Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area

River of the month #95

author: Pat Reilly
date: March 2007

This trip includes the 40 miles of the National Recreation Area as well as an additional 50 miles below the water gap. And while this is the 2nd month of our Delaware River tour, I don't suppose it will matter that this trip actually took place in 2003, two years before last month's tour, since this is after all, a virtual tour.

Well, we left Harrisburg early enough, but with traffic, last minute food shopping, and stashing the bicycle for shuttle, here we are launching at 2:00 pm from the PFBC access area above Port Jervis. Under the I84 bridge and we have New Jersey and no longer New York on river left. Things are looking good as none of the hustle and bustle of the Port Jervis/Matamoras area can be seen from the river, just wooded river banks, big islands and long riffles.

Check out that mountain on the right with the sheer cliffs along the top. Too bad local high-schoolers have defaced the cliffs with graduation year graffiti. Actually that is not a mountain but the edge of the Pocono Plateau! It will parallel the river for 30 miles nearly all the way to East Stroudsburg. Creeks tumble off the plateau all along this front forming the most dazzling array of waterfalls in Pennsylvania, including one of the state's tallest, Dingmans Falls. Most are included in the National Recreation Area and have viewing areas administrated by the National Park Service. All are worth a visit. A few of the creeks draining the plateau near the southern end are big enough to paddle and serve up good whitewater, namely Bushkill, Brodhead and Pocono.

Paddling right around big 2-mile Minisink Island puts us a bit too close to route 209 and its noise, so now let's head left around mile long Namanock Island and enjoy the quieter Jersey side. On to the high bridge and the popular access area at Dingman's Ferry. There are a fair amount of other boats out today in spite of the cold drizzle that has begun falling. It is Memorial Day weekend after all. But not to worry, there are plenty of campsites to go around. The recreation area has over 100, on islands and both shores, all for boaters. Unlike the upper National Wild and Scenic River, were all land is private, down here in the National Recreation Area the land is ours. The National Park Service takes care of it for us and simply requires that we only camp in designated sites and take out all waste.

I'm getting tired, we've gone 25 miles, let's grab a site. Here's Buck Bar, an island with a prime spot. We've got work to do before we get comfortable. That is one heavy drizzle coming down and laying a wet blanket over everything, including fire wood.

Ah yes, love it when everything is taken care of and you can lean back in the Crazy Creek chair, dry and relaxed. We got our fire going, just out of the rain under the edge of the fly, food cooking, extra wood drying, and the Nalgene bottle of scotch within arm's reach. It just doesn't get any ...

No rain yet this morning, let's get going before it starts up again. What's that up ahead swimming across the river? Looks like a dog; no too big. A pig? Well it's too fat for a deer. I'm going to sprint up for a look. Hey, it's a bear! Duh, you can tell I'm not from bear country. Look at him drag his fat butt from the water. I'll bet he's hanging up there in the woods to check us out. Sure enough, there he is giving us the evil eye. Too cool!

We're now reaching Great Bend, where the river, which generally travels SW for 40 miles through this stretch, swaps directions twice with two big 180 degree bends. This gets us away from the highway and allows views of the mountains that are simply awesome. I love the way the light green of May's fresh foliage contrasts with the darker evergreens. This whole National Recreation Area is free from development but it was not always that way. Indeed, this park only exists because houses, farms and whole towns were bought and relocated to make way for a big dam and reservoir. After the Tocks Island dam project was defeated through the efforts of environmentalists that included Harrisburg area paddler and now Sierra Club lobbyist Jeff Schmidt, the only sensible thing to to with the land was turn it into a park. Paddling through here it is hard to believe they wanted to dam this beautiful river. Thanks Jeff!

Lots of camp sites through here but very few are occupied. Most of the paddlers we saw yesterday must have been day trippers. Here comes a nice long riffle, the first in a while. We'll head right around big Dupue Island, I can't resist these narrow channels. Yipe! There's houses and boat docks in here. River fight is no longer part of the park as we approach the Delaware Water Gap, there's even a golf course.

Back to river left for the next big island. And now the water gap, pretty spectacular with the river cutting through big Kittatinny Ridge and exposed rock cliffs on both sides. Not unlike our Dauphin Narrows but without the whitewater. Too bad noisy Interstate 80 crosses right at the gap. Now we get a nice heavy mile-long riffle, a good chance to pick up speed.

As we approach the foot bridge between Portland PA and Columbia NJ, the Delaware has settled into a 'normal' river with stream-side homes and paralleling roads. Still a fine cruising waterway but I miss the parks. Which do you prefer, the varying waterscapes and occasional rapids of the upper Wild and Scenic river or the development free and camper friendly National Recreation Area? Both are great paddler resources. Hey, look up. An eagle and an osprey fighting over a fish. What a display of precision aerobatics!

Now some big power plants to contend with as we cruise past river homes with holiday picnics in progress in spite of the renewed rain and unseasonal cold. Look at those blue-lipped kids determined to swim even with the temp stuck in the 50s.

More big islands divide and channel the river. I'm ready for more riffles and here they come as we approach the big sweeping bend at Belvidere, NJ. Do you know about Foul Rift, a rapid big enough to be listed on topographic maps? I hope it lives up to its name. This must be it, barely bigger than the preceding riffles, what a disappointment. Notice that most riffles so far have been formed by cobble. They usually push to one side of the river and funnel down forming increasingly bigger waves but have no features other than the waves.

Wait, I spoke too soon, now this has got to be Foul Rift. No cobble riffle here, this rapid if for real, a long long staircase of ledges, some exposed. Careful! I'd hate to wrap this boat, especially considering that it ain't my boat! This is great, like an extra long Dauphin Narrows. Look at this fisherman in his motorboat hanging at the bottom pool. He looks disappointed that we came through upright.

Whew! The miles are piling up and I'm really getting fatigued. The adrenalin rush from Foul Rift is long gone as we paddle past many summer homes and boat docks here at Sandis Eddy, 5 miles from Easton. The same boat salesman must have come through here and done rather well. Seems like every other boat is a Carolina Skiff. All but a few are dockside due to the lousy weather.

Okay, back to mountain scenery as we cruise through a gap with a few good riffles. Easton is just around the corner. Ledges and no longer cobble now form the riffles since we are below the extent of the glaciers from the last ice age.

Easton seems to revive me for some reason. Not a bad looking town from the river. There's the ole' Lehigh coming in over that dam on river right. Once under the I78 bridge we'll look for a camp site. The map shows lots of islands.

Here's a good spot on Whippoorwill Island with a clearing and fire ring. That is a new personal record – 52 miles in one day. We'll have to work to get our fire going tonight, wood is thoroughly soaked. At least it has stopped raining.

Ah, leaning back and getting into that after-dinner mellow camp feeling again. What's all that ruckus? Sounds like other boaters floundering in the dark. What do they mean, 'Here we are'? They aren't talking about ... Sure enough they're landing. Dang, don't get up, just sit and look blissful, like we don't want to be disturbed.

Well what was I supposed to say when he asked to camp here. Like I told him, 'It's a free river'. They aren't so bad and I can use the company (after all you aren't really here, this is a virtual tour.) As we settle in and get acquainted a comparison of gear and methods arises and goes something like this:

We – fiberglass racing kayak
They – plastic Coleman canoes
We – gore-tech bivy sack
They – K-mart 4-man tent
We – MRS bat-wing fly
They – 24x30 nylon tarp (that promptly rips when setting up)
We – poly pro pile
They – flannel shirts and blue genes
We – water proof socks and river sandals
They – leather work boats
We – Crazy Creek on-the-ground camp chair
They – folding lawn chairs
We – freeze dried Pad Thai camp meal
They – massive quantities of grilled meat
We – single malt scotch wisky
They – large cooler of Busch beer\

Hey, I'm not trying to be elitist here. They're laughing too. They could be me a few decades ago. I think we're winning over their leader. He's asking lots of questions about gear.

Man did it pour last night or what? I managed to stay dry and it seems like our friends did too. The river has hardly come up in spite of all this rain. The Delaware's reservoirs that we talked about last month are holding on to this water for when New York City dwellers and Delaware paddlers get thirsty come an August drought.

We paddle down past more good scenery dotted with little towns on both sides of the river connected by skinny bridges. The 300-foot high Nockimixon Cliffs on river right are streaked with spectacular cascades as it continues to pour. Here's the takeout and I believe the clouds are finally starting to break. Man this has been one rainy weekend, but hey, how can a paddler complain about water?

Pat Reilly

Copyright © 2007 Pat Reilly. All rights reserved.