Finding the trail: Jim Thorpe, between Allentown and Scranton, is about a 90-minute drive from Philadelphia. Take the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike to Exit 34 and follow US 209 south to Jim Thorpe. Mauch Chunk Lake Park, a good starting place for this ride, is three miles west of Jim Thorpe on US 209 (the Lentz Trail Highway). Park at the office or any other parking lot in Mauch Chunk Lake Park. Pedal out the main entrance of the park, turn left on US 209, and go a half-mile to where the Back Track intersects the road on the right. The narrow trail follows a wooded ridge that will test your bike-handling skills as you encounter downed tree limbs, rocks, old railroad ties, and the other impediments mountain bikers love to overcome.
Notes on the trail: On the Back Track, keep an eye out for a short turnoff on the left that leads to the Point, a rock outcropping with an unobstructed view north of Lehigh River Gorge where hawks soar at eye level. Next, get ready for the steep, rocky descent into town that marks the final section of the Back Track. The return to the park along the Down Track is an easy, 2-percent uphill grade along a scenic stream in the woods. Watch out for wildlife, like the young black bear I spotted (very briefly) rambling along the path around dusk.
To start the loop in Jim Thorpe, ride your bike up Broadway, turn right at the opera house, and bear left at the top of the hill onto a wooded trail the Down Track of the Switchback Trail leading to Mauch Chunk Lake Park. A half-mile past the park entrance, the Down Track intersects with the Back Track; turn right for the return leg to Jim Thorpe.
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