Delaware River Trip Reports

Listed below is Paul's (local Delaware River boater) response to a inquiry about canoe camping on the Delaware that was posted on the mailing list NYCKAYAKER in August, 1997:

--Any permits required for camping?

Nope, not within the Delaware Water Gap Nat'l. Recreation Area, which is roughly from the point at which NJ/NY/PA meet down 50 miles to the Gap. I did that trip in a Chinook and a canoe with a friend the last three days in April this past Spring. It was exquisite. We were the only paddlers out, had our choice of campsites, saw nobody else but fishermen, the weather was shorts and t-shirts by day and howling low-30's by night, but we were prepared and never cold.

I'm hoping to do it again for the Fall foliage. We put in at Matamoras, PA, took out 50 miles and three days later at the Gap, right at the Visitor Center, moving for the most part in extreme slow motion to make it last.

First night's camp was at the southern end of Minisink Island, which has been a holy place for the Lenni Lenape for centuries, or whoever preceded them. Archeologists have unearthed religious artifacts there dated back some 1000-1500 years. The first NJ Turnpike was a trail they wore from the Navesink at Shrewsbury Inlet across the Highlands directly to Minisink Island.

Paddling is mostly flat with a few riffles, even fewer Class I rapids, which, for any novices reading this, are so much fun in a heavy laden canoe I can't tell you. In a touring kayak you'll be running them multiple times, hootin' and hollerin', I guarantee. The river is about six-lane highway wide, with numerous islands along the way, and shallow enough to see the bottom for most of it. Trust me, it's poetry, it's hypnotic.

The wildlife is abundant, with so many osprey we stopped counting after the first four hours, great blue herons, turkey buzzards galore, beaver, fish jumping all around, American mergansers and other ducks, Canada geese, of course, swallows in great number, deer, rabbits, even shad fishermen in the Spring.

Second night's camp, with comet Hale-Bopp resplendent in crystal clear skies, was at Walpack Bend, a three-mile long S-curve that, as my friend put it, "will just draw you in" to being on the river. This, too, was a holy place for the first residents. You'll get it when you see it.

--Care to recommend any books, maps whatever?

I was lucky enough to get from the publisher the last copy of the out-of-print "Appalachian Waters 1: The Delaware & It's Tributaries" by Walter Burmeister, a florid if not comprehensive tome written in the late 50's which is one great guidebook and a fun read. Appalachia Books, Box 248, 2938 Chain Bridge Road, Oakton, VA 22124.

More recently, "Canoeing the Delaware" is very well written and worth the price of admission.

My map set is the waterproofed one from the Delaware River Basin Commission, at outdoor suppliers or the Visitor Center at the Gap. I've been using it a lot for the other sections, too. It covers the river from the start up at the confluence of the east & west branches in NY all the way down to Trenton, nicely detailed. I used the giveaway map from the park service to mark it with the campsite locations and how many were at each.

--recently peering into it from New Hope Pa and it was looking pretty scenic and inviting.

I'll say. In July we did 16 miles one day from Frenchtown to New Hope/Lambertville. Scenic, yes, indeed, shallow in spots, but verdant and lush. At 6:30 we were in a long stretch of a 15' deep pool, so we slipped out of the kayaks in the center of the river and tied them to our waists, swimming in front of them for two miles. It was a first, and one of the best long moments of the day. The water was as still as a lake, a silent glass reflecting the deep blue sky. Nobody was on the river but us. We thought we'd died and went to heaven.

I'm leading a group of renters from that paddleshop in Bordentown this Sunday on part of that section, from Bull's Island to Lambertville.

--Any suggestions for an intro day trip with no shuttle?

Milford to Dingman's Ferry is a nice stretch, but you'd need to shuttle somehow. Smithfield beach to the Gap is certainly the most popular at just under 8 miles, though how you can do this w/o a shuttle I don't know.

Bushkill, just above Walpack bend on the PA side, to Depew Access on the NJ side is about 7 miles, to Smithfield beach it's about 10, and I did that last year using the Pack Shack in the town of Delaware Water Gap to put us in and pick us up.

--Is it possible to arrange a shuttle of my boat with any of the commercial outfitters... There are several other liveries all up and down the river there. They'll do it for you.

--Also, I have absolutely no whitewater experience and am feeling a little leery about it.

Again, this section has no appreciable whitewater. Below the Gap is where you'll find that at Foul Rift, a Class II rapid, but that's out of the D.W.G.N.R.A. and into the industrial landscape, so not to worry, you wouldn't want to go there.

Rich's description of Wells Falls (the Lambertville wing dam, which can easily swamp open canoes at low water, and flip canoes that go over the 'wings's of the dam at higher water) at New Hope was right on accurate, although I confess, we did it that day in our touring kayaks, it was the second great long moment of the day, and a great fun adrenaline rush of a way to end it. We didn't even come close to tipping, just chose our routes and braced, turned, leaned and laughed a lot. It was all over too quickly.

As to jetskis, and motorboats, yes they are around down that far on the Delaware, but they are >>not<< up at the D.W.G.N.R.A., the only motor traffic is the electric slow-motion trolling motor allowed on a fishing boat, or the park rangers on patrol.

By all means, if anyone is thinking about it for a trip of a few days, I recommend a kayak and a canoe, that's the way to go. It was like riding in a fully loaded Cadillac, you barely felt the waves and bumps but knew the nothing could do you any harm ! It was also like having a truck along for supplies, we ate like kings and wanted for nothing.

Paul's response to a second message on NYCKayaker Mailing List in September of 1997:

--I plan to do an overnight kayaking trip on a weekend soon (not this weekend but next). Can you recommend a plan wherein I can park my car


Ok, the question is, can you spend some bucks for a livery to haul you upriver ? If so the trip will involve no upriver paddling and you can just float down to your car. This is a factor considering your plan to tow a raft for the pooch, which would present a difficulty perhaps going upstream.

Anywhere above the Gap is the best I know of. The trip one way, if you do go for transport by a local livery, could start at Eshback access on the PA side at mile 231.6 or the Bushkill access around mile 228 also on the PA side, but this is too short a time to the best campsites and I assume you want to paddle the day.

You could leave your car at the Visitor's Center with the rangers at the Gap itself, which is at mile 211, for a twenty-mile trip in two days.

You can camp at Walpack Bend, there are first 3 sites on the NJ side as you approach the Bushkill access, then just past it and at the start of the Bend there's 1 site on the PA side right at Bushkill Creek and 9 sites across the river on the NJ side, but then as you go into the first turn (one of the best parts of the whole Delaware River experience) there are 14 sites on the NJ side and across on your right another 3 sites on the PA side as the river sharply bends to the right. These last, I think, are the best. This is where we camped last April. It's a haul getting up to them, but it's worth the 15' climb. These are at mile 225.

If none are to your liking you can go down a bit more, there are 14 sites on the NJ side at mile 223, 5 sites on Depew Island at mile 222.1 just above the Depew access area.

Any of these will put you in a good position to get to the Gap by the end of your second day.

Ok, now if you are doing this all on your own with no livery assist, I'd suggest you start by parking at either the Poxono or the Depew access areas on the NJ side or a little further downstream and across on the PA side at Smithfield Beach, any one will do. Paddle upriver as far as you have the mind and strength to, the current shouldn't be any problem, there are only little riffles here, usually adjacent to the islands, and at worst you may have to line the boat past them if it's too shallow to dig in with the paddle.

This will put you in the area described above, come into the Walpack Bend area and camp, then float back down the next day.

Again, I would highly recommend you purchase the Delaware River Recreation Map set for the trip, if you haven't already. This is the one that's put out by the Del. Riv. Basin Commision( P.O. Box 7360, West Trenton, NJ 08628) and is waterproof. It covers from Hancock, NY at the start all the way down to Trenton. I have mine marked out with all of the campsites which I got off of the pamphlet maps the rangers hand out.

They sell the set at Campmor, at EMS and probably REI and at the Visitor's Center at the Gap, it's on the NJ side tucked right under Rt.80 as it approaches the bridge.( I'd get the maps before leaving for the trip, so you know where you're going and how far in a day, etc., and don't count on buying it at the Gap, they are often sold out.) This is also how you get to Old Mine Road, the oldest paved road in the state, which follows the river up and gets you to the Poxono and Depew access lots. You leave the Visitor Center parking lot, go under the Rt.80 bridge and wait 3 minutes at a stoplight, as the road there is one lane wide but has to serve traffic in both directions. It's about a 40 minute ride north along it to the access sites.

The Visitor Center phone is: (908) 496-4458

I've used the Pack Shack, a livery just across the bridge in the town of Delaware Water Gap: (800) 424-0955 or (717) 424-8533

There's also Shawnee: (800) 742-9633 or (717) 424-1139

or Kittatinny: (800) 356-2852

Let me know if you have any further questions. I'm also posting this to the list so others can plan their trips, Fall colors are peaking at the end of the month/start of October !


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This information is my opinion only
and may not reflect actual conditions.
It is based on my usually hazy memory,
and should not be used to decide whether
you or your guides are qualified to run the river. 
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