Totaling some 67,000 acres of forest on both banks of the Delaware River, the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area stretches for 35 miles south of the I-84 freeway along two-lane US-209. Established beginning in 1960, the park is still very much under development, though numerous hiking trails lead through hardwood forests to seasonal waterfalls, and the river itself offers abundant canoeing, swimming, and fishing. Though far from pristine, the natural beauty is surprisingly undisturbed considering the park lies only 50 miles northwest of New York City.
A few remnants of the area’s historic agricultural villages have been preserved under the aegis of the park service, but the main attraction is the oddly named Delaware Water Gap itself, a deep cleft carved by the river into the solid rock of the Kittatinny Mountains. Artists, sightseers, and rock-climbers have admired this unique feat of geology for centuries, but unfortunately the natural passageway is crisscrossed by all manner of road and railroad, including the six-lane I-80 freeway, which runs right through it.
A stretch of the Appalachian Trail cuts along a 1,200-foot-high ridge at the southeast corner of the park, crossing the Delaware River on an old bridge at the town of Delaware Water Gap. Get a feel for the trail at the full-service, Appalachian Mountain Club-run Mohican Outdoor Center (908/362-5670), which has cabins and a campground on a pretty site outside Blairstown, New Jersey.
The tiny tourist town of Delaware Water Gap, south of I-80 at the far southern end of the park, provides the best views of the gap. A visitors center sits along the river, just off I-80 at the first/last New Jersey exit, and offers exhibits on the geology and history of the region.