Lehigh River Canal Path at Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton
Imagine traveling from Allentown to Bethlehem in 20 minutes without any traffic hassles. You can do it. Just get on a bicycle and ride the canal path!
My family has lived in Allentown since 1981. My children grew up here. But only recently did I learn about this wonderful path from Allentown to Bethlehem and beyond. Starting at the Canal Park in Allentown, one rides on a nice gravel surfaced path on a slight downhill grade towards Bethlehem. In this direction, the Lehigh River is on your right, and the canal is on your left. The journey is an interesting mix of nature, industry and history. Between Allentown and Bethlehem you will likely see many railcars moving along on the opposite side of the canal. Ironically, these lumbering locomotives of the Allentown railroad yards chug along right next to the very canal they caused to become obsolete. The path leads to Sand Island in Bethlehem. Sand Island is under the Hill to Hill bridge, just across from the historic railroad station. For the adventurous and energetic, the path continues on to Easton. Some portions of the stretch between Bethlehem and Easton are quite rough. I have personally gone as far as the Easton's Hugh Moore Canal Park.
Keep in mind that the direction from Allentown to Bethlehem to Easton is following the river flow. This means that it is slightly downhill. Coming back the ride is slightly uphill. Be sure to save some energy for the return trip if you start out following the direction of the river.
Another dimension can be added to this bicycle ride by adding some familiarity with history. The Lehigh River canal was built to bring coal from locations in the coal region like Jim Thorpe (Mauch Chunk) to Philadelphia. The river was too unreliable for barge transportation along most of its length. Imagine trying to control a 150 ton barge loaded with coal during rushing flood waters, or trying to break it loose as it ran aground during low water. The gentle slope and controlled depth provided by the canal and its locks provided an alternative to the uncooperative Lehigh River. Mules and horses were used to pull the barges.
Here are some other ideas for adding interest to this bicycle ride that may be especially useful if you are going with youngsters.
Three thumbnails follow: first, a view of the canal; then, an old lock once used to change the level of passing barges, and now simplified to be just a dam; and finally, a view of the historic railroad station next to Sand Island. (Click on the picture to see an enlarged version.)
In Allentown, cross the Hamilton Street Bridge going east. This is the bridge on Hamilton Street in downtown Allentown that crosses the Lehigh River. Take the first left upon crossing the bridge. This is Albert Street and has a stop light. Albert Street loops underneath the bridge and brings you traveling parallel to railroad tracks on your right. You will also see one of the Lehigh River dams on your right. At the stop sign do a right then left so that you are traveling parallel to the tracks that are now on your left. You will in short order pass under an overpass. Turn right into the canal park and left to get to the parking area for the canal path. This all sounds complicated but is actually quite easy.
In Bethlehem, from the downtown historic district, take the road that goes towards the area underneath the hill-to-hill bridge ( Route 378), look for the historic railroad station, drive over the short bridge next to it, and turn left for parking. If you can find Spring Street, you'll find the railroad station. When you cross the short bridge, you are crossing the canal and arriving on Sand Island.
A fellow named Al Zagofsky has provided a short, very readable, and very interesting history of the Lehigh Canal as well as some related history at http://www.enter.net/~lvcc/river.html.
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