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To motorists on I-80, the Delaware Water Gap is little more than a magnificent minute at the border between New Jersey and Pennsylvania, where the highway briefly joins the Delaware River as it snakes through a deep cut in the Kittatinny Ridge. Unseen from the highway, however, is the quietly impressive countryside that lies upstream—a 40-mile corridor formed by millions of years of erosion and gradual uplift and now protected as the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. In summers past, this forested valley—encompassing more than 70,000 acres—hummed with vacationers who flocked to fashionable resorts to savor cool mountain air and blissful views. Most of the resorts are gone, but this relatively unspoiled landscape can still be enjoyed by anyone with a craving for a preserve embodying scenery and serenity.
1. Kittatinny Point Visitor Center
Just off I-80 at the exit immediately to the east of the Delaware River Bridge, the drive sets out from the Kittatinny Point visitor center. In addition to its stunning views of the Kittatinny Ridge—a long, flat-topped range so straight that it would be the envy of any carpenter—the visitor center offers a good introduction to the Water Gap area. It also provides the only access to Old Mine Road, along the route of an 18th-century wagon trail. Although the historic path is now paved, the going is still slow on the narrow, winding roadway. (Nearby, a 3.7-mile trek along Dunnfield Creek meanders to secluded Sunfish Pond, one of many glacial lakes that dot the uplands.)
From the visitor center Old Mine Road heads north, paralleling the Delaware River through Worthington State Forest. The woods are dense with hardwoods and pines, but occasional openings afford wonderful glimpses of the wide, lazy river and the foothills beyond. The 5,800-acre forest, traversed by the famed Appalachian Trail, is popular with hikers and campers, not to mention black bears, which are fairly common in these parts. Three miles to the north, the Depew Recreation Site offers picnickers a chance to dine along the river’s edge.
2. Millbrook Village
The first whites to settle the Delaware River valley in the early 1700s were Dutch farmers from New Amsterdam (now New York). The Van Campens, descendants of one of the families, sold their land so that a mill could be built beside a stream that came to be known as Van Campen’s Mill Brook. This mill spawned Millbrook Village, a living museum and the first “town” inside the Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area. An adjoining glen makes a fine picnic spot, and while the brook isn’t stocked, it boasts a healthy population of wild trout, which thrive in its cool waters and seem to exist solely to tempt anglers drawn to its waters.
Once a thriving crossroads, Millbrook, like so many remote hamlets, was practically deserted by 1900. Today its 23 restored buildings offer visitors a glimpse of an all-but-vanished world. Travelers who arrive on the first weekend in October may think they’ve wandered into a time warp, as local volunteers dress up in period attire to celebrate Millbrook Days, a re-creation of daily life in a rural 19th-century town.
At the intersection of Old Mine Road and Flatbrook Creek, turn onto Rte. 615 and head north into Walpack Valley. One of the loveliest stretches of the drive, the exquisite scenery here is further enhanced by a gurgling stream, a valley lush with meadows and fertile farmland, and superb views of the nearby Kittatinny Ridge.
3. Walpack Center
As the most densely populated state in the country, New Jersey is perhaps the least likely location for a ghost town. But Walpack Center is just such a place. A few folks do live here, but not many; most left in the 1960s, when the federal government briefly planned to dam a section of the river here to form a reservoir. Though local opposition derailed the scheme, Walpack Center never bounced back. It remains a mere shadow of its former self—a haunting place in hauntingly beautiful surroundings.
Walpack Center also provides access to Buttermilk Falls, the first of three cascades along the drive. To see them, follow Main Street past the old post office for about half a mile; at the cemetery take Mountain Road south for about two miles and listen for the sound of tumbling water. A short trail leads to the top of the falls, among the highest in New Jersey.
4. Peters Valley
In times gone by, the crafts practiced in this remote farming village were simple and basic. Folks made cloth because they needed something to wear; they worked with wood because they needed furniture; and when they painted, it was to decorate walls, not canvases.
Today, however, Peters Valley is synonymous with the Peters Valley Craft Center, where the handiworks on display range from basketry to photography. Classes are held throughout the summer, and tours of the artists’ studios, all housed in restored 19th-century buildings, are available. The Peters Valley Craft Fair, held during the last full weekend in July, draws artists and exhibitors from all over the country.
5. Dingmans Ferry
Just how narrow is Dingmans Bridge? As you cross the Delaware River into Pennsylvania, you may hold your breath as you face oncoming traffic along this rattling wood-decked span. But not to worry: travelers have been squeaking by safely for nearly 100 years. Once across, reward yourself with a float trip on the river; canoe rentals are available just past the bridge, and you’ll find the Dingmans Ferry boat ramp, the site of a Colonial-era ferry crossing, located across the road.
The Dingmans Ferry area is also blessed with a pair of magnificent waterfalls, both accessible along the same trail. From the Dingmans Falls visitor center, just south of the bridge on Rte. 209, a 10-minute hike through a hemlock forest passes Silver Thread Falls, then Dingmans Falls, where Dingmans Creek bounces down five rock steps before shooting to a pool 130 feet below. In the closed quarters of the ravine, the spray from the falls keeps the air cool even on the hottest of days.
6. High Point State Park
Back on the New Jersey side, the drive follows Old Mine Road north to Montague, then continues east on Rte. 521 and, briefly, south on Rte. 6, where it scrapes along the New York border before turning southwest on Rte. 23. From there the road begins its climb to High Point State Park and New Jersey’s crowning summit, at 1,803 feet, atop the Kittatinny Ridge. A tall obelisk stands at ridgetop, where spectacular views unfold in all directions, including—on the clearest of nights—the distant, twinkling lights of the metropolis of New York City.
7. Stokes State Forest
Straddling some of the region’s highest peaks, this 15,700-acre preserve is crisscrossed with 45 miles of trails. Sunrise Mountain, its name notwithstanding, offers stirring views at any time of day. Farther south on Rte. 521 lies another fine recreation area, 1,470-acre Swartswood State Park. Camping, fishing, and boating are all popular activities here, but some say the bird-watching to be had in these parts is second to none, both in number of species and the quality of the experience.
Length: About 85 miles, plus side trips.
When to go: Popular year-round.
What to know: Traffic can be heavy on weekends and holidays.
Do not miss: Water Gap Trolley, Delaware Water Gap, PA.
Nearby attractions: Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, Eckville, PA; Zane Grey Museum, Lackawaxen, PA.
Further information: Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Bushkill, PA 18324; tel. 570-588-2452, www.nps.gov/dewa.