After years of struggle, controversy and benign neglect, ways to offer interpretive looks at the rich history of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area are finally becoming reality.
Above: Mt. Tammany. The Delaware Water Gap NRA is the 14th most visted destination in the U.S.
Appropriately, the last exit off Interstate Route 80 in western New Jersey (map) places late model automobiles on the oldest commercial highway in the United States. In fact the Old Mine Road, which winds its way in various present day forms from New England to Philadelphia, follows an aboriginal trail along the Delaware River believed to be 8,000 years old. In American Colonial times dating from 1652, Dutch settlers carried copper ore from rich mines located near the Delaware Water Gap to Kingston, New York along the route. Houses along the road became vital refuges and forts for settlers during the French and Indian War. George Washington's soldiers used the road and John Adams and Ben Franklin were frequent travelers. During the mid 19th Century part of the Old Mine Road became links in the Underground Railroad. The highway's saga before 1850 back to 1612 and before recorded history is an incredibly rich legacy.
Today, visitors entering the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (DWGNRA) on the Old Mine Road pass over a wealth of aboriginal and pre-Colonial archaeological resources. They pass beneath hills containing the remnants of copper mines that were productive during the 1750s, 1860s and the early 1900s. They pass the Abraham Van Campen house, built in 1725 and reputed to be the oldest in Warren County - once used as one of the forts on Ben Franklin's Philadelphia frontier in the French and Indian War. They pass cemeteries from the Revolutionary & Civil Wars overrun by weeds. In fact there are 90 sites in the DWGNRA that are on or eligible for the National Register being stabilized and restored for a wide variety of uses.
But unless they are well versed in local history, most of the 3 million annual visitors know the 70,000 acre Park- the largest recreation area in the eastern U.S.- only as a nice place to fish, hike, camp, or have a picnic. Although the recreational resources are well-known and enjoyed, some might wonder at the paucity of services available. A review of the most recent thirty years of history in this valley- that of the Park's early development- explains why the DWGNRA has remained somewhat of an enigma; and why the Park is now the subject of a $150 million program - the largest recreation area under development in eastern U.S., from a point below the Gap to the New York State border.
The National Recreation Area was originally conceived as an adjunct to "management" of the Delaware River. In 1960 the Army Corps of Engineers set upon a mission to build a dam at Tocks Island, just north of the Water Gap. This dam would control water levels for hydroelectric power generation and create a 37 mile lake for use as a reservoir. A smaller surrounding recreation area, to make a more "cost effective" dam, would be administered by the National Park Service.
Tens of millions of dollars were appropriated and work began to prepare the area for flooding. Three to five thousand dwellings were demolished. Some fifteen thousand people were displaced, many of whom represented 300 years and 13 generations of history and culture in the Upper Delaware Valley. A serene region of farms, hamlets and villages along a free flowing river was systematically dismantled as part of a plan that was eventually shelved. There was passionate opposition from many corners to the government's agenda. Some of the more visible historical homes were temporarily spared only to be destroyed by squatters and arsonists. For 18 years the valley was the site of a bizarre free-for-all with an unpredictable outcome.
Finally, in 1978 the project was deemed economically & environmentally unsound, and the government, instead of selling back the remaining 83 homes to original owners, transferred the properties to the National Park Service. The Delaware River was placed under the protection of the Scenic Rivers Act.
From 1978 to 1983 a series of public hearings were held to decide what to do with the park. Finally the Land Protection Plan was created which evolved into the Park Service's General Management Plan. The plan was finalized from 1983 to 1987, and in 1988 $110 million in capital development funds were appropriated by Congress for developing the Park over the next 10 years. Meanwhile another 25 historic structures had fallen down, all improvement efforts were going towards recreational facilities such as boat launches, and a general aura of mistrust and disgust hampered any attempts to coordinate planning processes between the Park Service and surrounding communities.
Fortunately there were folks who chose to create alternatives and find a way to make certain that a government review after the year 2,000 would not result in a dam. In 1988 a Citizens Advisory Commission began overseeing the implementation of the ten year Federal development plan. Eleven members; one from each of the five counties surrounding the DWGNRA, four appointees by the New Jersey and Pennsylvania Governors and two "at large" Federal appointees; serve on the Commission. So far beaches, roads, boat launches, picnic areas and trails have been improved and cleaned up. The problem of "benign neglect" concerning the remaining historic structures is being addressed; over 113,000 historical and aboriginal artifacts have been catalogued and 1,200 historic sites have been identified within the Park. $400,000 a year has been appropriated and dedicated solely to historical stabilization on the New Jersey side of the National Recreation Area. A measure of good will with surrounding communities has been rekindled and a productive partnership with National Park Service has begun to emerge; one that will have to be emulated in situations all over the country where National Parks face a shortage of money and manpower.
A visit to the DWGNRA may soon be a very different experience than today. Under the Historic Property Leasing Program the Park Service can issue leases on structures in the Park for up to 99 years. Leasees provide capital investment in the structure and are issued special use permits. Uses might include an educational function, private residential use, or commercial use such as a general store. Properly publicized and administrated, this program could have far reaching effects on the Park. It is, however, a very tender balance of all the cultural and historical considerations that must be met. There is a huge amount of work to be done just to sort through the mountains of material that already exist with regard to the area's archaeological and cultural history. And to harmonize stepped-up promotion of the Park with concerns of the surrounding communities about maintenance, rateables, and multitudes of visitors will be a Herculean achievement. But the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area deserves as much. Most of the effort will come from dedicated volunteers; people that love the Park as much for what it was as for what it might become.
The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is a vista not only of scenery but also of things to do. Here are a few among the dozens of destinations within the Park on the New Jersey side:
- Isaac Van Campen Inn
- Originally built in 1750, the house has undergone a $500,000 restoration and is accessible to the public. The house was a rest stop along the Old Mine Road for the likes of John Adams, a friend of Isaac Van Campen and saw use as a fort in the French and Indian War.
- Peters Valley Crafts Center
- Peters Valley's mission as a non-profit educational organization is to foster an appreciation of traditional and contemporary crafts by providing programming for individuals to study, create and explore new ideas in a supportive environment. June, July and August provide a wide range of opportunities for students and visitors to enjoy workshops, evening lectures, studio tours, the Peters Valley Craft Store and Gallery and the annual Craft Fair.
- Millbrook Village
- A re-creation of a late 19th century rural community, Millbrook offers a self-guided walking tour about the buildings and life 100 years ago.
- Pahaquarry Copper Mines
- Scheduled for a major upgrade and expansion of parking and toilet facilities, visitors can walk to the historical mines at Pahaquarry.
- Offers an open air concert area, a 50 site picnic area, concession food service and complete parking and comfort facilities.
- Van Campens Glen
- Picnic area on beautiful babbling brook
- Boat launch, 6 car/boat trailer parking facility
- Blue Mountain Lakes, Crater Lake
- Trailhead parking, fishing, spectacular views.
- Appalachian Trail
- The famous path which runs from Maine to Georgia spends 25 of its miles in the Park.
- Delaware River
- Lest we forget what all the fuss is really all about, the Delaware River is in great shape. One of the cleanest and prettiest rivers in the East, the 37 miles in the Park is great for swimming, boating and fishing. There are several swimming beaches, boating access points every 8-10 miles. For fishermen the Delaware offers shad, smallmouth bass, walleye, eel, catfish and muskellunge.
Recreation sites in the Park are for day use only and over-night camping access is limited. However several nearby or adjoining private campgrounds offer visitors a variety of amenities with "backyard" access to the park:
- Camp Taylor Campground
- Columbia, NJ; 908-496-4333
- Triple Brook Camping Resort
- Hope, NJ; 908-459-4079
When you come to the Park don't forget that there are no gas stations, and complete comfort stations are far between (if you bring kids, bring toilet paper). Visitors are reminded that denigration or removal of artifacts from the DWGNRA is prohibited. Please be considerate of the Park's historical past.
For updated information on the status of park facilities, roads, and trails, call park headquarters on weekdays (570-426-2452). Updated information is also available on the park’s website, on Facebook, and Twitter.
Nearby accommodations and attractions
- Sussex County Fairgrounds
- Antler Ridge Wildlife Sanctuary
- Jersey Ridge Soaring
- Montague and High Point
- The Asbury Mill
There's always something fun happening at the Sussex County Fairgrounds. Visit our web site for a full year of family fun, right in your own backyard.
27 Plains Road, Augusta 07822, 973/948-5500
Located on 120 acres of preserved farm in Warren County, the rehabilitation center provides treatment to orphaned, sick or injured wildlife including fawns, raccoon, skunks, opossums, squirrels, rabbits, woodchucks and other small mammals. The state-licensed sanctuary is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, supported entirely by volunteers and public donations.
52 County Road 661, Frelinghuysen 07860, 973/980-8531
Take a breathtaking ride with a FAA certified pilot above the Kittatinny Mountains and Delaware Water Gap in our single passenger glider, or take someone else along in our two-passenger glider. Glider rides, glider instruction, gift certificates.
Blairstown Airport, 36 Lambert Rd., Blairstown 07825, 908/362-1239
One day you are likely to find yourself headed to New Jersey's northernmost corner in search of adventure.
This story was first published: Summer, 1998
The National Park Service currently classifies the Water Gap as a national recreation area. A proposed new map splits the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area into a preserve and a national park.Is Delaware Water Gap free? ›
The great thing is that there are no entrance fees for Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, but we do have special areas within the park for picnicing and swimming that are considered Expanded Amenity Areas because of the additional services offered in these locations, such as Lifeguards at the swim areas, and ...What is Delaware Water Gap known for? ›
Situated within the most densely populated region of the United States, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area provides a unique opportunity to experience tranquil landscapes, rich human history, and striking scenery along 40 miles of the longest free-flowing river east of the Mississippi.Why is the Delaware Water Gap closed? ›
“The soil here is composed of loose material that has eroded from the rocky cliffs nearby. Because the soil is very loose and forms a steep bank, stormwater has been able to wash away material and make the slopes unstable,” Malzone said.What is the only US national park to fully close each winter? ›
Note that Isle Royale is the only site designated as a national park that closes in the winter, though a handful of sites with other designations also close seasonally, such as the John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site in Massachusetts and the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Pennsylvania.How much does it cost to cross the Delaware Water Gap? ›
|Delaware Water Gap Toll Bridge|
|Opened||December 16, 1953|
|Toll||Westbound: $3.00 for cars without E-ZPass $1.25 for cars with E-ZPass|
The park is home to 14 species of snakes, 8 species of turtles, and two kinds of lizards.Is the Delaware Water Gap a hard hike? ›
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area offers over 150 miles of trails of various difficulty levels. From wheelchair accessible trails, like Dingmans Falls boardwalk trail, to strenuous hikes, like the Mount Tammany Red Dot Trail, there is a perfect trail for everyone.Are there bears in the Delaware Water Gap? ›
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area has one of the densest populations of black bears in the country. We also have some of the biggest bears in the country. If you leave your food wrappers, scraps, leftovers, dirty napkins, and picnicware in the park, you are FEEDING the bears.Are there rattlesnakes in Delaware Water Gap? ›
Timber rattlesnakes are found in New Jersey typically around the Kittatinny Ridge north of the Water Gap, the northern Highlands area and in the Pine Barrens, according to the DEP. SO WHY ARE THEY TURNING UP IN GARDENS?
Swimming is a popular activity at Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Three beaches provide easy access to swim in the river. Milford Beach has lifeguards from 10 am-6 pm Thursday through Monday from June 19, 2022 until August 27, 2022.Can you drink water from the Delaware Water Gap? ›
The Delaware River within the park has very high quality water that is protected from degradation by Special Protection Water Regulations adopted by the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC). These unique regulations established definitions of existing conditions and prohibit measurable change.Are there wolves in the Delaware Water Gap? ›
Even if you don't book a tour, you'll likely hear the howling of wolves through the mountains of the Delaware Water Gap at night. That's because the Lakota Wolf Preserve is in the southern portion of the recreation area.Can you bring your own tube to the Delaware Water Gap? ›
A: Sorry, you can not bring your own equipment and use our shuttle services anymore due to our change in insurance policies. Furthermore, we do not offer parking for private recreationalists. You must rent equipment from Delaware River Tubing to use any of our services and property.Where are the best views of the Delaware Water Gap? ›
Resort Point Overlook offers a view of the Gap from an upstream vantage point along PA 611. Kittatinny Point offers a view of the Gap from an upstream vantage point along I-80. The Red Dot Trail offers views into the Gap from atop Mt. Tammany in New Jersery.What is the most unpopular national park? ›
Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve in Alaska is the least-visited US national park.What is the least popular national park in America? ›
Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, Alaska
With just 7,362 visitors in 2021, it was the least-visited national park of the year.
Tolls will be $4.50 per axle for E-ZPass and $5 per axle for cash/TOLL-BY-PLATE. The 10-percent off-peak commercial-vehicle discount for Class 2 and above will be eliminated on or after April 3, 2021.What towns are in the Delaware Water Gap? ›
- Delaware Water Gap. ...
- Hawley. ...
- Honesdale. ...
- Jim Thorpe. ...
- Lake Wallenpaupack. ...
- Milford. ...
- Stroudsburg. ...
Rattlesnakes do not go willingly into swimming pools because the chlorine is poisonous to them. If rattlesnakes do end up in your swimming pool, they were likely chasing prey and fell in. They may be attracted to freshwater ponds and fountains though.Do copperheads swim? ›
But copperheads, like northern water snakes, swim and can be found near water across the region. So, if a snake is not easily identifiable as a non-venomous water snake, it is best to beware. Northern water snakes can grow up to three feet long, and females are larger than males.Can rattlesnakes swim in deep water? ›
The answer is yes! Rattlesnake swimming underwater has been observed in both the wild and in captivity. These reptiles can hold their breath for up to 45 minutes when they are swimming underwater. This is helpful because it allows them to stay hidden from prey and predators.What is the best trail in Delaware Water Gap? ›
According to users from AllTrails.com, the best place to hike in Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is Mount Minsi via Appalachian Trail, which has a 4.5 star rating from 5,671 reviews.Which thru hike is the hardest? ›
The CDT is by far the most difficult of the three trails due to navigation challenges, wildlife, weather, and long stretches between resupply and water.Has there ever been a shark in the Delaware River? ›
And, the bull sharks known to swim in the Delaware River, as they do far upriver from oceans worldwide, have never been reported in an attack on any humans, although in late April and early May 1922 newspapers throughout the U.S. reported on a 12-foot shark "said to have been on the man-eating variety" that was shot ...Why are there no bobcats in Delaware? ›
The clearing of woods and draining of swamps and other lowland areas that were the bobcat's main habitat led to local extinction, called extirpation, from the state by 1850. Now, it appears as if the wild cat is making a return to our state.Was there ever a whale in the Delaware River? ›
A right whale — named Waldo the Wrong-Way Right Whale by Philadelphians — straggled into the Delaware River in 1995. The whale beached itself at an oil terminal in Pennsauken, N.J., but disappeared after about 10 days. It was found two years later swimming near Canada.When did the Delaware Water Gap become a National Park? ›
Washington Crossing Historic Park preserves the site of George Washington's dramatic boat crossing of the Delaware River during the American Revolution and is a National Historic Landmark.
Biscayne National Park is home to 173,000 acres of land, most of which are underwater, and also features the longest mangrove forest in eastern Florida. In addition to that, Biscayne is the northernmost part of the Florida Keys and contributes to the world's third-largest coral reef tract.What is a National Park in Delaware? ›
Similar to the national monument, the First State National Historical Park celebrates early American Dutch, Swedish and English settlements throughout Delaware, and Delaware's role in the events leading up to the founding of our nation.Is Delaware the only state without a national park? ›
Delaware is the only state in the country without a National Park, but maybe not for long. National parks showcase natural beauty like Yosemite and historic venues like Independence Park.Do you have to pay to get into Delaware State Parks? ›
Daily entry fees or passes are required for entrance to Delaware State Parks. Visitors without a state park annual pass must pay the daily fee via automated credit card machines, at manned fee booths, or using self-registration fee envelopes, depending on the location.What is the difference between a national park and a national? ›
The primary difference lies in the reason for preserving the land: National parks are protected due to their scenic, inspirational, education, and recreational value. National monuments have objects of historical, cultural, and/or scientific interest, so their content is quite varied.How much does it cost to get into Delaware State Park? ›
|Daily Entry Fees|
|Delaware Registered Vehicle||Out-of-State Registered Vehicle|
|Inland Parks||$4 per day||$8 per day|
|Ocean Parks||$5 per day||$10 per day|
|Delaware Firefighter/EMT -- Contact the president of your fire company or the Delaware Volunteer Firefighters Association for information and an application form.||$0|
Located in the southwest corner of the Florida Keys reef system, Dry Tortugas National Park is a remote park that is more than 99% water. Its crystal clear ocean waters abound with incredible marine life.What National Park is 90% underwater? ›
Biscayne National Park preserves Biscayne Bay, one of the top scuba diving areas in the United States. Within the national park, which is over 90% water, there is an extensive mangrove forest along the shoreline, a portion of the world's third-longest living coral reef, and the northernmost Florida Keys.Which National Park is 95% underwater? ›
Boating in Biscayne National Park
In a park that's 95% water, boating is the perfect way to explore.
Cape Henlopen State Park is a Delaware state park on 5,193 acres (2,102 ha) on Cape Henlopen in Sussex County, Delaware, in the United States.
At 3,472 square miles—over 2.2 million acres—Yellowstone is larger than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined. The vast majority of its territory is situated in Wyoming, but it also creeps into neighboring Montana and Idaho.How long is the walk around Delaware park? ›
Get to know this 1.8-mile loop trail near Buffalo, New York. Generally considered an easy route, it takes an average of 33 min to complete. This is a popular trail for road biking, running, and walking, but you can still enjoy some solitude during quieter times of day.