Delaware River Kayaking Trip
Last August, my friend Carrie and I decided to take a multi-day kayaking trip down the Delaware River. We had kayaked a couple of times on Lake Hopatcong over the past two years and thought that this would be a lot of fun. I had been on several late summer lazy rafting trips on the Delaware years ago and I was dying to get my kayak out on it. This would also be my first time kayak camping, so I was pretty stoked about the trip.
My first stop was to the local county library. I’ve had pretty good success in the past with getting hiking guides there and I wasn’t disappointed this time either. They had A Paddler’s Guide to the Delaware River: Kayaking, Canoeing, Rafting, Tubing (Rivergate Books) and it was the perfect resource for planning this trip. I knew that I wanted to spend 3 days out on the river and end at the Kittatinny Access area just below the I-80 bridge on the New Jersey side of the Delaware Water Gap. I had originally wanted to put in at Milford and keep the entire trip in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, but Pennsylvania requires you to either register the kayak or get a launch permit when launching from one of their access areas, which I find to be a little ridiculous for a kayak. So rather than spend the $10 (each) for the launch permits I chose to add a few miles to the trip and start in Port Jervis, New York. Since we had 3 days to do the trip, I didn’t think that this would be a big deal.
But, as usually happens when I make plans with Carrie (I know it’s not your fault), plans end up getting changed at the last minute. She wasn’t going to be able to stay out the 2nd night as she had to pick up her son from his dad’s house earlier than planned. I didn’t want to cut out any of the trip as there were other logistics involved if we changed entry points, including having to get our kayaks registered if we launched from the Pennsylvania side, which would have been a total hassle at this point. So we ended up sticking with the same planned route of 45 miles, but compressing it into 2 long days on the river. I figured at about a 3 mile per hour pace that this shouldn’t be any problem to do. Heck, I can hike 3 miles an hour. Kayaking down a river at this pace should be cake, right?
Well, if you’ve ever been on the Delaware River at the height of summer you know that didn’t work out as planned. The river slows to a crawl in most places and there were times when we needed to get out and drag our overloaded kayaks off of the rocks and out of the shallows. But all in all we made a decent pace, not quite what I had hoped, but we were moving along pretty well and should have been able to make it to the first group of camp sites by mid afternoon. The original plan had us camping out on the first night near Milford, about 11 miles into the trip, but this wasn’t really going to work as we needed to better split up the 45 miles. So I decided to push on past the first group of empty campsites and see what we could find closer to Dingman’s Ferry, approximately 8 miles further down the river.
I didn’t think that this would be a problem as there are a bunch of campsites not far after the Dingman’s Bridge and we had hardly seen anyone out on the river all day up to this point, except for a father and son who had started at the same place we did and were going to be out for 7 days, taking the river all the way down to New Hope. And they were well behind us. So we pushed on and reached the Dingman’s Bridge around 5pm, which still would give us plenty of time to find a site and setup camp before it got dark around 8:30. Or so I thought…
It turns out that the reason we didn’t see anyone else on the river is because they all put in at either Milford or Dingman’s with the canoe rental companies and had a nice 10-15 mile or more head start on us. And there were a lot of them. And they had already claimed the first group of campsites that we were hoping to find a spot in. It was a little discouraging as we were hungry and tired after paddling for over 20 miles already today. But there were some 60+ sites showing on the map over the next few miles so we kept paddling on, hoping to find one that wasn’t in use already.
The sites came and went. So did the miles. And every one we passed was full. We started to get a little discouraged, and while taking a quick break for a snack, talked about the possibility of having to kayak all the way back to the car that night. In the dark. It was now getting really late and we still had no luck. The sun had set and it was starting to get dark. I figured we had maybe another 20-30 minutes to find something and there was another group of campsites coming up over the next mile or so. This was the last group of sites before there wouldn’t be any more for a few miles, at which point it would be near impossible to see them from the river and we’d have to just continue on in the dark.
Like all of the previous sites before them, these too were occupied. That last glimmer of hope that we had of getting a hot meal and some much needed sleep looked like it was about to be extinguished. We had passed the last of the sites on the map and darkness was setting in. Just as I was about to give up looking for something I saw what looked to be a bit of a trail leading up a short but steep slope into the woods. This was definitely not one of the official numbered campsites, as we had passed all of those in this section of the river. If we stopped to check it out and it turned out to be nothing we’d lose any chance at finding something else a little further downriver. I called out to Carrie to pull over and wait while I went to investigate it. The slope absolutely sucked, but there was enough of a clearing up top that someone had previously used as a stealth campsite. It wasn’t perfect, but it would suit us just fine, considering the alternatives.
We got out our headlamps and started hauling gear up the slippery slope to the site. While Carrie gathered some firewood I started working on prepping dinner and setting up the tent. This was my first time using my brand new Copper Spur UL 3 Tent from Big Agnes and I hadn’t set it up before. I usually make a point of testing a tent out before having to figure it out in the field, but I hadn’t had time to with this one. Fortunately, setting this tent up is a breeze, even in the dark. It only took a few minutes to figure it out and get it set up. My dinner wasn’t even finished rehydrating by the time I was done setting up the tent and laying out all of the sleeping gear. We finished eating and cleaned up a bit and headed straight to bed as we were exhausted. We had covered approximately 30 miles, with the last 10 or so having to paddle pretty hard in an effort to find camp before it got dark.
The next morning we slept in a bit and took our time eating breakfast and breaking down camp. We only had 15 miles to cover and we had until 3:30 to do so. We got back on the river by 9:30 and tried to enjoy what was left of our trip. When we passed the next campsites a couple of miles downriver they were occupied as well. We really lucked out with finding the spot that we did. I’m sure that kayaking another 15 miles down the Delaware River in the dark would have made for an interesting story, but we certainly enjoyed the leisurely paddle we would have this day.
It was an absolutely picture perfect summer’s day to be on the river. And while this section of the river was often crowded with other kayaks, canoes, and rafts, we were able to keep enough distance between us to enjoy some of the amazingly beautiful scenery that the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area has to offer. We even passed through one section where the sunlight was reflecting of off the grass beneath the water making it almost glow. It truly was breathtaking to see.
We had a little time to goof off today and I certainly took advantage of it. I had been practicing my yoga crow pose in all kinds of places this summer so why not try it on the kayak too. It took a couple of attempts, and one faceplant when my foot got tangled in the life jacket on the way down, but I got it! Later, as we neared the I-80 bridge across the Delaware Water Gap, we stopped to take a few turns on the rope swing with a group of college-aged kids. It was a ton of fun, and definitely made me feel young again to do. I really am just a big kid at heart, and it’s simple moments like these that will always remind me of that.
We soon passed under the bridge and got a nice view of Mt. Minsi and Mt. Tammany overlooking the Water Gap. As we made our way to shore at the Kittatinny Access area I couldn’t help but feel a little sad that our trip was coming to an end. We kayaked 45 miles in two days, had amazing views, saw my first Bald Eagle in the wild, and had a ton of fun just hanging out on the water. It was definitely an adventure, and one that I am eager to repeat again this year. Until next time. Namaste!
Here’s some more pictures from my kayaking adventure along the Delaware River