Some of the best of New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania
story and photography by Kenneth W. Dahse
When I think of a magnificent motorcycle trip it includes fantastic scenery, twisting roads, good restaurants, historic sights and a diversity of activities to experience. That’s why riding the borderlands of New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania make a great motorcycling journey.
Riders can cruise back-country roads alongside glistening lakes and the crystal-clear water of the Delaware River. You can swim, canoe, kayak and raft on rumbling rapids or climb mountaintops for panoramic views.
I started my borderlands journey in Ringwood, New Jersey, where I met two friends, Wendy Mitchell and Bob Gunther at the Monksville Reservoir dam. Wendy was on a Harley Road King Classic; Bob and I were riding Honda Shadow Spirits. Nestled in the forested Ramapo Mountains, Ringwood has thousands of acres of state park and reservoir lands that are home to bear, deer, coyotes, hawks and eagles, as well as two historic mansions: Ringwood and Skyland Manors. These impressive estates clearly depict the comfortable lifestyles of the landed gentry of the 18th and 19th centuries. Ringwood is also famous for its iron mines, which supplied General George Washington’s army during the Revolution.
From the dam, we sailed along Route 511 passing forests, streams, and the glimmering Monksville Reservoir. At East Shore Road we turned right and began circumnavigating Greenwood Lake. This mountain-encircled, nine-mile lake encompasses 1,884 acres in New Jersey and New York. It has marinas that rent boats, and several lakeside restaurants. The east shore, which borders the 20,000-acre Sterling Forest State Park, is less developed than the west shore. Many trailheads are located here, as is the Castle Restaurant, which welcomes riders and sits on the shoreline overlooking the lake. One time while riding this route, I frightened two turkey buzzards perched in a tree above the water. They took flight, but instead of launching into the heavens they plummeted downward, shooting by both sides of my helmet simultaneously like fighter jets on a precision bombing run. They almost knocked me from my bike. Riders are aware of the dangers of deer, but on this route you also need to be alert for other animals as well. I have had close calls with turkeys, ground hogs and charging dogs.
At the end of the lake we made a left over the bridge, another left at Main Street, and a right at the light. Cruising West Shore Road, we watched the glistening sun paint the water silver as a cool breeze caressed our careening cruisers.
Across the border in New Jersey, our bikes climbed into the highlands, rolling by Hewitt State Forest, Upper Greenwood Lake and Wawayanda State Park. Wawayanda has 60 miles of hiking trails (including 19 miles of the Appalachian Trail that runs from Georgia to Maine), picnic areas, a 255-acre lake with a humongous, silky soft sand beach, as well as canoe, rowboat and kayak rentals. It’s a great place to spend a day.
Leaving Wawayanda, we rumbled back into New York state taking Route 94 north to Route 1A to Route 1. We roared across the black dirt region of Orange County, famous for its onion farms and wide-open views. Once a massive swamp, it was drained and is now some of the most productive farmland in the east. I love the smell of onions and manure in the morning; it reminds me of agrarian freedom!
Thundering through the farmland, we hit Route 6 and rumbled into Port Jervis, the gateway to the scenic Route 97 byway. From here you can take a side tour to High Point State Park, just over the border in New Jersey. Route 23 snakes up and down the mountain to High Point. From High Point there is a three-state, 360-degree view of the mountains, valleys, farmlands and the Delaware River.
From Port Jervis we headed north on Route 97, climbing the mountain hundreds of feet above the river to the famous Hawk’s Nest area. Here, the serpentine road hugs the sheer mountain face, giving you a hawk’s panoramic view of the river below. Several parking areas allow for scenic viewing.
Descending from the heights of the Hawk’s Nest, Route 97 slithers alongside the magnificent, mighty water of the Delaware River. The last time I tried to do this route with my friends Drew and Chad, it was after a major storm. The river had climbed up its banks, eating away guardrails, shoulders and even parts of Route 97. Although the water had receded, the destruction remained and we were unable to complete the trip.
On this run, however, Wendy, Bob and I had smooth sailing all way. With the warm wind wrapping her arms around us, and the sun’s soothing rays caressing us, the empty road spread out before our eyes “like a stairway to heaven.” At Pond Eddy, we talked to two college students, Shannon and Erin. They suggested we take a side ride on Route 41 to see two Ukrainian churches; they were impressive and worth the detour. The first was the golden domed Saint Peter and Paul’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and just up the road was the rustic wood Saint Volodymyr’s Ukrainian Catholic Church. I felt like I was on the steppes of Czarist Russia. If you like country churches, they’re abundant.
We headed back to Pond Eddy, which offers the opportunity to experience the river in a raft, canoe or kayak. I have done all three, and at drastically different river levels. If the river’s high the adrenaline rush through the rapids is fantastic, but even if it isn’t, floating down a free-flowing river is the next best thing to a good motorcycle ride.
Most of the liveries have campgrounds; there are motels along this route as well. When camping, I usually stay at Kittatinny Campground at Barryville, which is also home to Kittatinny Paintball and Canoes. Also in Barryville is the Cedar Rapids Inn, a rider-friendly restaurant with riverside camping and dining.
From Barryville we rolled north, crossing over to Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania, to visit the Zane Grey Museum. The novelist lived here writing such famous westerns as Riders of the Purple Sage. In fact, that book inspired me to write my own western novel, The Hell Riders (available for order at any bookstore or online through Amazon.com). After visiting the museum we returned to New York, thundering north over the rolling hills of Sullivan County to Narrowsburg and Fort Delaware. Fort Delaware is a museum of colonial history and a reconstruction of the original frontier settlement of Cushetunk. Employees in full regalia demonstrate colonial activities.
From Narrowsburg, we headed for the famous Skinners Falls. In actuality, the falls are rapids. Skinners is a destination for tubers, swimmers, kayakers and anyone else who wants to soak up some satisfying rays while listening to the river sing its siren songs. It’s a greatplace to slip into a swimsuit and spend a few hours, which I did while Wendy and Bob explored a few side roads.
After a refreshing swim and a few “z’s,” we continued our journey, stopping briefly in Callicoon, which has the feel of the Old West with 19th-century architecture and quaint restaurants. From there it was a straight run to Hancock. We saw a flock of wild turkeys, several deer and a hawk sailing across the heavens like a sloop cutting through the ocean blue.
The Delaware River is born in Hancock, where the East Branch and West Branch Rivers unite to form this famous waterway. The town is reminiscent of the 19th century, with colonial-style homes and two-storied businesses. “Let’s eat at Ruthie’s Copper Kettle Inn Restaurant,” Wendy suggested. “They have great food.” Unfortunately, it was “gone with the wind,” so we dined at Le MacDonald’s and enjoyed gourmet dinners of Le Cheeseburgers instead. With the darkness descending, I retreated to my motel room and slept like a hibernating bear.
The next morning, we fired up our machines and began the second half of our journey, crossing the border into Pennsylvania taking Route 191 south. Cruising along the forested western shore of the river, our bikes handled the curving road with aplomb. We sailed along, bathed in the shining, silvery light of the morning sun.
At Equinunk, Route 191 runs away from the river and plunges into the highlands of eastern Pennsylvania, galloping through forests and farms. At the intersection of Routes 191 and 371, we turned left heading east back to the river and New York state, riding the rolling hills to Demascus, where we stopped to view the country Baptist Church and then crossed the river to New York. We took Route 114 to Route 17B (right turn) to Hurd Road (left turn) and visited Sullivan County’s most famous site: Yasgur’s Farm in Bethel, where the Woodstock Music Festival (three days of peace and music) was held during the summer of love, August 1969.
Almost 500,000 people descended on this bucolic area to celebrate the glories of the counter culture. There’s a monument on the site listing all the performers who played at the concert, and people who believe the field is sacred ground visit from all over the world.
We relaxed in the grass for a while and drifted off, almost hearing Richie Havens singing: “Freedom! Freedom! Freedom! …Sometimes I feel like a motherless child” to the clapping hands of hundreds of thousands of people celebrating their youth and freedom.
We talked with Duke Devlin, who was at the original festival and never left. He works for the Gerry Foundation that owns the site, now named Bethel Woods Center Arts. Musical and cultural events are hosted here, and a museum to honor the cultural upheavals of the ’60s and ’70s is scheduled to open in the fall of 2007.
The day was growing late, so we returned to Route 17B heading east. We wanted to get to our next motel so we would be rested for our kayak trip in the morning. From here there are several options back to Port Jervis. You can take Route 55 to Barryville, connecting again with Route 97. Route 55 is a great road. Traveling Route 97 south gives you a different perspective on the river, or do as we did and take Route 55 to Eldred, then Route 32 to Glen Spey and Route 31 to Mongaup, connecting with Route 97 just before the Hawk’s Nest. Either way it is a great ride.
Rumbling along on my Shadow, I thought about what a great odyssey we were having. The roads are fantastic, the scenery spectacular, the sights interesting and the activity opportunities diverse. Before our trip was even over, I knew I’d hear “the call of the wild” once again and return to ride the borderlands.
Jerry’s Three Rivers Canoes and Campground, Route 97, P.O. Box 7, Pond Eddy, New York 12770; (845) 557-6078
Kittatinny Canoes and Campgrounds, Route 97, Barryville, New York 12719; (800) FLOAT-KC or (845) 557-8611; www.kittatinny.com
Lackawaxen House Bed & Breakfast, 188 Scenic Drive, Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania 18435; (570) 685-7061
Lou’s Tubes At Skinners Falls, New York, P.O. Box 11, Milanville, Pennsylvania 18843; (845) 252-3593
Smith’s Colonial Motel, 23085 State Highway 97, Hancock, New York 13783; (607) 637-2989
Western Hotel, 22 Upper Main Street, Callicoon, New York 12723; (845) 887-9871
Zane Grey Museum, Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, 274 River Road, Beach Lake, Pennsylvania 18405-4046; (570) 685-4871
[From the September 2007 issue of Rider]