Feb. 13, 2024

Iconic Locations: Delaware Water Gap

The Delaware Water Gap is one of the most breathtaking spots along the entire Appalachian Trail and has been a favorite subject of landscape painters since at least the middle of the 19th century. It's an important marker for northbound hikers, but...

The Delaware Water Gap is one of the most breathtaking spots along the entire Appalachian Trail and has been a favorite subject of landscape painters since at least the middle of the 19th century. It's an important marker for northbound hikers, but it's also a torturous landscape that many hikers call "Rocksylvania." 


MILLS KELLY: Welcome to The Green Tunnel, a podcast on the history of the Appalachian Trail. My name is Mills Kelly and I’m your host. 

KELLY: The Delaware Water Gap is one of the most breathtaking spots along the entire Appalachian Trail and has been a favorite subject of landscape painters since at least the middle of the 19th century.

KELLY: Artists loved it for that “pushed apart” view with steep slopes on either side of the water gap framing your view of the river. On the north shore of the river, Mount Tammany rises up just a little more than 1,500 feet above sea level and across the river in Pennsylvania, Mount Minsi tops out just above 1,400 feet.

MELANIE SHUCK: One hiker actually gave me a really great description of it this year and was asking me questions about it. He said, it looks as if someone took their hands and pushed apart the mountains where the Delaware River is.

KELLY: You just heard Melanie Shuck, a volunteer with the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, describing the view of the Delaware Water Gap from the Route 80 Bridge over the Delaware River.

KELLY: Those mountains were created by several of the sorts of geologic collisions we discussed in the first episode of this season. Over hundreds of millions of years, the Delaware River wore its way through the ridgeline to eventually create the water gap and during the last age, glaciers carved it even more, leaving the beautiful slopes we see today. 

KELLY: Here’s Zach Cole, also from the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference.

ZACH COLE:  It's just truly remarkable. A former colleague of mine used to comment that you can see 500 billion years of geological history just on display right there as he drove through. And that's really incredible. There aren't too many places in the highlands of the Appalachian Mountains where you get this visceral evidence display of geology right there for you to enjoy and learn from.

KELLY: In addition to its beautiful views, for northbound hikers on the AT, the water gap is an important boundary point. If you’ve heard anything about the stretch of the AT in Northeast Pennsylvania, you have heard stories about the rocks. Those rocks are so ubiquitous and so torturous that many hikers call it Rocksylvania. They tear up your shoes. They twist your ankles. They scratch your shins. They break your trekking poles. But when hikers cross over the Route 80 bridge, they finally leave those rocks behind.

SHUCK: My one colleague, Hope, had an excellent story she heard from a thru hiker where this through hiker was the most, pleasant, polite person in the world. But when she was done with Pennsylvania she turned and just screamed at Pennsylvania. Like I'm done kind of thing. 

KELLY: Northeast Pennsylvania will do that to people.


KELLY: For all its beauty, getting across the river means crossing a bridge and in the case of the Delaware Water Gap that means the Interstate 80 bridge across the Delaware River. Hikers have a dedicated walkway on the bridge, but they still have to share the span with cars and trucks. Here’s how New York-New Jersey Trail Conference volunteer Walt Daniels describes the experience of hiking with those trucks.

WALT DANIELS: I think that impressed me most was how much the bridge moves when the heavy trucks go by. It’s going up and down. Like it feels like a foot or so. 

KELLY: If you are inclined to stop in the middle of the bridge and don’t mind being on a large wobbly structure, you can stand with one foot in Pennsylvania and one in New Jersey.

SHUCK: The state line is like in the middle of that bridge, and it's marked on the cement of that bridge. So where the state line is for the AT thru hikers. And you can see if you're going northbound it says how many miles to Maine if you're going southbound, you see how many miles to Georgia literally splits it there.

KELLY: Given the wobbly nature of the bridge and the noise from the trucks, not many hikers loiter there.


KELLY: Fortunately, if you’re hiking northbound on the trail, as soon as you leave the noise of the bridge behind, the trail takes you up into the Kittatinny Mountains of New Jersey and Worthington State Forest and eventually to Sunfish Pond, a small glacial lake that is one of the most beautiful spots along the entire AT in the Garden State.

KELLY: But as beautiful as this stretch of the trail can be, we do need to mention something else. Bears.

KELLY: Bears are now ubiquitous along the entire Appalachian Trail, but there are bears and then there are New Jersey bears. I’m not sure why, but it seems to me that over the past decade or so more and more of the bear-human encounters I’ve heard about that have gone wrong involved New Jersey bears. So I asked our three guests from the local trail club if they had an opinion on New Jersey bears.

KELLY: None of them seemed to think that New Jersey bears were any worse or better than bears elsewhere along the AT, but they did all point to an important fact about the AT in New Jersey.

SHUCK: We have the most black bears per square mile.

COLE: As a trial club, we have to recognize the density of bears in our area. And make sure that when we are putting resources out for thru hikers and general recreationists in our area, that we're informing people and educating people on the risk.

KELLY: And that density of bears can lead to problems. For example, last year a hiker Melanie knows had a little bit of a problem with one of those New Jersey bears.

SHUCK: A bear took a bag of bagels out of someone's tent. To be fair, they were not in the bear box and the tent was open. My colleague then spent the entire night banging on pots to keep this bear away. 

KELLY: Fortunately for hikers, whether they are backpackers or day hikers, the New York-New Jersey trail conference has installed bear boxes at every shelter on the AT in New Jersey. As Zach likes to remind hikers he meets on the trail…

COLE: Use the tools available to use common sense. And don't take anything for granted, you know, protect and hide your food.

KELLY: Even during the day. It’s just not the case that bears only come foraging around AT shelters at night. If they smell food, they’ll come and visit regardless of the time of day. And they can be very insistent once they smell something yummy. 

KELLY: And despite what our guests had to say about New Jersey bears, it’s still my impression that bears you might meet in New Jersey can be just a bit more insistent than others along the trail. Assuming I’m right, put everything that might smell interesting into the bear box as soon as you arrive at a shelter, and during the day, make sure you carry your food in a proper canister. Don’t wait to find out just how insistent a local bear might be.


KELLY: The Green Tunnel is a production of R2 Studios at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. Today’s episode was produced by me. Jeanette Patrick and Jim Ambuske are the executive producers. 

KELLY: We want to offer a special thanks to Melanie Shuck, Walt Daniels, and Zach Cole from the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference for sharing their stories about the Delaware Water Gap and New Jersey bears with us. 

KELLY: Original music for our show is performed by Scott Miller of Swope, Virginia, and Andrew Small and Ashley Watkins of Floyd, Virginia. 

KELLY: We’re able to bring you this show through the generosity of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and many individual donors like you. To help us continue to produce the world’s best podcast on the Appalachian Trail, please visit our website at R2Studios.org and click on the Support Us link to make a donation of any amount. We really appreciate it. 

KELLY: Thanks for listening and we’ll see you soon.

Walt Daniels

Walt Daniels volunteers with the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference. He has been a supervisor on a section of the Appalachian Trail, the ATC’s first webmaster and developed its website three times. At the same time, he spent time in the field designing and building trails. Outside of the Trail Conference, he has served on the Town of Yorktown’s Conservation Advisory Committee, the Open Space Advisory Committee, and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s Board of Managers.

Melanie Shuck

Melanie Shuck volunteers with the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference.