Text: Tony Pisarra
NPS Data Pages
Full Park Map (470k)
This was our third trip on the Delaware (our first after a three year break), and in many ways this outing felt like a returning to a familiar friend.
The Delaware Water Gap Nat'l Recreation Area preserves 40 miles of the middle Delaware River and almost 70,000 acres of land along the river's New Jersey and Pennsylvania shores.
At the south end of the park (and the terminus of most paddling trips), the river cuts eastward through a scenic water gap in the Appalachian Mountains. The park includes numerous scenic backcountry camp sites on the river's banks and many islands.
I paddled my home built CLC Cape Charles 18 touring kayak. Chris paddled his homebuilt Freedom 17 woodstrip canoe.
This works out well for me, because with the Freedom's added volume and ease of access, Chris's boat ends up with bulkiest of our shared items (in this case about ten gallons of fresh water).
Chris put in (with his pooch Toast) on Sunday May 4 slightly north of the Park and paddled about ten miles downstream to Minisink Island just below my anticipated put-in at Milford Beach the following day. Over the next three days we covered about thirty miles of to the Kittatinny Visitor Center just before the Water Gap at the southern end of the park
I note that this was Toast's first waterborne trip, and I must say he did rather well -- although Chris will have to speak to his overall fidgetting.
Day 1: Milford Beach Access - Hornbeck Campsites (10 mi)
The north end of the Park can be accessed from I-84 at the Matamoras, PA and Mildford, PA exits immediately southwest of New York State. This is about 5 hour drive for me, and by the time I had my truck parked at Milford Beach and all my gear stowed away in hatches it was pressing 4 pm.
Having failed to raise me on the FSR band or cell phone by early afternoon, Chris had put in from Minisink Island at about 2 pm (putting him about 2 up on me.) And although I caught a couple of his broadcasts as I made my way down river, we didn't manage to establish two-way radio contact until I was almost at the campsite.
The day was overcast. A light rain had followed me north and it was much colder than I had anticipated (low 50s).
I wasn't afraid of losing daylight before I got off the river, but I did want to get to camp early enough pass some time before dark. As such, I took off out of Milford with my head down and my paddles churning.
I made it to Dingman's Ferry some 7 miles down river after an hour of hard paddling, fighting a light headwind, but benefitting from the Middle Delaware's steady current.
With only three miles to go, I could relax a bit. I was alone on a decently big river -- which is always an overwhelming sensation, and allowed myself to half drift the last section past pretty green capped mallards and endless noisy gaggles of vicious Canadian geese.
I hit Hornbeck about 45 minutes later. Chris had arrived about an hour ahead of me and I found him pitching camp at the third site in.
Except for the narrow landing and steep, muddy climb to the site -- I went down twice before even starting to unload -- this is a nice spot and one we had used on our trip three years before.
The site includes two levels: a thirty foot wide bench in the hillside immediately overlooking the river which includes a fire ring and ample space to pitch a tarp or even a tent or two, as well as a wider, flat wooded area about another 20 feet further up the hill.
Chris had pitched his Moss Heptawing near the fire ring, and we successfully grilled up some boneless ribeyes (that had been thawing in my hold) despite intermittent light rain that continued through the night.
Day 2: Hornbeck Campsites - Peters Campsites (5 mi)
We spent a lazy morning and lunchtime lolling about the Hornbeck site (I slept for a solid 10 1/2 hours in my cocoon-like solo tent in an effort to repair the sleep deprivation required to make the trip).
We put in about 1 pm intending to paddle about 7 miles to Freeman Point at the top of the Walpack Bend (and a very nice site we had camped three years before).
After a lazy hour and a half, however, we had drifted about five miles down river to The Peter's Campsites immediately north of the bend.
The Peter's Campsites include a string of inter-connected backcountry sites (with a rather nice composting privvy at the southernmost site). It is probably pretty crowded at the height of the season, but on a Tuesday in early May, paddlers have a virtual estate to themselves.
As such, and although it would make a solid fifteen mile paddle to our takeout at Kittatinny the following day, we decided to finish up early and enjoy our last night on the river.
After pitching camp we took a brief walk along a trail that vaguely followed the New Jersey shore of the Bend.
Somewhere after our return we came to notice that our remaining (and un-bear bagged) pita bread had somehow disappeared while we out on the walk. The mystery almost immediately solved itself when, apparently sensing an imminent search, the guilty bandit -- a racoon -- made a sudden dash for sweet freedom dropping the gnawed package and hustling up a tree. Bad manners on our part of course, inuring the wildlife and all of that.
Still, I would have liked one last cheese sandwich.
Day 3: Peters Campsites - Kittatinny Visitor Center (15 mi)
The Walpack Bend forms a big lazy reverse curve in the river, and on a windy day it can be a real nightmare. But we put out at about 11 am into a calm and sunny day with temperatures in the 70s.
Without a headwind the Bend has some pleasant views and a good strong current, and -- although the observation has been disparaged by some -- true to say on a day like this, the Walpack Bend can really draw you into the river.
The first 5-7 miles below Walpack are about the most fun on the Middle Delaware. The Sambo & Mary Rift which begins immediately below the Bend announces a series of playful class I & II rapids that send paddlers jetting down the river.
Having taken on a seatful of icy bilge the day before, I was snapped down in my spray skirt and dove for thick of the waves.
It should be noted that in low water conditions (as we encounteterd on our first trip down the river) this section contains a number of "barely" submerged rocks and numerous shallow drafting gravel skiffles, all which requires a sharp eye and constant attention.
After a wet Fall-Winter-Spring, however, there ain't too much to hit. And, even in a hand-built wooden kayak, you can pretty much cut loose.
I find the river below Smithfield Beach a bit tedious. The boater traffic increases and the New Jersey shore in particular has limtited but obvious development. I also don't much care for passing under the interstate as you do just before Kittatinny.
That said, there are some fun currents (particularly in the last odd 1 1/2 miles) to push you on, as well as reliably spooky passage through the weathered stone footings of an abandoned bridge.
Chris's wife and girls met us at Kittatinny Point a little after 4 pm. And, after a much disparaged dinner at the diner in Delaware Water Gap, PA and much celebrated pies next door, they dropped me back at Milford Beach to strap my boat to my truck for the long drive home.
Curious Little Gallery