“Don’t go chasing waterfalls… stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to…” -TLC
In the northwest corner of New Jersey, the waters of the Delaware River have carved a canyon through the Appalachian Mountains. This gradual erosion, formed over hundreds of millions of years, has created one of the most unique geological features of my home state: the Delaware Water Gap. Home to Water Gap National Recreation Area, this protected land is administered by the National Park Service on both banks of the Delaware River in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Established in 1965, the Water Gap Recreation Area is home to archaeological ruins, mining, farmland, numerous camps, and outdoor adventures such as fishing, hiking, rock climbing, canoeing and cross-country skiing. In addition, within the park are nine major waterfalls (via
While many museums and indoor attractions remain closed or offer only limited availability during the pandemic, public parks continue to be a great source of adventure for my wife and I. After hiking to Cascade Falls in the Adirondacks
last weekend, we thought we would head to the northwest corner of NJ to go chasing waterfalls.
What started as a planned 2-hour jaunt to a waterfall turned into an all-day exploration of northwestern New Jersey, as you will read below. Before closing, I also have breaking news about a high mileage Accord, as well as some other automotive updates closer to home. Let’s begin:
The Delaware Water Gap
Fun fact: in our planning, my wife and I originally thought we were going to Buttermilk Falls Natural Area, a county park about thirty minutes from our front door. Despite our prodigious research abilities, we had a bit of a “whoopsie-daisy.” Once in the car, we put “Buttermilk Falls” into the GPS and were informed it was one hour and forty minutes away. After a little internet sleuthing, we realized that the waterfall we thought we were traveling to (also named Buttermilk Falls) was far away in the Delaware Water Gap. There are two “Buttermilk Falls” in New Jersey, apparently. Instead of a quick trip morning trip, we were now on an unplanned all-day adventure.
The setting: a white Jeep Grand Cherokee on I-287 in New Jersey. The scene: my wife drives while I furiously type on my phone, trying to figure out how to get to the real Buttermilk Falls in New Jersey, once we realized that we had the wrong destination in our GPS.
After an hour, we left the highway for forty-five minutes of curved roads through the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in northern New Jersey.
The roads through the Water Gap were curvy, featuring tall hills and steep declines. They were also bumpy and littered with potholes. As we bounced down rutted roads that seemingly last saw a paving truck when Dwight D. Eisenhower was President, I was glad we had taken my wife’s Jeep and not my Accord.
As we ascended into the mountains, we came across a collection of historic buildings by the side of the road. After driving for an hour, we decided to stop, stretch our legs, and explore.
Millbrook Village was originally a town built to support a grist mill in the 19th century. Since the 1960s, it has been preserved by the National Park Service, which has also moved other historic structures from the Delaware Water Gap to this location. Fun fact: the gravel path that you see in this photo is the roadbed of the Columbia-Walpack Turnpike, which was established in 1819 (via nj.gov). Although the turnpike ceased operation in the 1950s, several remnants (such as this one) survive throughout the Water Gap. Although we didn’t realize it at the time, we were walking on a 200-year old road!
Millbrook Village operates as a “living museum,” where volunteers demonstrate life during the pioneer-era of the early 19th century. Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were no live demonstrations occuring (for updates, you can check the National Park Service website), but the village is still open for visitors. It’s a quiet, peaceful, and beautiful historic site that is free to visit!
It also seems an amazing opportunity for cool photography – we’ll definitely come back so we can spend more time exploring! After several minutes of walking through the village, it was time to get back in the Jeep and keep heading up, up, up the mountain ahead…
Continuing further northwest, the adventure got more exciting as we snaked our way through a series of one-lane gravel roads. And by “gravel” I mean gravel, big holes, and mud. Lots of mud.
Deep in the heart of the Water Gap, we came across this one-lane bridge, maybe the sketchiest structure I’ve ever taken a vehicle across. While Grace was certainly under the 5 ton weight limit of the bridge (she weighs in at a reasonable-for-an-SUV 2.1 tons), halfway across the rickety bridge I was regretting all those donuts I ate last week in the Adirondacks.
This photo doesn’t do the road justice. The water-and-mud-filled holes ahead are deep. Very deep. We bounced and slammed our way down the road, my wife maneuvering with a healthy mixture of aggressiveness and control. It was so much fun! Although there is a parking lot directly across the road from Buttermilk Falls, it is currently unavailable. The National Park Service has closed the road approximately a mile before the falls to reduce the number of people congregating at the site. We parked at a muddy trailhead and had a pleasant, if very warm, walk to our main attraction…
The morning’s journey was definitely worth the view! Buttermilk Falls, at 90 feet high, is one of the tallest waterfalls in the state. After spending several minutes relaxing by the cool waters of the falls, we began our trek back to the Jeep.
Along the way, we stopped to explore an abandoned barn by the side of the road. We had passed it heading to the falls, but decided to check it out on the way back.
I poked my camera in and snapped a few photos. I didn’t venture into the structure itself (note the holes in the floor!), but I was fascinated by how well-preserved the ceiling timbers were for such a dilapidated building.
We started driving, but then we pulled over after a few miles to deliberate… turn around and head home in time to get lunch, or drive to the next waterfall, pick up lunch along the way, and keep going down the open road ahead? There was only one choice…
Our destination would be Dingmans Falls, on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware Water Gap. Along the way, we crossed Dingman’s Ferry Bridge, the last private bridge on the Delaware River. One of the few remaining private bridges in the nation, the current Dingman’s Ferry Bridge is the fourth bridge at this location. The original was constructed in 1836, and this one was built in 1900. It has survived four floods and is one of the coolest bridges I have ever driven across (check out the wooden planks!). The toll is one dollar, and forget EZ Pass, Fastlane, or any other automated payment – you hand your dollar bill to the nice old lady waiting patiently on the curb. Fun fact – in accordance with the original charter, if you are going to church or are on your way to a funeral, you don’t need to pay the toll (via Wikipedia).
We arrived at our destination – Dingmans Falls. A National Park ranger met us at the entrance and directed us to park in a nearby field. The road to the visitor center was closed (in an effort to reduce crowding during the current pandemic), so we had to walk a mile from our car to the falls. Some might complain, but not us! Exercise does a body good!
The last quarter mile of the walk to Dingmans Falls is on a raised, ADA-compliant boardwalk over the forest floor. My wife remarked that it felt like walking through a Disneyworld attraction, but being a Star Wars fan, I pretended that I was walking through the Ewok village on Endor.
Along the boardwalk, we passed Silverthread Falls, an 80-foot waterfall.
We could hear the rush of water as we turned a corner on the path, and then before us emerged Dingmans Falls. The 130-foot waterfall was one of the most beautiful natural scenes that I have ever witnessed.
I love the way the waterfall is reflected in the pool in this photo – I took countless photos. While there were a good number of people hanging out at the base of the falls, everyone kept their distance and for the most part (!) wore masks. After several minutes of enjoying the view, we headed back to the car for our return trip home.
Fine dining! As we drove south, my wife and I realized we missed lunch. We stopped at a nearby 7-Eleven to grab “something.” I wandered the store aimlessly, unsure of what I wanted, until my wife asked if I wanted a Lunchables. My inner ten-year old jumped for joy! Oscar Mayer turkey, Kraft cheddar cheese product (as the packaging says) and Ritz crackers…I hadn’t eaten a Lunchables since I was in the fifth grade. I was a happy man.
So. Much. Mud. After her standout performance, Grace definitely deserves a good wash.
At the beginning of the day, we planned for a 2-hour trip. Instead, we returned home at dinnertime, exhausted, but very happy with the results of our exploration. Grace was absolutely the right choice of vehicle for the somewhat-challenging roads of the Delaware Water Gap, and along the way she inched closer to 54,000 miles.
Updates, Automotive and Otherwise.
A few weeks ago I shared the driving exploits of Josh, a courier whose daily ride is a 2015 Honda Accord LX sedan. At the time, he had over 300,000 miles on his car…
Recently, while passing through Hebron, Ohio, Josh rolled 400,000 miles in his Accord. Congratulations, Josh. We’ll certainly be awaiting your 500,000 mile update!
An Accord Closer to Home.
While my Accord was not the vehicle of choice for this week’s road trip, it has been kept busy with errands in southern New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. If you can’t tell from the photo… it’s corn season!
Since my 2012 Accord is now the highest mileage vehicle I have ever owned, I thought I would try to add more periodic updates about the vehicle on this blog. After the excitement from last month’s oil leak repair, my Accord has gone back to being the dependable, drama-free ride that it always has been. While my goal of 200,000 miles has been slowed by COVID-19, 158,000 is definitely in my sights for the end of the summer. Onward! A Blog Update
I was looking at my blog’s stats recently and realized that over 4,000 unique visitors have checked out my writings about trips far and wide on the roads of America. I will have more to say in my conclusion below, but for now, thank you for taking an interest in my travels! Wrapping Up
With all apologies to the 90’s R&B/Soul group
TLC, a beautiful summer Saturday is a great day to go chasing waterfalls! My wife and I enjoyed exploring the Delaware Water Gap, and we made note of several cool sites we plan to visit in the future.
I hope this post finds you healthy and safe during this difficult time in our nation’s history. If I do not say it directly enough, I greatly appreciate the time you take out of your day to read these posts and share your comments, likes, text messages, and email responses. I greatly enjoy writing up these adventures, and I am happy to have an audience who likes reading them. And as always… thank you for coming along on another journey down the open road ahead.
‘Til next time.