipping to be done. Sign up at poconomountains.com to have the free “passport” emailed to you, and check out our guide to the top 10 best stops on the trail. Keep reading here.
10. Because the small-town life is legit charming
Mountain main streets are the stuff of weekend proposal trips and romantic made-for-TV movies. (You know the ones.) Check off these wintry activities in Pocono towns to make the most of cozy season. — E.M.
- Visit a Christmas store. Find hand-blown Inge-Glas German ornaments, garlands and more at Jingle Bells Christmas Shoppe in Jim Thorpe, which is open year-round.
- Grab a hot chocolate. Meander down the main street with a mitten-wrapped mug in your hands. Eco-friendly BetterWorld Store & Cafe in Milford has organic drinks, pastries and gifts.
- Take in community theater. Because there’s nothing more genuinely heartwarming than a small-town production of A Christmas Carol. The Shawnee Playhouse has been entertaining playgoers of all ages since 1904.
- Attend a winter festival. Honesdale’s Central Park was the inspiration for “Winter Wonderland.” The town throws festivals throughout the holiday season, complete with ugly-sweater contests, gingerbread-house building, and live Nativity scenes.
11. Because you can stay in a retro micro-hotel
Yes, you can find heart-shaped beds and champagne-glass-shaped hot tubs in the Poconos (we’ll always love you, Cove Haven Resort!), but you can also find chic design-focused boutique hotels. At micro-hotel The Rex in Greentown (rooms from $199), the minimalist-boho aesthetic of your dreams (trendy appliances and decor look as if they’ve been plucked from your Instagram feed) comes with panoramic views of Promised Land State Park, outdoor cedar hot tubs and a barrel sauna. —E.M.
12. Because the fun doesn’t end after dark
Granted, most folks aren’t going to the Poconos for a raucous night out at the club, but the after-hours options might surprise you. Jim Thorpe’s mountaintop music venue, Penn’s Peak, offers acts like Switchfoot and Dark Star Orchestra and an impressive number of tribute bands. Stroudsburg’s Sherman Theater is great for intimate shows, and its Main Street location means you can head out to the bars after — some, like laid-back Irish pub Flood’s, stay open past midnight. At Mount Airy Casino Resort (the perfect spot for a friends-group getaway), you can play slots and table games 24/7, visit the on-site theater for concerts and comedy, and continue the party during the day at the newly renovated indoor/outdoor swim-through pool and poolside bar that look like something you’d find in Vegas, albeit slightly more low-key. — E.M.
13. Because you can cozy up in a 1930s log cabin for just $30 a night. With a fireplace.
If you still haven’t caught on to Pennsylvania’s amazing state park system, now is the time. The rustic cabins at Promised Land State Park, sitting at 1,800 feet on the Pocono Plateau, were built as part of FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps. For $30 a night, you get a log cabin with a woodburning fireplace, a full-size fridge, an oven and sleeping for two. Just check the forecast: It’s easy to get snowed in. — V.F.
14. Because outdoor activities don’t stop at skiing
From snowshoeing to horseback riding, there’s so much more to the Poconos than skiing. For a fresh activity involving ice and snow, take your pick! Keep reading here.
15. Because Milford is stepping up its food-and-bev game
There’s a legacy of grand dining in Milford, and Bill Rosado is trying to resurrect it. Rosado, a longtime resident and the owner of Milford Hospitality Group, has purchased half a dozen properties in town over the past couple of years, including the historic Hotel Fauchère. It originally opened in the 1880s under the ownership of Louis Fauchère, the famed Swiss-American chef at New York’s Delmonico’s, widely recognized as the first modern iteration of fine dining in the United States. Rosado plans a major renovation of the hotel’s kitchen in time to reopen the Delmonico Room in mid-2023. Last year, his group completed renovation of the 140-year-old Tom Quick Inn, where Victorian architecture and a curved antique bar bring the charm, and opened La Posada & Felix’s Cantina, where chef Miguel Gonzalez serves dishes from Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. — M.S.L.
16. Because you can find lovely independent and rare bookstores
There are those of us who haven’t bought a book anywhere but on Amazon in the past decade. And then there are those of us who happily spend hours in real bookstores. Fortunately, the Poconos area boasts some of the best, the crème de la crème being Carroll & Carroll Booksellers in Stroudsburg, which has a bevy of rare editions, plenty of bargains, and just the kind of quirky booksellers you expect in a store like this. The walls are covered in obituaries of famous writers dating back to the 19th century. We spent way too much money here. And don’t miss Sellers Books in Jim Thorpe, which has a wide range of both gently used and carefully curated new books as well as art from its namesake, Randall Sellers, who draws miniature imaginary landscapes. (This guy is no joke: Both MoMA and the PMA have his works in their collections.) — V.F.
17. Because the Poconos are THIS CLOSE to Scranton, the Office capital of the world
No self-respecting fan of the hit TV show The Office can avoid a side trip (a quick 30-minute drive from Mount Pocono) to the town on which the show is based and where some scenes were filmed. It’s easy to find online guides to Office tours of Scranton, and the towering Dwight Schrute mural by local artist Mike Trovato is something to behold. —V.F.
18. Because they’re gay-friendly
Looking to live your best LGBTQ life? Rainbow Mountain Resort (rooms from $80), located just below the crest of Mount Nebo in East Stroudsburg, has been an iconic gay vacation spot for more than 40 years. It boasts lodgings from simple to deluxe, and new owners have poured some money into refreshing the cabins, lodges, suites and restaurant. If nightlife’s your thing, this is the place for it: Start with night skiing at the ski resorts (Shawnee Mountain is practically next door), then come back to warm up in the hot tub before dancing your ass off at the Hayloft, the only LGBTQ dance club in the Poconos. During the day, enjoy the picturesque setting and stay warm with coffee or a cocktail in the Lodge, visit the gym and sauna, or take a walk along the hiking trails that run through the property. — Sandy Smith
19. Because you can ride with Santa on a historic train along a raging gorge
Shopping-mall Santa photos are so passé. Instead, ride (and have photos taken) with Santa on the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway out of Jim Thorpe, in a train car built by Bethlehem Steel way back in the 1930s. — V.F.
20. Because you can wake up next to a waterfall
The waterfall at Ledges (rooms from $250) is no simple trickle. It’s a rushing two-tiered, 80-foot-high cascade mere steps from your cozy hotel bed. After years of powering a 19th-century cut-glass factory, Paupack High Falls has settled into retirement as the focal point of this 11-year-old Settlers Hospitality hotel. Minimalist design, natural materials, fireplaces and views of the falls bring the outside into the 20 guest rooms, suites and common spaces. Seating at the on-site restaurant, Glass, lets you catch all the waterfall action from heated outdoor decks, a glass-walled indoor dining room, or, for special occasions, falls-adjacent private greenhouses. Chef Tony Marra brings New York City chops to this Poconos hideaway with a menu that runs from cheese and charcuterie to steaks and whole fish. And a stay comes with breakfast at Cocoon Coffee House — a walking-distance cafe with pastries and coffee — or the restaurant at Ledges’ sister property, the Settlers Inn. — Sarah Maiellano
21. Because there’s the largest paintball facility in the world
Hey, paintball isn’t for everyone, but for those who find the, er, “sport” exhilarating, Skirmish Paintball in Albrightsville offers 50 challenging courses on its 750 acres. And it’s open year-round, because what is fun if not standing in the bitter cold on a mountain and being shot by your friend with a paintball (or 10) traveling at 300 feet per second? — V.F.
22. Because the wildlife in winter is truly wild
It’s a common belief that birds fly south in winter, and many species do. But not the hearty bald eagle, which is plentiful in the Poconos, with prime viewing season stretching from December to March. Seek out the Lackawaxen River and the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River for the best ’grammable moments. — V.F.
23. Because there are antiques stores aplenty
Even if you’re not looking to redecorate your apartment with some Art Deco furniture or find that elusive first pressing of the Beatles’ White Album, browsing the many antiques shops in the Poconos can easily provide you a day of enjoyment while the rest of the family hits the slopes. Our two favorites are Delaware Water Gap’s Asparagus Sunshine, which has all the vintage earrings, 1950s Pyrex bowls and 19th-century drawer pulls you could possibly need, along with a quirky assortment of items you almost certainly don’t need but will probably go home with. And then there’s the massive — and we do mean massive — Olde Engine Works antiques emporium in Stroudsburg, which has hundreds of vendors and such a wide and strange array of stuff that it’s hard to know where to begin. An original copy of the Warren Report? A huge (empty) upright bass case (that looks more like a coffin) owned by Captain Kangaroo’s musical partner, Mr. Green Jeans, for $3,500? Erotica from the 1930s? Yep, it’s all here. — V.F.
Published as “Winter Wonderland” in the December 2022 issue of Philadelphia magazine.