A Bumpy Drive Through History Along Old Mine Road

Speed limits are snail-like on Old Mine Road, but the autumn views are worth the crawl.

Old Mine Road is one of the most primitive paved stretches of New Jersey. Speed limits are slow, all the better to enjoy the scenery.
Old Mine Road is one of the most primitive paved stretches of New Jersey. Speed limits are slow, all the better to enjoy the scenery.
Photo by Laura Baer

In a hurry? This day trip is not for you. But if you are in the mood for a slow and scenic fall drive, Old Mine Road will fill the bill. The road—said to be the oldest in America—follows the eastern shore of the Delaware River, from the Delaware Water Gap to points north.

We reach Old Mine Road via Route 80 West. Shortly after the massive rock cliffs of the Water Gap pop into view, we take the last exit in New Jersey and turn right onto River Road, following the signs to Worthington State Forest and Old Mine Road.

The scenic drive starts at the traffic signal. A sign commands, “Wait for green”—and they mean it. For its first mile, the road is a single lane. The light allows southbound traffic to clear the lane before northbound traffic enters.

Once we get moving, it’s plain to see why. The rock outcropping to the right and the steep drop-off to the river on our left (behind a short retaining wall) dictate that traffic can only move in one direction at a time. The speed limit is just 15 miles per hour.

After that first stretch, the blacktop widens to allow two-way traffic, but the speed limit remains 15—and that’s okay, because we are here to enjoy the scenery. What’s more, the road is badly pocked and patched, which reminds drivers to ease off the gas. Drivers also have to be mindful of the bicyclists and hikers that share Old Mine Road.

Signposts remind Old Mine Road visitors that they are on protected parkland.

Signposts remind Old Mine Road visitors that they are on protected parkland. Photo by Laura Baer

The road swoops gently up and down. Each new crest provides a clear view of the river through the thinned-out foliage. The river, which rushes by in spring, is placid in the fall, barely seeming to budge.

Dutch miners constructed Old Mine Road in the 17th century to transport copper ore from the area to markets further north. It remains remarkably isolated from development. However, there are turnoffs to pause and take in the view or access the many trailheads. At mile 4, we pull into Douglas Parking Lot—named for the late Supreme Court justice and environmentalist William O. Douglas. We stroll down to the river’s edge—undaunted by the sign warning of timber rattlesnakes and northern copperheads.

At mile 6, we enter the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Soon after comes the turnoff for Turtle Beach—closed the day we passed through—followed by the Copper Mine parking area, a particularly picturesque spot right on the river’s edge.

At mile 11, we reach Millbrook Village, a recreated 19th-century hamlet with period buildings. The grounds are open this time of year, but the buildings are closed after Labor Day except for special events, including this year’s Octivities celebration 2-5 pm and 6:30-8:30 pm on October 20.

At Millbrook Village, we take the left-hand fork and follow Old Mine Road up a steep hill. Aside to cyclists: For the first 11 miles, Old Mine Road is suitable for intermediate riders able to handle mild grades. But the steep section after Millbrook Village will turn back all but the strongest riders.

The restored Millbrook Village is a rare settlement along the way.

The restored Millbrook Village is a rare settlement along the way. Photo by Laura Baer

After descending the hill (the road here is particularly rough), we reach a tee junction. Here we abandon Old Mine Road and turn right onto the more scenic Route 615 (Walpack Flatbrook Road), following the sign toward the Walpack Inn. Flatbrook Creek gurgles past on the right; farther east, the Kittatinny Ridge is ablaze with fall colors.

On 615, we pass a turnoff for Buttermilk Falls, a great destination for a short hike. Finally, about an hour into the drive, we reach the Walpack Inn. Outside, a cheeky sign reads: “We feed the deer and people too.” Inside, massive, antlered heads peer down from the walls while you dine. The Inn, which dates to 1949, is open year-round for dinner on Friday (5-10 pm), Saturday (4-10 pm) and Sunday (1-8 pm).

Our next stop is Peters Valley School of Craft, a rustic arts community. Be sure to stop at the Peters Valley Gallery. You won’t find any bargains here, but all the goods are handcrafted by local and national artists.

The Walpack Inn, on Route 615, is inviting to all, but hours are limited.

The Walpack Inn, on Route 615, is inviting to all, but hours are limited. Photo by Laura Baer

Back in the car, we detour onto Kuhn Road until we reach another tee. A left turn puts us back on Old Mine Road headed south. Here, the history of the old road comes alive. Three miles down this unpaved section of Old Mine Road is the Van Campen Inn, a three-story stone house from Colonial times. It is said that John Adams stayed here as he traveled from his home in Massachusetts to attend the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.

We backtrack to Peters Valley, then head north for three miles on Route 560 East to Layton, a historic village where a faded billboard on the side of the circa-1830 Layton Country Store Café implores passersby: “Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco: Treat yourself to the best.” Alas, last we checked, the country store was closed.

We continue on 560 East as far as Route 206 South. Minus the detour to the Van Campen Inn, we’ve meandered about 30 miles. It’s time to loop back toward Route 80—but the fun is not over. Route 206 has diversions of its own, including farm stands brimming with pumpkins and seasonal produce. In Lafayette, we take time for a stop at the Old Mill, one of New Jersey’s premier antique centers, as well as the Millside Café for some fresh-made sweet treats before continuing south to Route 15 and back to Route 80.

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