Fun Abounds: The Delaware River

The powerful Delaware River is a recreational paradise, boasting such activities as boating, tubing, hiking and more.

In the Flow: Kayakers cruise down the Delaware River.
Photo by Robert Yaskovic/Agency New Jersey

It’s easy to dismiss the Delaware River as the border between New Jersey and Pennsylvania. But how dull is that? The Delaware—named for English nobleman Thomas West, the 3rd Baron De La Warr—is a recreational paradise, abounding with diversions for boaters, floaters, anglers, hikers and those who just want to gaze at its inviting waters.

From its headwaters in the Catskill Mountains of New York, the Delaware flows 388 miles into Delaware Bay. Along the way, it swirls through the iconic Delaware Water Gap and passes historic landmarks, including the site of George Washington’s famous crossing and the post-Civil War fortifications of Fort Mott in Salem County.

For those looking to put a toe, paddle or fishing rod into the Delaware’s waters, there’s no better place than the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, the largest recreation area in the Eastern United States. The park includes nearly 70,000 acres of campgrounds, hiking trails and sections for boating activities. There are three lifeguarded swimming beaches within the recreation area: Turtle Beach on the New Jersey side, and Milford and Smithfield beaches across the water in Pennsylvania. (Entry fee per vehicle in season is $7 on weekdays and $10 on weekends and holidays.)

For canoers, there are four entry points within the recreation area on the Jersey side, but most of the canoe and kayak action starts on the Pennsylvania side, where several private rental operations (such as Kittatinny Canoes, 378 Route 6 and 209, Milford, Pennsylvania; 570-296-5890) provide liveries that shuttle paddlers to and from their put-in and take-out locations.

On the Jersey side, the recreation area rises sharply from the water’s edge into Worthington State Forest, with its rugged hiking trails and unparalleled views of the river. If you’re planning to catch the sunset from the Gap as well as some shut-eye, a camp site at Worthington can be reserved for $20 a night.

Recreational opportunities also abound further south, where the Delaware courses past Hunterdon and Mercer counties. Here, tubing is the preferred mode of travel. Rentals and livery service are available from Delaware River Tubing Inc. (2998 Daniel Bray Highway, Frenchtown). The company stocks 100 rafts and some 2,000 tubes, including single, double and triple tubes, as well as new backrest tubes for a lazy-hazy ride.

Individual adult tube rides are $37 on weekdays and $47 on weekends and holidays. The price includes livery service, as well as a barbecue lunch (two hot dogs or a cheeseburger, a large beverage and a frozen candy bar or bag of chips) at Delaware River Tubing’s companion enterprise, the Famous River Hot Dog Man (1 River Road, Kingwood).

A Delaware River staple since 1987, the Famous Hot Dog River Man is a boat-like restaurant located in the river on Adventure Island. What humbly began as a cooler loaded with snacks and drinks now serves picnic food to munch mid-ride. Beyond the barbecue lunch, you can order grilled chicken sandwiches, veggie burgers and nachos. Thirty picnic tables are available for those ready to briefly abandon ship.

Despite the Delaware’s relative calmness, groups can easily get separated. Ask for Stay Together Straps to hook tubes together. Pack a waterproof bag with sunscreen, shades and a camera, and secure it to your tube or life jacket. Wear sneakers or water shoes to protect your feet. A stroll across the pedestrian bridge at Bull’s Island State Park Recreation Area (2185 Daniel Bray Highway, Stockton; 609-397-2949) is another way to appreciate the rush of the river. It’s a great place for a picnic, too.

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