This post is brought to you by the Ascend Hotel Collection®. All opinions are my own.
Since I live in what is essentially a tourist region (the Poconos), I’ve never been one for doing touristy things when I go on vacation. I like to travel off the beaten path, find the cool little places that aren’t over-crowded and make my own itinerary of fun. I feel like you can’t really say you’ve visited a town unless you’ve been to the local haunts and made the effort to go native.
Wilkes-Barre, PA is just about an hour from my house. It’s still considered part of “The Poconos,” but it’s not “my” Poconos. It’s a bit of a trek over a rather large hill, so I don’t get up that way often.
The area went through some really tough times, thanks to a mining disaster in the 50s and a flood in the 70s. They really didn’t start to recover until the riverfront revitalization project began in 2005. They’ve definitely come a long way since then!
The Woodlands Inn: An Unexpected Piece of Paradise
Even during Wilkes-Barre’s lowest point, the Woodlands Inn remained a hot spot in the Poconos for locals and tourists alike. I grew up hearing about The Woodlands Inn on the radio, urging locals to come on out to party at their nightclub. My mom stayed at the property a couple of times when she was in drum corps (like a huge professional marching band, for those who don’t know). So while I’ve never been there before my recent stay, the name itself was embedded in my Poconos heritage.
Before I tell you about the Woodlands Inn, a member of the Ascend Hotel Collection, let me give you a bit of background on the Poconos. We used to be a premier honeymoon location. Our entire area- which spans 2,400 square miles- used to house dozens of stunning resorts and hotels that whisked you away from the hustle and bustle of the nearby cities and instantly teleported you to paradise.
Used to. Now, we’ve become like any other tourist region. Cookie-cutter chains pop up every other day while the charming honeymoon resorts lie in ruins, especially in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area of the Poconos. Not at the Woodlands Inn, though.
The Woodlands Inn managed to hold on to every last ounce of charm that made them special in the first place while still updating the hotel to keep up with modern demands. When Sal and I first saw the sign for the Woodlands Inn, we thought “Really? It’s in the middle of the city! Where can they possibly put the woods?”
That’s where the unexpected happens. The Woodlands Inn looks deceiving from the road. It’s across from car dealerships and down the street from the busy casino. Yet when you get out of your car and walk around the property, you’re greeted with a babbling stream and views that sweep you away to, well, The Woodlands!
The charming footbridge was my absolute favorite spot on the property. It crosses the stream and offers beautiful views in every direction. Keep walking across the bridge and you’ll find a lovely little courtyard. Perfect for wedding photos (the Woodlands Inn is a popular place for those!) or a private romantic talk under the stars.
We stayed in one of the Tower rooms, luxury accommodations with a king-size bed, a separate living room area and a little kitchenette. If you’re traveling with the family or plan to stay for a few days, I highly recommend these rooms. You’ll save a ton by using the full-size fridge and the 3-burner stove to prepare your own meals. Plus you can’t beat the comfort of the Belgian linens and the lush king-size mattress! I wish I could have taken the bed home with me!
The Woodlands Inn is more than just a place to rest your head
The Woodlands Inn is more than just a place to crash at the end of a long day exploring the Poconos. It’s also home to Evolution, a wildly popular nightclub with some insane drink specials. If you’re not into the night club scene, you can also relax in the Sky Vu Deck Bar under the stars.
The Woodlands also offers two completely different dining experiences: Shogun, a Japanese restaurant with surprisingly reasonable prices and Crescenzos, a lighter fare with a variety of tasty goodies, including a delicious buffalo chicken pizza.
You’ll also find a HUGE hot tub (so big, you can swim in it!), a heated indoor pool and an outdoor pool in the summer. Need a spa treatment before a big event? They have you covered there too with Alexander’s in the Woods!
The Woodlands Inn pays extreme attention to detail. Little touches throughout the hotel remind you that you’re vacationing in class. With a nightclub on site, the Woodlands takes security very seriously. Yet the numerous security guards stationed around the main floor are also friendly and helpful towards guests. The front desk staff is absolutely amazing and ready to help answer any questions you have. They’ll even look up and print out directions to anywhere you want to go in town.
Speaking of where to go in town, let’s talk things to do in Wilkes-Barre while you’re visiting the Woodlands Inn, shall we?
#GoNative in Wilkes-Barre in the Poconos
While we were visiting The Woodlands Inn, we also spent some time exploring the town. We started with Seven Tubs, a natural recreational area tucked away right off Route 115. It’s just about an 8-minute drive from the Woodlands in little traffic and the perfect example of what the Poconos looked like before it got built up.
We hiked for about half an hour because I had a packed itinerary. I highly recommend making a day of it, though. It’s free (unlike Bushkill Falls, on the other side of the Poconos) and there’s so much natural beauty to see. Be warned, though, the hiking trails are tough. I was tired after just a half an hour of climbing up and down the sloped trails!
Next, we headed to Kirby Park for the Cherry Blossom festival. If you’re visiting Wilkes-Barre, I suggest checking to see if Kirby Park is hosting any fun events that weekend. It’s a gorgeous park and home to all the city’s best local festivities.
While we were there, we paid $2 to support Pony Paradise Ride’s Alpaca rescue and got to hang out with some pretty cute farm animals! Totally worth it just to see this little guy’s face! Isn’t he the squishiest little teddy bear ever? I wanted to bring him home!
Sal caught a glimpse of the Horr’s Specialty Dogs food truck and decided to try out the chocolate covered bacon! He also had one of their corn dogs, which they dip right in front of you. The prices were incredibly reasonable for the amount they give you.
Me? I’m not a bacon person. I know, I know, it’s sacrilege or something. I did, however, grab a delicious triple chocolate cupcake from the Sweet Lush Cupcake Camper! They have a ton of crazy-good flavors, also at really reasonable prices.
After the fun at Kirby Park, we walked along the Market Street Bridge to take in the views…and walk off the food. This historical bridge was actually completed on the eve of the Great Depression! It has seen all of the ups and downs in the Wilkes-Barre region.
After a long day, Sal decided he really wanted to try something different and do some sort of food challenge, like that guy on that show. So we looked up food challenges in the area. Most of them sounded just horrible to me.
Thankfully, someone mentioned the Blazin’ Challenge at Buffalo Wild Wings. The goal: eat 12 of their Blazin’ Wings in 6 minutes or less. You can’t drink anything, wipe your face or use your fingers to pick the meat out. Sal decided he was up for that challenge and I breathed a sigh of relief. While extremely hot sauce may make him feel less-than-stellar later, it wasn’t likely to cause his internal organs to burst at least! He beat the challenge in 3 minutes, 15 seconds. He looked like he was going to pass out halfway through, but he did it! He got his t-shirt, I finished my not-so-spicy chicken sandwich and we called it a day.
When you’re visiting any city, Wilkes-Barre included, the best way to go native is to actually talk to the natives. If you’re having a hard time deciding what to do, the staff at The Woodlands Inn is always there to help you out! Next time you need a getaway in the Poconos, check in to the Woodlands Inn for an unexpected piece of paradise in the middle of all the hustle and bustle.
Tell me about a hidden gem off the beaten path in YOUR city! I just may visit one day!