Wonders of the Delaware Water Gap

Once called the 8th Wonder of the World, the Delaware Water Gap was the premiere vacation destination of millions at the turn of the century. Nestled upon its craggy ridges were grand hotels like the Kittatinny House and the Water Gap House, welcoming visitors in search of a refreshing summer retreat from stifling urban areas. Today the hotels are long gone, and the water gap is now a National Recreational Area, drawing visitors interested in more natural pursuits.

Starting with the natural formation of the gap itself to the modern additions of today, the Delaware Water Gap combines astonishing natural beauty with man-made marvels that make it possible for people to explore, utilize and enjoy this one-of-a-kind scenic wonder. 

Over 500 million years ago the Delaware River began carving its path through the gap. Starting in the Catskill Mountains of New York, the river stretches 331 miles to the Atlantic Ocean. Over time the effects of wind, snow, rain and ice shaped the valley, culminating in the retreat of the Wisconsin Glacier which slowly scraped and pulverized everything in its path. By 13,000 B.C. the Delaware Water Gap was molded into the distinctive shape we see today. Mount Minsi on the Pennsylvania side boasts a 1,461 foot summit, while Mount Tammany on the New Jersey side tops out at 1,527 feet. In between the free flowing Delaware River twists and turns with unbridled beauty.

The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area was formed in 1965, preserving these natural wonders for future generations. With over 70,000 acres and 150 trails to explore, the DWGNRA welcomes adventurers of all skill levels. From hiking and biking to canoeing, fishing, swimming, boating and more, the DWGNRA has something for everyone.

The Point of the Gap Overlook is a not-to-be-missed vantage point on Route 611 on the Pennsylvania side. More of an observation point than an overlook, it offers unfettered views of towering Mount Tammany on the New Jersey side, as well as the river and the interstate running through it. Look closely and you can still see the profile of the Indian head that nature carved into the side of Mt. Tammany. Not as pronounced as it used to be, this nod to the gap’s Native American roots continues to evolve due to the forces of nature.

A short drive south of Point of the Gap is Arrow Island Overlook. Here tourists once stopped to enjoy Mt. Minsi Park and roadside vendors. It is also just below the ridge where the remains of once-towering Mt. Minsi House perched proudly on the cliffs of Mt. Minsi. You can still hike up and see the slate foundation of the casino and other structures, even as nature reclaims the ridge as its own. A half mile south is the entrance to Cold Air Cave, once advertising 38-degree relief in the days before air conditioning. The cave itself is now closed to human activity to protect endangered bat populations. 

The gap holds yet another man-made wonder that attracts millions of adventurers each year: The Appalachian Trail. Completed in 1937, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail winds along the Appalachian Mountain chain from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mt. Katadhin, Maine. Traversing 14 states, the AT consists of 2,193 miles of trail, 28 miles of which pass through the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Crossing the Delaware River at the Interstate 80 bridge, the trail extends through both the Pennsylvania and New Jersey sides of the gap. Travelling on the AT even just a short distance gives you the distinction of experiencing the world’s largest hiking-only footpath. Along the way you’ll enjoy majestic views, craggy climbs and wildlife sightings at every turn. 

If you prefer to mix your sightseeing with architectural interests, the Delaware River Viaduct is a must-see. Completed in 1910, it was a key component of the Lackawanna Rail Line Cut-off, allowing for express service through the gap by avoiding local stops at Columbia, NJ and Portland, PA. At 1,452 feet long and 65 feet off the water, the Viaduct was the largest reinforced concrete structure in the world at time of completion. Abandoned in 1983, the viaduct may find new life in Amtrak’s proposed passenger rail service between Scranton, PA and New York City. In the meantime it still stands strong as a testament to man’s ingenuity and determination. To view the Viaduct for yourself, take PA Rt. 611 south from Delaware Water Gap and turn onto Slateford Road in the hamlet of Slateford. 

The Portland-Columbia Pedestrian Bridge stretches across the Delaware from Portland, PA to Columbia, NJ. Originally a vehicle bridge dating from 1869, it was once made of wood and was covered with a slate roof. At that time it was the longest covered bridge in the United States. The flood of 1955 washed out the bridge, which had become pedestrian-only just a few years before. Today’s footbridge was constructed on the old pilings and has been made ADA compliant in recent years. The Portland-Columbia Pedestrian Bridge offers breath-taking views of the Delaware Aqueduct and Delaware Water Gap beyond.