Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Delaware Water Gap - A hikers delight!

It is that time of the year again, but a different location. Very different, almost half way across the globe from the one that I had visited last year. My last year has not been devoid of travelling footprints and it sure doesnt warrant such a long exile from writing a travelogue (my last one was on a visit to Warangal, AP, India). I had been to the Smoky Mountains(TN ,US) a few months ago, which is one of the most beautiful places I've hiked, but it is just too well known and too well documented for me to write something on it and make it useful for a potential traveller. But why bore you with my rationalization!

Late last month, we, a few enthusiastic (albeit bored) interns from the AT&T Research Labs decided to dust our running shoes and hike at a nearby place called Delaware Water Gap. The place was supposed to be one of the best locations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania for hiking and one of the most scenic as per the authorities' website. And beautiful it was indeed. But why this travelogue? One, most of my friends are not aware of this place and I want to bring it to their notice. Two, a hiker's experience is usually different from 'facts' provided in the websites and provides a different perspective. Three, Google Analytics tells me that a lot of reading is being done on my travelogues. And four, I've been upto a heap of coding over the long weekend and it is becoming impossible for me to think straight without a break.

The Water Gap is at a little over an hour's journey from Morristown, NJ (a little sense of loyalty to the place :D ) and about two hours from NYC I'd imagine. There are a host of hiking trails in here - for all nC2 gradient and distances. Being researchers by profession and opting to go with the time tested 'law of diminishing returns', we decided to hike the toughest way up and climb the easier way down and yet not repeat trails and view points.

The climb was through the 'Red Dot' trail, which has got a higher gradient and hence the shortest distance leading up to the Mt. Tammany. The trail is half gravel and half rocky and lined with huge, shady trees lined up all around you. I am sure this trail has one of the best views of the water gap between Mt. Tammany and Mt. Minsi (on the PA front).  For the more adventurous, there are a couple of quick detours that one can take on the way up the Red Dot trail for a nice view of the water gap. It takes about an hour and a half of walk at a relaxed pace to climb the entire trail and at the top is a nice view point giving a picturesque view of the water gap in all its curve and glory.

The 'Blue Blaze' meets the 'Red Dot' at this point and we walked down the blue blaze that has a lovely gradient and a pleasant walk which is what exactly one needed after the heavier climb upwards. There aren't too many view points on this trail, but you get to see a lot of dense trees and wilderness all around you. When accompanied by a light breeze and fall colors I'd imagine this trail to seem like a path through heaven. Incidentally enough, we actually saw wildlife in the form of a bear (whereas we saw none in the Smoky mountains though  that is more reputed for its bear population) near a small rivulet. The stream marks the end of the descent and that we have joined yet another trail (the green blaze this time).

On the mid-way between the Green Blaze and the Yellow Blaze (if I remember right) was supposed to be a Holly Spring and surprisingly I believe we missed sighting that spot, despite walking the correct trail. (Though a parallel stream of thought says that the spring could as well have been the stainless steel pipes running a few drops of water from and undisclosed source). Nonetheless, that was the only place that wasn't well marked out during our 3 hour descent down the hills.

From then on, we took the more famous and popular Appalachian trail that goes to the Dunsfield Parking lot (from where we embarked on the Red Dot) . Though we walked this trail only because we had to, it was a very pleasant and easy walk along the trail which ran alongside the stream and it was clear why this was one of the most popular trails in the region. The entire hike took us about 5 hours at an easy pace and I would probably make an educated guess of about 5 miles about the distance we would have covered. The water gap is supposed to have water sports like tubing and rafting, but going by the amount rapids the river had (if at all it had any) I'm sure it would not be one of the more adventurous to navigate. While the place is close enough and reachable for a day hike, I'm sure camping at this place would be major fun too. There are a number of camping sites that you can reserve in advance if you plan on an overnight trip to these hills.

  • About two hours drive from NY/NJ. Not sure if there are public transit available (though we did see a train station on the PA front of the river)
  • Best time for visit would be Spring/Fall - but we hiked it on a warm summer day and the weather was still enjoyable for the most part thanks to the dense trees around.
  • Lighting is scarce at this place and campers be prepared for providing your own lighting sources.
  • Carry plenty of water and electrolytes - there aren't any available nearby once you hit the trails.
  • It is preferable to pack your own food from the city though there are a few dining options near exits 4A,B,C.
  • Though the trails are well marked out, do remember to carry a rough sketch of the trails that you plan to hike.

Some pictures in random order and no specific context:

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