Among America’s earliest vacationlands, northeastern Pennsylvania’s mountainous Pocono region opened its hospitality account in 1829 with the boarding house-style Kittatinny Hotel. For a region largely subsisting on farming and natural resource industries, this vital transition to tourism paid off. Other lodgings followed, and in the post-Civil War era, the Poconos became the nation’s second most popular inland summer resort after Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
In 1927, the region’s original DMO, the Monroe County Publicity Bureau, christened the Poconos “Pennsylvania’s Playground.” The post-WWII era saw the arrival of the first ski resorts and launch of the region’s half-century run as a magnet for honeymooners and cupids.
Around 1958, Poconos native Morris Wilkins introduced the heart-shaped hot tub at his Cove Haven Resort on Lake Wallenpaupack. Later becoming president of Caesars Pocono Resorts, the late Wilkins also patented the champagne glass-shaped hot tub. These memorable symbols indelibly labelled the Poconos as a lure for the libidinous.
Today, “maturity” defines the Poconos’ appeal as an all-around destination for rewarding vacations and productive meetings.
“Close to many major markets, notably New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., the Pocono region is drivable and accessible for corporate and other groups,” said Chris Barrett, CEO of the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau. “Once here, our advanced meeting facilities offer high-speed Wi-Fi, cutting-edge audiovisual equipment and wide-ranging amenities such as fine-dining, on-site fitness centers and professional spas.”
The advantages extend beyond the agenda.
“For attendees and their families, many resorts and other facilities offer plentiful options for both teambuilding exercises and pre- and post-meeting stays,” Barrett continued. “These include professionally designed golf courses, horseback riding, white-water rafting, hiking trails, skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing and indoor waterparks. Plus, year-round culture at our theaters, performing arts centers and live entertainment venues. Simply put, we are a complete four-season destination for combining meetings and business with leisure and recreation.”
Rambling over 2,400 square miles and four counties, the Poconos is the host with the most.
Some 12,000 years ago, the Wisconsin Glaciation ground to a halt in the Poconos. As the continental ice behemoth receded, it put the finishing sculptural touches on eons of glacial shaping of the region, including mountains, valleys, ravines and numerous waterways. Native Americans called the region “Pocohanne,” or “a stream between mountains.”
Chief among these is the wondrous Delaware Water Gap. With I-80 passing through its 1,000-foot walls, the nearly mile-wide Gap (by where the Kittatinny Hotel once stood) forms part of a 70,000-acre National Recreation Area overflowing with options for groups.
These include facilitated field trips with the Pocono Environmental Education Center, visiting historic villages and kayaking, canoeing or rafting on the Delaware River. Hiking options include a section of the Appalachian Trail, as well as several trail-accessible waterfalls.
The region’s crowning cascades, Bushkill Falls, run deep in the woods high above the Delaware River. Featuring eight waterfalls connected by two-plus miles of trails, bridges and walkways, the “Niagara of Pennsylvania” atmospherically evokes The Lord of the Rings. The open-air Pavilion can accommodate gatherings of up to 150; minutes away is the family-friendly 166-room Pocmont Resort & Conference Center.
Of Pennsylvania’s 2,500 “lakes,” 98 percent are manmade. The 50 or so that were formed naturally, by giant blocks of melting glacial ice, are in the Poconos. These include ancient Lake Harmony, where since 1941 travelers have sojourned to Split Rock Resort. First a vacation and hunting lodge and then in 1946 the Poconos’ first ski resort, the 578-room property set on 1,200 acres is ideal for combining meetings with a vacation or family time.
Offering 76,000 square feet of flexible space, including 10-plus meeting rooms and 45,000 square feet of convention space, Split Rock is equipped for up to 3,000 attendees. After completing a multimillion-dollar refresh in March 2016, which included 50 guest rooms in the historic lakeside lodge, its Keystone Ballroom, lobby and public spaces, continuing upgrades are in the works. Amenities include the Thirsty Moose Saloon, indoor waterpark and activities on Lake Harmony.
Split Rock is near the historic town Jim Thorpe, “The Switzerland of America.” Amid mountainous surroundings, diverse attractions include 700-plus acre paintball complex Skirmish USA; Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway rides; the mountaintop, 1,800-capacity Penn’s Peak concert venue; and event-capable 1845 Inn at Jim Thorpe.
In the northern Poconos’ Lake Region, Lake Teedyuskung is home to the four-season Woodloch Resort. Founded in 1958, the property flexibly hosts corporate meetings and large-scale groups in 18 meeting rooms at three distinct properties, including the 162-room Woodloch Pines Resort, Woodloch Springs Clubhouse and 57-room Lodge at Woodloch, a destination spa.