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Riding the River: Discovering the Delaware River Region

A flat run along the Delaware River, Route 97.

A flat run along the Delaware River, Route 97.

Photo Credit: KENNETH W. DAHSE

KENNETH W. DAHSE
April 2, 2005
Filed under Features, Motorcycle Rides, Roads and Self-Guided Travel

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If you love cruising along country roads, riding through farmland and forest, observing wildlife and enjoying local recreational opportunities, you will be ecstatic about exploring the Delaware River Region. This area encompasses the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area on the New Jersey/Pennsylvania border, and includes all the territory north through the upper Delaware National Scenic and Recreation River Area to Hancock, New York.

When you ride this region and its surrounding environs, you will be rewarded with hundreds of miles of backcountry roads to explore along with trails to hike, historic sites to see, waterfalls to view and the opportunity to canoe, raft, kayak, swim and camp. The region abounds with wildlife—it is not uncommon to see deer, hawks, bald eagles and bears.

THE AUTHOR AT HAWKS NEST SCENIC OVERLOOK, WHERE THE ROAD IS CUT INTO THE MOUNTAINSIDE.

THE AUTHOR AT HAWKS NEST SCENIC OVERLOOK, WHERE THE ROAD IS CUT INTO THE MOUNTAINSIDE.

Starting from the north and riding south through western New Jersey to the Gap adds to the scenic splendor of this spectacular ride. I rode west across the borderlands of New Jersey and New York to the junction of Routes 23 and 519. I sailed over serpentine roads on my Honda Shadow Spirit, passing farmland, forests and the rolling mountains of western New Jersey. It was a clear day, and the lush greenery scented the air like a flower garden after a spring rain.

This is a ride for all seasons, and indeed I have done sections of the trip in all four. This trip I was making the entire enchilada. Staying focused while riding on the curvaceous roads rather than on the scenery is challenging. Almost every bend offers an interesting sight. The Space Farm Zoo and Museum (973-875-5800) is one such place. The farm has a vintage automobile museum and numerous animals such as bison, llamas, bears and poisonous snakes.

A BAPTIST CHURCH IN DAMASCUS, PENNSYLVANIA.

A BAPTIST CHURCH IN DAMASCUS, PENNSYLVANIA.

At the stop sign and crossroads of Routes 519, 655 and 627, I took 627 south to 626 west to Route 521 south toward Swartswood and Stillwater, cruising alongside Swartswood Lake and then into Blairstown. Swartswood State Park (973-383-5230) with its beach, boat rentals and campground is located on the other side of the lake, and is a nice place to relax and swim.

I ate lunch at the charmingly antiquated Blairstown Diner, and watched two local “cowboys” gallop up to the Blairstown Inn. After lunch, I fired up the Shadow and continued south on Route 94 to Portland, Pennsylvania, and rode along the river shoreline, stopping at the overlooks. The Route 80 Bridge took me back to New Jersey, with a stop at the Kittatinny Visitors Center for a map, a view of the Gap and a refreshing swim in the river.

From there I rumbled into the park on Old Mine Road, which was built around 1650 to haul copper to Kingston, New York. With the pure, crystal-clear water of the Delaware River on my left and the pristine forest on my right, I felt as if I was riding into an earlier era. In fact, the National Park Service and others are working to preserve some of the abandoned homesteads of the earlier inhabitants.

THE AUTHOR AT HAWKS NEST SCENIC OVERLOOK, WHERE THE ROAD IS CUT INTO THE MOUNTAINSIDE.

THE AUTHOR AT HAWKS NEST SCENIC OVERLOOK, WHERE THE ROAD IS CUT INTO THE MOUNTAINSIDE.

At one time, the federal government wanted to dam the Delaware River (one of the last, great, clean free-flowing rivers of the northeast) at Tocks Island, creating an enormous recreational lake. After the dam project was killed by Congress, the park was created instead. It covers over 70,000 acres and has more than 200 miles of roads that wind over ridges and through scenic valleys. Some of these roads are unimproved and require off-road motorcycling skills, as well as
accepting the fact that your bike will get dirty. But that’s half the fun of the trip anyway, is it not?

Deer are as plentiful here as mosquitoes on a hot humid day, so always be on the lookout for wildlife. As I rolled toward Worthington State Forest (908-841-9575), the only non-wilderness camping within the park, I noticed several cars parked and people studying the woods. Turns out there was a bear and three cubs, and we all watched excitedly until they ambled deeper into the forest. In the afternoon, I saw wild turkeys, a red fox and deer.

BUTTERMILK FALLS.

BUTTERMILK FALLS.

Arriving at the Depew Recreation Site, I took another swim and had a snack in the picnic area. Just down the road is Millbrook Village, a re-created late-19th century rural community depicting life more than 100 years ago. It has a blacksmith’s shop, homes, barns, a church and an outhouse. Less than half a mile from the village on Route 602 is a parking area for a trail to a fire tower. Under three miles round trip, the tower gives you a panoramic view of the farmlands and mountains
of western New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania and southern New York.

Route 615 is the nicest road in the recreation area, winding its way alongside Flat Brook through woodland and leading to Walpack Center, which is now a ghost town. The former residents were forced out during the dam days. Turning right takes you across a bridge to a cemetery and a dirt road leading to Buttermilk Falls; it is a rough ride but well worth it.

At the junction of Old Mine Road and Route 560, I decided to explore the Pennsylvania side of the park rather than continuing north on Old Mine Road to Route 206. I rolled across the privately owned Dingsman Ferry Bridge, built in 1900 for horse-drawn carriages, into Pennsylvania, taking Route 209 to Raymondskill Falls.

AN ABONDONED POST OFFICE AT WALLPACK CENTER GHOST TOWN.

AN ABONDONED POST OFFICE AT WALLPACK CENTER GHOST TOWN.

I listened to its roaring songs singing in my ears. From Raymondskill Falls, you have several options: First, visit Milford, Pennsylvania, a picturesque little town with turn-of-century architecture, a river beach, nice restaurants and an outfitters store. Second, cross over the Milford Bridge back onto Old Mill Road (521) and continue the ride north to Port Jervis. Last, cross the bridge and head south on Route 206 to Stokes State Forest and Sunrise Mountain. You can cruise along the mountain ridges to High Point State Park and Route 23, savoring the views along the way. This is a bumpy, but pretty ride through forest. The view from High Point is a three-state panorama. There are public campgrounds in both Stokes and High Point State Parks (973-875-4800) and private ones along the Upper Delaware. You may want to call first as the campgrounds are closed November 1 until the end of March.

Traveling north on Route 97 out of Port Jervis, I sailed into the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River area. The river is managed by the Park Service, but the majority of the land is privately owned. This section of river has most of the rapids, and combining motorcycling with a river trip on raft, kayak or canoe adds to the excitement of the journey.

Horses graze in a field.

Horses graze in a field.

For riders this is motorcycling at its best. Two-lane Route 97 parallels the snaking river, crawling its way along mountainsides, rolling over hills and flying across the flat lands. The most popular section with riders is the Hawks Nest Scenic Overlook area. Here the road is cut into the mountainside, twisting in the wind hundreds of feet above the river.

People from all over the country visit the area, and several automobile commercials have been filmed here as well. At an overlook, I met Bennie and Daryl Burchfield from Knoxville, Tennessee. Bennie said, “We have some great roads in Tennessee, but this here little gem is awesome.” Daryl added, “My brother lives in New York and is always bragging about this road. I can see now he wasn’t exaggerating.”

A few miles north at Pond Eddy, I took Route 41 to Glen Spey to see two Ukrainian churches. The Saints Peter and Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church represents 1,000 years of Christianity in the Ukraine from 988-1988. The eastern European orthodox-style church has gold and bronze domes.

FORT DELAWARE IN NARROWSBURG.

FORT DELAWARE IN NARROWSBURG.

A few hundred yards farther is the Saint Volodymyr’s Ukraine Catholic Church built in the same style, but with logs. Viewing these churches made me feel as though I had been transported to the steppes of the old Russian Empire. That’s one of the great things about the Delaware River region—whether you stick to the main route or explore side areas, your eyes will feast on many intriguing sights.

After returning to Route 97, I rode north alongside the diamond-studded river with the sweet, water-scented air caressing my face and the sun’s rays embracing me. I was in biker heaven, and so were a lot of other riders I talked to at the Cedar Rapids Inn, a popular lunch destination for riders who tour this route. The balcony of the outside dining area overlooks the Cedar Rapids.

CEDAR RAPIDS INN IS POPULAR WITH RIDERS.

CEDAR RAPIDS INN IS POPULAR WITH RIDERS.

A few miles north of Cedar Rapids is the famous Roebling’s Delaware Aqueduct Bridge, the oldest existing wire cable suspension bridge (built in 1848) in the United States. It spans 535 feet of river. Across the river in Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania, is the Zane Grey Museum (570-685-4871), the one-time home of the famed novelist. Zane Grey achieved worldwide renown for his western novel, Riders Of The Purple Sage. Published in 1912, it remains one of the most widely sold western novels in the world.

Five miles north is Skinners Falls, one of the most popular destinations in this region. Calling it a falls is a misnomer; Skinners is actually a cascade of rapids. I love to catch some rays on the rocks, swim and ride the rapids on a tube (Lou’s Tubes, 845-252-3593).

Leaving Skinners, I rode north to Callicoon and had dinner at the Western Hotel, which was built in 1852. The food is good and reasonably priced. Riding north from Callicoon, you will pass several other small river towns, the architecture of which will make you feel like you have been transported back to the 1800s or the backwoods of Appalachia. Just before dark, I rolled into Hancock, where I spent the night at the Capri Inn Motel.

MAP BY BILL TIPTON/COMPARTMAPS.COM

MAP BY BILL TIPTON/COMPARTMAPS.COM

In the morning, I fired up my Spirit and headed home. Rather than returning by the same route, I rumbled through the farmland and small towns of eastern Pennsylvania, taking Route 191 south to Honesdale and Hawley. I stopped at Lake Wallenpaupack for a scenic boat ride and then went horseback riding at the Triple “W” Riding Stables (570-226-2620). The Delaware River Region is a rider’s paradise, with spectacular roads, scenic splendor and challenging adventure. This is a journey I will keep repeating.

(This article Riding the River: Discovering the Delaware River Region was published in the April 2005 issue of Rider magazine.)

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