Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area

Delaware Water Gap: A quiet escape in the bustling Northeast

July 26, 2010, 9:07 am

Credit: Dan BrohawnFor those of us who live in urban areas, our outdoor getaway plans are often challenged by the logistics of escaping the city to get to the great outdoors. Do we need to rent a car? How can we avoid weekend traffic to get out of town?

If we don’t plan our adventures in advance, or take advantage of our urban green spaces, it can be nearly impossible to make our dreams of outdoor adventure a reality. And if we city-dwellers aren’t careful to schedule regular getaways, we run the risk of using our hiking boots more often to squash cockroaches than to wear on the trail. So you can imagine why those of us who live in the Northeast consider the Delaware Water Gap such a gem—it’s a national park and it’s accessible via public transportation!

The area that is now Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area has a long-standing tradition of being a destination for city residents looking for an escape from the hustle and bustle. In the 1830s, a century before the recreation area was formed, the Delaware Water Gap was touted as a “Wonder of the World,” and drew vacationers via rail lines from Philadelphia and New York City. Visitors would stroll the trails, view the gap from the verandas of luxurious resorts, or cruise the river by moonlight aboard a steamboat.

Following in the bootsteps of the vacationers before us, and staying true to our must-adventure mantra, we set out over a recent long weekend to test the waters of the Delaware. We packed our bags and headed to Adventure Sports, where we rented a canoe for our overnight paddling trip through the water gap. An Adventure Sports shuttle transported us to our put-in spot 12 miles upstream, where we started our two-day excursion. (Download a canoe rental coupon here.)

We paddled eight miles the first day, stopping along sandy beaches to take a dip in the river, refuel with some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and sit in the shade for a while to escape the hot sun that was beating down on the river.

The National Park Service maintains free campsites all along the river’s edge, which are available on a first-come, first served basis to paddlers. We held out for an island campsite, where we set up our tent in a shady, breezy spot. Our only company on the island was a rambunctious community of toads that hopped about under foot as we prepared dinner, and a curious raccoon, who descended from his treetop lair just as we were finishing a meal of grilled vegetables and campsite mac-n-cheese (see our recipe here).

The next morning, we waited out a brief thunderstorm before making breakfast, decamping and heading back out on the river. In this quieter section of the Delaware, we spotted blue herons stalking their prey from the shores of marshy islands and a pair of goldfinches flittering about. It isn’t unusual for paddlers to see several bald eagles during a multi-day trip along the river. The recreation area teems with several species of fish, and we coasted past many fishermen as we headed down river.

In addition to paddling, boating and fishing, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area boasts more than 100 miles of hiking trails, including 27 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Other popular activities include biking, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, rock climbing, and the more leisurely pursuits of picnicking, eagle-watching, touring historic sites and driving through the scenic countryside. The park blazes with color in the fall, and is a favorite destination among leaf-peepers.

After our paddling trip was over, we’d hoped to have time to hike a stretch of the Appalachian Trail up to Sunfish Pond, but with clouds menacing, we decided to save the hike for another trip to the Water Gap. With accessibility via bus and train, we knew we’d be back soon enough!

Image: Canoeing at Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area by Dan Brohawn.