Avoid the crowds in the Delaware Water Gap NRA and Worthington State Forest
On Memorial Day 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic pushed more people into the outdoors, the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area was such a popular option that it became impossible to leave Interstate 80 on the first exit of New Jersey.
“If you get off at EXIT 1 in the NJ, THERE IS NONE WHERE YOU CAN GO. You will be redirected to the Interstate, ”the recreation area’s Facebook page warned over a traffic video.
While summer vacation during a pandemic can be about as busy as it gets, it’s not uncommon to see parking lots full on other weekends during peak season.
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“Parking for the trails leading up to Mt. Tammany, Mt. So Raymondskill Falls, Dingmans Falls, Hackers Falls, and Buttermilk Falls are usually full at 9:00 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Avoid crowded trailheads by walking early, on weekdays, or choosing a less popular trail, ”advises the DWGNRA website.
What if you can’t get away from it all during the week and try to make it a whole day?
On a recent weekend, I planned hikes on several of these “less popular” options to see how sparse the crowds would be. (My criteria for “less popular”: none of the six trails the website warned about, and none of the trails starting near them either, in case they are Plan B for hikers who arrive too late in the hottest places.)
Of the remaining trails, I ended up hiking some or all of six over the weekend of July 10-11 – and saw less than two dozen other people in total.
The story continues after the gallery.
There’s a reason some places fill up faster, of course. People want to see waterfalls or climb a mountain to enjoy the most breathtaking views.
But if you want to get into nature without seeing too many people, you can. Explore these secluded spots in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and Worthington State Forest.
The park’s website offers the “highlights” of all the trails: forest, waterfalls, lake, etc. Only one trail listed ‘fossil’ so sure enough I wanted to see what it was about.
This is one of the many trails at the Pocono Environmental Education Center, where I started my Saturday.
When I arrived a little after 8am, there were only two other cars in the parking lot, and one of them belonged to the colleague who accompanied me on several of my hikes.
We didn’t see anyone on the trail, although there were plenty of Eastern Newts in their bright orange juvenile stage, as well as a deer watching us the entire time we were in sight.
And, as promised, there were fossils. A bunch of them were on display above a sign explaining the ancient history of the area. You can also search for other evidence of long-extinct marine life in a siltstone outcrop – just don’t take it with you.
Panoramic gorges trail
Then there was another PEEC trail, Scenic Gorge. It’s longer than Fossil, but comparable in difficulty – both have their climbs, but nothing that lasts too long.
PEEC hikes have trail guides with information about trees, streams, and other features matched with number markers. If you are looking to learn something new on your hike or if you are bringing curious children, PEEC is the place to be.
We encountered three people (and a dog) along this trail. Back in the parking lot at the back, there were now about ten cars. But spread over five longer trails, a 0.2 mile “everyone’s trail” and a sensory awareness trail, it’s far from crowded.
Toms Creek Trail
This fairly flat trail was the easiest hike of the weekend. The path follows Toms Creek, usually on sight and always within earshot. If you want the sound of running water without the crowds that accompany popular waterfalls, this hike might be for you.
The traffic on this trail illustrates the importance of arriving earlier in the day: as we walked away from the parking lot, we didn’t see anyone. Coming back the same way there were only two people – until we got to roughly the trailhead where a dozen people were starting a hike.
It was around 11 a.m. now, and by that time several spots had already filled up, according to the DWGNRA Facebook post I saw later. Parking had reached its maximum capacity at Blue Mountain Lake, Cliff Park, Raymondskill Falls and Eshback Access. By early afternoon, Kittatinny Point, Dingmans Falls and Buttermilk Falls would also reach their parking limit.
Arrow Island Trail
After a lunch break, I finished Saturday with the Arrow Island Trail at the south end of the park.
According to the recreation area, “Along the trail you can still see the foundations of a casino and a resort. The rows of stone fences are remnants of the farmland that once stood here.
Didn’t see anything that looked like an old part of a casino or resort – although I wasn’t sure where to look, and I suspect it’s easier when the leaves aren’t on the trees – but I saw a stone wall.
Most importantly, I didn’t see anyone else on the trail, although there was one in the parking lot at the end of National Park Drive. (I left and came back to the trailhead on Pennsylvania Route 611.)
Rockcores Trail and Douglas Trail
Technically, I spent Sunday on the Worthington State Forest trails, but the parks are friendly to each other and DWGNRA also lists the Worthington trails on their website.
Additionally, Rockcores has artifacts related to the creation of DWGNRA. The trail is named after samples taken by engineers when the Tocks Island Dam project was under consideration decades ago.
At the end of the trail, hikers can still see some of these pits, which were one of the clues that told local activist Nancy Shukaitis the project was a bad idea. The soil conditions were not good, and a dam on the Delaware River at Tocks Island would not have prevented the fatal flooding along Brodhead Creek in 1955 anyway.
The project was eventually abandoned and the lands acquired by the federal government became the recreation area.
“My work is never done”: Nancy Shukaitis’ enduring legacy and her fight against the Tocks Island Dam
Rockcores, which begins along Old Mine Road across from the State Forest headquarters, was certainly the toughest part of the weekend. Between that and the little section of Douglas I added, my phone interpreted the hike as 79 flights of stairs. The trail was also narrow at times, with ferns sprawling over it, but it was well marked and I wasn’t worried about losing it.
I haven’t seen anyone else on Rockcores or Douglas. Granted, the weather on Saturday had been better – it rained slightly towards the end of Sunday’s hike – but these trails still seem like a solid bet for quiet spots on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River.
Check out nps.gov/dewa/planyourvisit/trails.htm for more information on all of the recreation area and state forest trails, and check out the DWGNRA Facebook page for capacity updates, especially on weekends. -end.
Kathryne Rubright is a journalist who covers the environment, Northeastern Pennsylvania politics, and local news. She is based at the Pocono Record. Contact her at [email protected]