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There's more to the Pocono Mountains than tacky honeymoon resorts. Sure, the heart-shaped hot tub was invented here -- and it's still alive and well (except where it has been replaced by a champagne-glass-shaped one) -- but the minivan crowd has discovered the Poconos' clean air, majestic mountains, and scenic Delaware River. And suddenly, hiking boots have replaced hot tubs as the symbol of this resort area, less than a tank of gas away from New York City and Philadelphia.
It's not Katmandu. But for outdoor adventure without the jet lag, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area can't be beat. River rats will love exploring more than 40 miles of waterway. Backcountry addicts can roam 70,000 acres of parkland on either side of the Delaware. And hikers have 25 miles of the famous Appalachian Trail to trek.
You can also go skiing or snowboarding at five area resorts. But don't fret about a slushy northeast winter -- all the resorts make their own snow. When the white stuff falls naturally, you can cross-country ski on marked trails. Or, if you like ice climbing, the mountains' sedimentary rock faces make great scaling material.
Once you've picked your sport du jour, send the grandparents on a scenic drive to Raymondskill Falls, Pennsylvania's highest waterfalls. They're a 10-minute walk from the parking lot (off Route 209).
Or direct them to Dingmans Falls, which can be seen via a half-mile boardwalk trail (also off Route 209). Warn them not to fall for any of the "attractions" on the way: The Pocono Indian Museum and Pocono Snake and Animal Farm are pricey, small, and feel like gift shops with museums attached.
Start your visit at Delaware Water Gap, where the river makes a stunning S-curve through the mountains. All area attractions are located along Rt. 209 for 30 miles. If you're traveling with small children -- or simply want guided, outdoor instruction -- your best bet is one of the following spots:
All five Pocono ski areas offer downhill skiing, snowboarding and snow tubing. (They're located within a few exits of each other off I-80). Hot-doggers head to Blue Mountain Ski Area for the highest vertical drop (1,082 feet) and longest trails (6,400 feet). Beginners like Camelback for the easy trails. Big Boulder and Jack Frost Mountain have cross-country trails. Rule of thumb: Get there early; on beautiful weekends, rental equipment goes faster than Picabo Street.
In January and February, bald eagles fly south, looking for food in lakes and rivers that haven't yet frozen. Watch the rivers and nearby lakes -- you might catch sight of one. More than 100 bald eagles were spotted in the Upper Delaware Valley last year.
To get a look at waterfalls or mountains without spending a calorie, hire a horse. There are more than half a dozen riding stables/outfitters right in the Delaware Valley (the visitors centers have listings).
Grubby from a day on the trails? No need to clean up for a visit to the town of Delaware Water Gap, PA. Once a high-class resort area, the Poconos are now a down-to-earth place where you can wear mud-caked hiking boots anywhere, even in "fancy" restaurants and museums.
In summer, trudge right into the Antoine Dutot Museum and Gallery (which closes in winter). Or buy a homemade pie at the Village Farmer and Bakery.
Locals usually kick back at The Deer Head Inn, enjoying contemporary cuisine and live jazz greats such as Pat Metheny, Keith Jarrett, and other lesser-known artists. You can do dinner without a show, but get there before 8 p.m.
Type of trip: Outdoor/adventure, scenic Best ages: 4 and up Ideal trip length: Day trip Distance: Scranton (50 miles), New York (72 miles), Philadelphia (100 miles) Best time to go: Early fall for leaf peeping Weather: Winter is usually below freezing. Spring and fall temperatures vary widely. Summer averages an often humid 85 degrees. Squirm factor: Some; less if kids like nature, more if they're mall rats (not much shopping here).
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area Phone: 570-588-2451
Kittatinny Point Visitor Center Off I-80 in Columbia, NJ Phone: 908-496-4458 Note: Pick up maps for the Appalachian Trail and other area hikes.
Pocono Environmental Education Center (PEEC) Off Route 209, Dingmans Ferry, PA Phone: 570-828-2319
Mohican Outdoor Center 50 Camp Road, Blairstown, NJ Phone: 908-362-5670
Blue Mountain Ski Area Exit 46A off I-80, Palmerton, PA Phone: 610-826-7700
Camelback Exit 45 off I-80, Tannersville, PA Phone: 570-629-1661
Big Boulder Exit 43 off I-80, Blakeslee, PA Phone: 570-722-0100
Jack Frost Mountain Exit 43 off I-80, Blakeslee, PA Phone: 570-443-8425
Shawnee Mountain Exit 52 off I-80, Shawnee-on-Delaware, PA Phone: 570-421-7231
Antoine Dutot Museum and Gallery Main St., Delaware Water Gap, PA Phone: 570-476-4240
Village Farmer and Bakery 13 Broad St., Delaware Water Gap, PA Phone: 570-476-0075
Deer Head Inn 5 Main St., Delaware Water Gap, PA Phone: 570-424-2000
Pocono Mountains Tourism Information Phone: 800-POCONOS Note: See web site for extensive links to area lodging.
National Park Service Phone: 570-588-2451 Note: See web site for descriptions of hiking and mountain bike trails.
Favorite local spot: Trail's End Cafe, 14 Main St., 570-421-1928. A light-filled, down-to-earth cafe serving almost-upscale breakfasts and lunches.
Best souvenir: A pair of moccasins, sold at retail outposts along Route 209.
What to pack: Bug spray and long pants to prevent Lyme disease.Annual events:
You'll know you've reached Milford when Route 209 changes from a rural highway with Dairy Queens and ski-rental chalets to a quaint small town, filled with craft shops and antiques stores. Cruise by during the holidays and you'll see the town's shops, houses, and trees festooned with thousands of little white lights.