Kayaking the Delaware

Right before we embarked on the river.

With the impending official arrival of summer, I wanted to write a post about all the great kayaking and camping trips Pennsylvania has to offer.  I went to reference the post I “wrote” about my trip kayaking down the Delaware last year and found that the post, while started, had never came to fruition.  Looking back, it makes sense, as I went kayaking just two weekends before going to Ireland, so writing about it must have gotten lost in the shuffle of planning for and subsequently writing about that trip.

This trip was significant as it was my first time kayaking more than a few miles and also the first time I was really roughing it up camping as well.

I’ve been kayaking before.  I go pretty frequently at Marsh Creek and have taken boats on rivers before, but I don’t own a kayak and have never overnighted.  I was saving to purchase one this summer.  Lancaster is less then a fifteen minute ride from the Susquehanna River, but Iceland has decimated any saved funds.

I remember exactly where I was when my buddy Eric pitched the trip.  We’d just completed our not-so-sober-fun-day and were sitting in our friends’ living room in Manayunk pregaming, when he brought it up. Naturally, since I’d drank my weight in Keylight (don’t judge) at that point I was all gung-ho.

Fast forward a few days later and I’d all but forgotten about it, when Eric sends me a Facebook message  with plausible dates, an itinerary drawn up, and  what sort of gear I’d need to purchase.  I’d never undertaken an outdoor  adventure of this magnitude before and was somewhat hesitant of the bathroom situation and dietary restrictions, but I was mostly pumped for something new.  I told him that I was in and we got to planning.

Eric has two kayaks, which kept our costs to a minimum.  His is nice, with ample storage space, which is good, because the other kayak he had been storing at his parents, that I was going to use, is a sit on top variety, that can carry limited supplies.

If you don’t have your own kayak, there are plenty of places you can rent from, even overnight.  Try here, here, here or here.  Those are Delaware River links.  If you want to kayak the Susquehanna, try here.  Any other river? You’re on your own.

We (or Eric), chose to kayak through the Delaware Water Gap National Park.  Eric found a basic National Park Service map  which outlined where you could launch your boats, where to find campsites, and bathroom facilities (hint: laminate this and keep it close to your person).  Our route was 37 miles which we initially gave ourselves three days and two nights to complete.  We planned to leave by noon on Thursday, paddle seven miles to our first campground that night, be on the water all day Friday and finish up Saturday morning.  It seemed daunting, but feasible.

We ended up, probably just due to our extreme strength and athleticism, paddling double what we anticipated on Friday, so cut our trip down from 3 to 2 days.  We weren’t in a rush to get home or anything, but by mid-day Friday we’d already passed where we wanted to camp for the night.  It didn’t make sense to just sit around and wait for the next day when we still had the energy.  If it was somewhere different, maybe we would have hiked or enjoyed the scenery, but I’m somewhat desensitized to the whole outdoor beauty of NEPA at this point.

I mentioned it before, but one nice thing about kayaking and camping in this fashion is that it’s relatively cheap.  You don’t have to pay to get on the river, you bring all your own food, and can camp for free (although we did pay to camp one night).  Some of you may be thinking, no shit, camping is always cheap, but remember I regularly go to Kittatiny’s Barryville NY basecamp which is located within walking distance of a bar.  Bars always cost me money.

What did cost me initially was the gear I needed to purchase.  It’s all stuff that I can still use in the future and felt more like an investment than a straight up cost.  Eric recommended that I get a rashguard, paddle, lifejacket, and waterproof storage gear.  We were helped along by the fact that he already had a tent and water boiling stove from his time hiking the Appalachian Trail, so didn’t have to invest in either of these things.  It all depends on what you want your comfort level to be when out in the woods.

The rashguard functions much the same as a wetsuit, and can be worn underneath your lifejacket.  We ended up getting blessed with scorchingly hot weather, so I honestly just wore a bathing suit, kept the rashguard in my bag, and kept my lifejacket attached to my luggage (poor word choice, but I’m keeping it).  I know that’s not smart safety wise and all, but the portion of the Delaware we were rowing is mostly shallow and feature almost no rapids, plus I didn’t want to be the only pale one in Ireland, ya know?

What ended up being a lifesaver was the waterproof bag and container I purchased.  I used the bag to store a change of clothes (I really just brought a pair of gym shorts to sleep in, a sweatshirt, and hat) but the water proof container was where our phones, wallets, keys, and contacts, the stuff we actually couldn’t afford to lose or get wet went.  Eric also advised me to get a headlamp, as it was much easier to function around camp in the pitch black with your hands free.

We kept it pretty Spartan.  Eric had a special mat to sleep on.   I literally brought a tiny camping pillow and a blanket (it was way too hot for sleeping bags).   We brought some Gatorade and water bottles, clif bars, a cooler of beer (which was a luxury and only lasted a night) and some premade margarita concoction that didn’t require refrigeration for our second night (class, I’m aware).  If we go again this summer I’d like to invest is some sort of travel hammock to really get the outdoor experience.

Then, there was the food.  If you’re just going for a night, a cooler can suffice, you’ll just have to tailor the size of the cooler to the size of your boat (if you rent a raft or canoe, this won’t be as much of a problem).  We mostly ate freeze dried camping food, similar to a military MRE. It was my first experience with this stuff.  You purchase bags of things like “pasta with meatsauce” or “sausage and eggs” and pour boiling water inside (which is where Eric’s little stove came in handy).  You shake the thing up, let it sit, and end up with a saucy mess you eat straight from the bag with a fork.  Honestly, the Italian concoctions (lasagna, pasta with meatsauce, etc) were pretty good.  I will not be investing in any breakfast any more.

Kayking the Delaware
Parked for lunch.

I had to get used to camping without all the bells and whistles, a bon fire, bbq spread, bars, and music.   Fortunately we were so exhausted at night that we normally wanted to go right to sleep and didn’t have to worry about entertaining ourselves.  We had pretty early mornings so weren’t playing around with late nights.  It was a nice change of pace doing real wilderness camping.  I love being outside on hot summer nights, and laying down having the river lull you to sleep, as opposed to passing out after stumbling home and passing out in your tent after a night carousing at Cedar Rapids.

Eric and I met at the Delaware Water Gap.  Here we loaded all of our things to his car and left mine.  We had our bon voyage in Milford PA, a small town that’s basically the gateway from PA to NY.  They had several cool looking lodgings if spending a night in a hotel before shipping off for the river is your thing.

Our first day was nice, yet pretty uneventful.  The area we were in was heavily trafficked by other kayakers and rafters which I wasn’t exactly expecting.  We stayed at Dingman’s Campground that first night.  It costs us $11.00 for a plot and there was a tiny general store and shower facility that we didn’t really utilize except for getting some ice for our dwindling beer supply and reloading up on Gatorade.

The next day really felt like we’d gone off the grid.  You can’t exactly paddle with a cell phone and this is the heart of the Delaware Water Gap National Park, even if you have a waterproof case, service is spotty at best..  There’s no development on the shoreline, and only once in a while did we pass other boaters.  We did see a small bear from afar and Eric took some shots of a bald eagle.  This part of the river was pretty lazy and required a lot of paddling.   We got a good workout.

Kayaking the Delaware
Eric’s shot of a bald eagle.

As I mentioned before, the Delaware doesn’t necessarily have many rapids or anything exciting to paddle through and though the scenery was pretty, it does lack some of the drama you might want a boating trip to have (unless again, you’re not from NEPA and are amazed by it’s glory).

That night we pulled up at one of the campsites listed on the state park approved map Eric had brought with us.  It was little more than a clearing in the woods and after 17 miles we had a quick dinner, and passed out.  Unfortunately we could have camped on an island, but my bowels put an end to that.  I’ll spare you the details, let’s just say I wanted to make sure that I had access to a toilet if I needed one and the campsite we chose had a bike trail that led to a riverside park with a toilet facility.  I like to think I could rough it with the best of them, but I can’t skimp on wiping.  It just wouldn’t feel right. Ok, I’m done.

The island we could have camped on, located directly across a small channel was occupied by a group of canoers, who judging by the whoops and singing we heard all night, had enough supplies in their boats to really throw down.  Had we not been exhausted maybe we would have waded across to make some friends, but I’m pretty sure we were asleep by 10, which meant a nice early morning start on Saturday.

Kayaking the Delaware
Morning paddling.

My favorite part of the trips were the mornings.  You have energy, it’s hot, but no umcomfortable, and everything is quiet in a soothing, not creepy way.  Laying back in your kayak, with a slow current making the need to row not as pressing and catching some rays is to me, the epitome of summertime (minus the bean bags, grilling, bud light lime, corn on the cob, and smell of cut grass).

Not to worry, on Saturday, we were docked by noon.  We hid our boats in some reeds and I drove Eric back to his car in Milford, but on the way we stopped at The 570 Pub, for some ribs, bud light lime and corn on the cob.

Pub 570
I’m a big believer in rewarding oneself for a job well done.

7 comments on “Kayaking the Delaware”

  1. Thanks. This was an enjoyable read, especially being somewhat familiar with the places you named.

    I also like kayaking in NEPA. Fifteen years ago, I met a guy on a bench in Central Park who told me about Sevylor inflatable kayaks, and I’ve owned at least two at a time ever since. Their quality has nosedived a bit in the very recent past, but aside from that, they have been fantastic, lightweight tools for poking around in the Upper Delaware, and also in many of the PA Fish & Game Commission lakes in Wayne County (the latter require a $10 biannual pass). I’ve really learned a lot about local aquatic environments this way.

  2. There are a lot of places along the Upper Delaware to put in, between Hancock and Narrowsburg on the NY side. Since we’re only looking to spend an hour or two at a time, we’ll pick a place where the current is a bit lazy, fight upstream a bit, then drift back to where the car is. Narrowsburg is great for that; the eddy there is like a lake.

    Many of the PA Fish & Game Commission lakes are pristine. Upper Woods Pond and Lower Woods Pond are favorites, as are White Oak Pond, Hankins Pond, Belmont Lake, Mud Pond, Dunn Pond, Prompton Reservoir… Starlight Lake has houses along its shores, but it’s also pleasant.

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