Sunday, November 18, 2012

Mauch Chunk Lake Park to Jim Thorpe, PA on the Switchback Trail

Mauch Chunk Lake Park - Carbon County, PA
Some Switchback Railroad History - Gravity Railroad Foundation
Switchback Railroad Trail -

GPS Coordinates 40.843525, -75.805139

View Larger Map
Parking at the boat launch to the left of the park office.

  • I could find no good maps online.  I used the USGS Topo Maps for Nesquehoning (1997) and Lehighton (1997) that showed some of the trail but not all.
  • You can see the Switchback Trail very well in Google Earth or satellite view in Googlemaps (search for Jim Thorpe, PA)
  • The park had a very nice map in the kiosk but it was hard to photograph with the glare.  The park office was closed and there were no maps in the holder outside.
The Switchback Railroad is a white dashed line - very hard to make out.  The red arrow indicates the kiosk this map is in at the park entrance.
This map is more clear but does not show any detail.  The park office is in the wrong place - it should be where the words "Mauch Chunk Creek Lake" are.

11 miles

Facing Mauch Chunk Lake, turn left and follow the gravel road.  It will turn left away from the lake and meet up with the Switchback Trail then continue past a yellow cabin to the dam.
It was a very cold morning with frost but the lake water was still warm so fog was rising from the lake.
The frosty dam.
A bench on the dam.  And more frost.
On the dam.  No lake views because of the fog but maybe at the end of the hike.  (The Switchback Trail does not go over the dam, it is a short out-and-back from the Switchback Trail.)
The Switchback Trail proceeds through a tunnel of hemlock and rhododendron.
Mauch Chunk Creek comes in from the right, goes under a bridge, then...
... flows along the left side of the trail.
The trail appears to end abruptly at West Broadway and Flagstaff Roads.  Turn right on West Broadway and continue along a short distance.  (There will be no more signs indicating you are on the Switchback Trail from this point forward.)
Just past this sign turn left where the guardrail opens up to the left...
... through the orange gates (that say no trespassing but are open and you HAVE to go that way to pick up the trail again)
After entering at the gates keep right with the buildings and fence on your left an the creek on your right.  The trail will enter the woods again just beyond those evergreens up ahead.
Back into the woods with the creek on the right and even though there are no signs, this is the Switchback Trail.
Coming into town, the trail follows along a retaining wall of a cemetery on the left.
When the trail veers left comes to a paved road, turn left on the paved road (this will be Center Avenue) and continue on a few blocks to the school building.  Mount Pisgah, where the trail continues, is the mountain up ahead.  At the school building turn right on Pine Avenue, then left on North Avenue.
A short distance up North Avenue, turn right on the gravel road (called Wagon Road but no sign) which ascends steeply.
The Wagon Road switchbacks up to the Switchback Trail at the bridge abutment.  Turn right here and follow the trail for a loop to views.
When the loop trail makes a sharp left, turn right again for a short out-and-back to the engine house ruins.
Turn around for some seasonal views and the steep Mount Pisgah Plane which leads to the base of the mountain in town.  Retrace back to the where the loop trail turned sharply left and continue on to...
... spectacular views of the Lehigh River gorge.  You can make out a smaller gorge in the upper center of the picture.  That would be...
Glen Onoko Falls
Lehigh River
Continue back to the abutment but be sure to take the left fork down because the bridge is missing if you take the right fork.
Looking back at Jim Thorpe.
The trail flows along very smoothly with seasonal views to the left.
Having a drink out of Indian Spring.  For some reason that tastes better than the filtered water I lug for her.
A chunk of trail is missing along a rock wall where you would have to cross on a very narrow ledge.  Fortunately there is trail down below to bypass this since I did not think it was a good idea for Shawnee to cross on the narrow ledge.  Neither did she.  The drop is much steeper than it looks in the picture.  (This is looking back on it after detouring around.)
This is below that rock slab taking the detour route.
The Switchback Trail becomes more narrow and apparently less used after that rock slab but it's still easy going and Mauch Chunk Lake comes into view.
This is looking back at the trail we arrived on to the left at Five Mile Tree Crossover.  The Switchback trail continues to the right so coming down it would be a hard left turn to continue back to Mauch Chunk Lake Park.
The Switchback Trail goes through front yards for a bit...
... before crossing the road at the park entrance.
Now the fog has lifted and there is a lake view!

[  0.00]  Face lake, turn left and follow gravel road as it veers left away from lake
[  0.10]  At T-intersection turn right on Switchback Trail
[  0.35]  Pass yellow cabin on left, dam on right; keep right at fork on Switchback Trail when the Orchard Trail veers left
[  0.45]  Keep right at bench and sign for Board Bottom, Switchback and Fire Line Trails
[  0.55]  Turn right for short out-and-back on the dam
[  0.80]  Continue right on Switchback Trail returning from dam
[  1.10]  Keep straight when the Board Bottom Trail leaves to the left
[  1.25]  Mauch Chunk Creek comes in from the right then goes under bridge and continues to the left of the trail
[  1.50]  Continue straight when the Fire Line Trail leaves to the right
[  2.35]  At intersection with West Broadway and Flagstaff Roads, cross West Broadway, turn right and walk along guardrail
[  2.50]  Turn left leaving West Broadway, continue through orange gates, turn right and continue straight with chain link fence on left and creek on right
[  2.60]  Switchback Trail enters woods
[  3.00]  Keep straight when two trails leave to the left
[  3.30]  Keep straight when trail leaves to the left
[  3.45]  Keep straight on paved trail that continues sharply to the right (directional arrow painted on pavement); after a few steps leave paved path to the right at fork (arrow painted on pavement)
[  3.60]  At bench and two posts, cross straight over paved road that loops around, continue straight on grass to continuation of trail straight ahead
[  3.85]  Cemetery on left other side of retaining wall
[  4.20]  Trail veers to the left to paved Center Street, turn left on Center Avenue
[  4.50]  Turn right on Pine Avenue at school building, go 1 block then turn left on North Avenue
[  4.65]  Veer right on gravel road uphill (called Wagon Road but no sign)
[  4.75]  Keep straight uphill when gravel road to the right leads to water tower
[  5.00]  Gravel road switchbacks to the right
[  5.15]  Gravel road switchbacks to the left
[  5.25]  At T-intersection at the top at the bridge abutment, turn right
[  5.35]  When the trail makes a sharp turn to the left, turn right
[  5.40]  Engine house ruins, Mount Pisgah Plane, seasonal views; retrace
[  5.45]  Continue straight when trail arrived on comes in from left; few steps ahead fire ring and views to the right at rock outcrop
[  5.55]  Veer left at fork, straight goes to top of bridge abutment; at interpretive sign keep straight on Switchback Trail which follows the dip that the bridge would have crossed
[  5.60]  Keep straight when a trail goes downhill to the right
[  5.65]  Other partial bridge abutment; keep left at fork
[  6.00]  Keep straight when a trail leaves to the right
[  6.10]  Indian Spring on right
[  7.00]  Keep straight when trail comes in from right - make note of trail going steeply down to the left to a lower level trail - this is the bypass for the rock ledge portion
[  7.10]  Having taken bypass trail, at bottom of rock ledge at cave, trail goes up steeply to the left to rejoin the Switchback Trail, or continue on the lower trail which meets back up with the Switchback Trail more gradually in .15 mile
[  7.25]  Lower trail comes in from the left to meet back up with Switchback Trail
[  9.05]  Keep straight when trail goes straight down to the left (this can be used to shorten hike by      about 1 mile - turn left here and at bottom at yellow posts, turn left and continue from  [10.25])
[  9.60]  Make a sharp left turn at Five Mile Tree Crossover at bench
[10.25]  Trail comes in from the left (if used as shortcut, this is where it meets back up with the Switchback Trail)
[10.50]  Cross paved road diagonally to park entrance, continue left on Switchback Trail
[10.80]  At intersection where Switchback Trail continues straight, turn right towards lake
[11.00]  Back at parking lot


  1. When I first came across this hike (shorter and not nearly as good as your version) in Keystone Trails Assn.'s PA "Hiking Trails" book, I thought it was one I might want to do. Now, with your way better description - especially in lieu of that elusive map which I, too, was unsuccessful in finding online - I REALLY want to do it!

    Just one question re hunting: Was thinking of doing it one day this 4-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend. I know Sunday would be okay....but what about hunting problems for either of the other 3 days? Thanks again for helping to add another good hike to my list. :)

    1. I meant to do this yesterday and never did but now that you brought it up... Just called the park (570-325-3669) and spoke to a very nice lady who is mailing me a map and some other info on the area today and she did say before I even asked her that you MUST WEAR BLAZE ORANGE if it is not a Sunday because there is definitely hunting going on everywhere in that area. The Switchback Trail is not on state game lands but most of the trail is on county park property and they go by state hunting regulations. That said, there are tons of trails in that area and the park map is actually very good in that it shows a lot of the trails in one place. I was only able to find fragmented information online, which is probably what you were finding, so I tried to pull that all together and fill in the blanks as I was doing the hike to make it more clear for others to follow. Let me know if I succeeded in doing that after you go! I read online a couple of times that people were not able to find the view and the descriptions of how to get there were not clear but luckily I found it and hopefully my description will lead you right to it. There is supposed to be a ledge to climb out on for a view of Jim Thorpe, I think around the Wagon Road area, but I do not think I found that so let me know if you happen across it. I have one picture of a seasonal view of Jim Thorpe from the second abutment but I don't believe that is it. I am definitely going back there to do some more exploring.