Delaware Water Gap, National Recreation Area – PA/NJ 8-22-15
I was certainly sad to leave the west coast and end my 10 day trip to all sorts of new and exciting places but just because I was home did not mean the adventure had to end! I have to admit I did have a bit of travel fatigue so going anywhere far was not really on my to do list but lucky for me there is a great National Park right in my backyard. The National Park Service, together with the National Park Foundation is currently running an initiative called Find Your Park in an effort to encourage people to explore the local parks near them. The National Park Service operates more than just Yosemite and the Grand Canyon after all. To me this is a really great initiative and in support of it the decision was made to visit my local park, the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.
The park itself is quite large, straddling two states, New Jersey and Pennsylvania and encompasses more than 100 miles of hiking trails (27 miles of the Appalachian Trail), 67,000 acres of protected forests, valleys, and floodplains, and 40 miles of the scenic Delaware river. This is all in addition to perhaps the most beautiful and interesting aspect of the park (at least to me), the several waterfalls found within.
For this particular trip to objective was simply to see as many of the parks waterfalls as possible in a single day and besides that not much else. We did not make any plans to do any substantial hiking.
The park itself straddles the Delaware River and includes land on both the Pennsylvania and New Jersey sides of the river. We made the decision to start on the Pennsylvania side of the park as by our estimation it included more waterfalls than the NJ side and this way we could start further away before heading back towards home. To this end we began our trip at the Dingmans Falls visitor center which is the jumping off point for perhaps the parks most famous waterfall, Dingmans Falls.
The visitor center is easy to find by simply punching the address into your GPS. Once we arrived we grabbed some water and headed for the trailhead which is located just past the visitor center building and the parking lot. After getting our National Park Passport books stamped we were on our way!
The trail itself is easy to follow and like most of the popular trails in the National Park System the trail is paved, and in this case is a boardwalk. Most of the time I would be upset by the lack of a wilderness experience but in this case it makes sense, especially with a park that sees so much traffic. In the end I don’t think that it detracted from the overall experience. The trail to Dingmans Falls is very short and only takes a short amount of time to walk from end to end. After only a short distance you come to the first waterfall on the trail, Silver Thread Falls. This fall is very nice and fairly unique to the area in that the water has carved a narrow channel over the cliff as opposed to the big wide falls which are more common in the area. It is a shame that you can’t get any closer to the fall than the boardwalk path but it is still quite beautiful to see. I can imagine that such a small area would be quickly ruined if hoards of people were allowed to get up close.
We only lingered for a few minutes before continuing down the path towards Dingmans Falls. The boardwalk winds its way through quiet forest before you can start hearing the rumble of the water cascading off the falls. In just a few minutes we reached the falls and honestly it was a pretty impressive sight. Dingmans Falls was much larger than I had anticipated it to be and turned out to be much prettier as well. The boardwalk at the falls extends all the way to the cliff face to the left of the falls and if you stand all the way at the end you can feel the mist blowing into your face from the rushing water. Admittedly it is no Niagra Falls but for being so close to home it was certainly worth a visit.
We enjoyed the view for a short time before continuing up the trail which lead to the top of the falls. We were not sure if there was much to see from up top but decided since we were here there was no reason not to take a few minutes and check it out.
The trail climbed a short set of stairs and before we knew it we were at the top. On the top of the falls is another small observation deck from which you can watch the water rushing over the edge of the cliff.
The trail officially ends at the top of the falls and after snapping a few pictures we headed back down and made our way to the car. This part of the park turned out to be very nice and if you are in the area it is certainly worth a visit.
For the next leg of our journey we headed further north along the river to the parking area for Raymondskill Falls. It was a short drive and we made it there in no time. Once we arrive there was a small parking lot off the road with trails leading down to the falls, it was mostly full when we arrived but we managed to find a spot. Similarly to Dingmans Falls the trail is short and we only had to walk a short ways before we could hear the familiar sound of rushing water in the distance.
Raymondskill Falls is perhaps not as majestic as Dingmans falls, since it does not have just one big drop, but its multiple smaller drops still make for a dramatic landscape. Once you arrive at the falls there are two viewing areas, one at the top of the falls and one a little lower down after the first drop. On this particular day we had the added bonus of being able to see some kayakers launching themselves over the falls. I am not generally a fan of water sports but I have to admit it looked like they were having a blast and it is definitely something I would love to try if I ever get the opportunity. We lingered at this spot longer than we had at the last one mainly to watch the kayakers but as more and more people piled into the overlook we decided to get moving.
The walk back to the parking lot only took a few minutes and once we arrived we looked at a small map by the trailhead which showed other trails leading to an overlook on the opposite side of the parking lot from the falls. Since it was still very early and we had not really done too much, we decided to make our way out to the overlook which was roughly a 2 mile round trip. This trail was more like an old fire road than a trail and it did not take very long for us to reach the top of the ridge. There are several trails leading to overlooks in this area but given our plans for the day we only walked to the closest one.
The overlook offered excellent views of the surrounding forest and farmland which was an interesting contrast for me since I had just spent the last 2 weeks staring at various shades of red in the desert. It was a nice change of pace to see such a lush green landscape. We may be known in this part of the country for our big cities but there is still plenty of natural beauty to enjoy if you only take the time to see it.
This stop marked our last objective on the Pennsylvania side of the river and after getting back to the car we made our way back towards home on the NJ side.
Our last stop for the day was Buttermilk Falls off of Old Mine Rd on the NJ side of the river. There is another more famous Buttermilk Falls not far away in the Catskills but I like to think ours is equally beautiful. On this particular day it was not flowing very strongly but this is not terribly unusual considering it had been a very hot August and had been raining very little. I should also mention here that getting to Buttermilk Falls requires driving on a fairly rough dirt road. The road is not so bad that you need a truck to pass it but do be weary for road hazards such as rocks, deep ruts and mud.
The foot of the falls is actually directly adjacent to the road and you cannot miss it as you drive by. You can simply park in the parking lot across the street and walk over to the base. At the base of the falls are various interpretive signs and off to the left is a set of staircases leading to the top of the falls. The walk to the top of the falls is pretty short and only look us a few minutes despite all of the stairs. We did not go much further than the top as the views are really the best from the base and the further you get to the top it just starts to look like a small creek. I believe this trail also leads to the trails on the top of the ridge which if you have more time to work with could be worthwhile. I will have to come back at some point to report on those options.
All in all the trip to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area was a great little trip, especially for a day with limited time and in my case limited energy. I had previously only ever visited areas of the Delaware Water Gap near Mt Tammany, and although that area is also very nice I would say the waterfalls offer something special that should not be missed if you are in the area. I may have only skimmed the surface of this area but I would be happy to recommend seeing these falls to anyone looking for an easy day in nature.