Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
This is a great hike-actually two hikes. There’s the long version (10.8 miles) – a back way up to Sunfish Pond-and the not-so-long version (6 miles)-a climb up to the Kittatinny Ridge and back. Whether you go the full distance or not, either route would be a great way to enjoy some of the best scenery in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. You will climb over 1,000 feet, see some spectacular waterfalls and get some classic long views from the ridge line both to the east and to the west.
The hike begins right along the Delaware River and takes you straight up the side of Kittatinny Mountain. You will follow a beautiful stream that cascades down from the ridge top that will make the climb up seem like an afterthought (mostly). At the top, you will follow the ridge line and be treated to some of the best views you can find in New Jersey. There’s a good chance you will see a bear or two along the way and even the long version of the hike can be completed in about 4 hours since the real effort is front-loaded into the first mile or so.
The trailhead is located on the west side of Old Mine Road, just over 7 miles north of Route 80. To get here, get off of Route 80 at exit 1, just before the bridge over the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. At the bottom of the exit the road will split. Left will take you under the highway to the Visitor’s Center. Right will take you to Old Mine Road. As soon as you turn right from the exit, you will see a traffic light. This light controls traffic on a narrow one-lane section of Old Mine Road and meters flow from each direction. It may take several minutes to get the green light to proceed. DO NOT get impatient and go through the red light!
Enjoy the drive on Old Mine Road. You will be traveling through Worthington State Forest for the first 5 miles and you will pass several recreation areas and other trail heads as you head north. Old Mine Road is one of the oldest continually used roads in America and traces its origins back to the Dutch Settlers who came to New Jersey in the late 17th Century. You may come to the conclusion that the last road maintenance occurred around that time as well. You’ll have to dodge a fair number of pot holes as you make your way. A dam proposed at Tocks Island in the 1960’s would have dammed the Delaware River here and created a nearly 40 mile long lake. This road would have been under about 140 feet of water.
Just over a mile after leaving Worthington State Forest (marked by a sign welcoming you to the Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area), you will come to the Copper Mines Parking Area on the left, also marked by a sign. Pull in here. The trail begins on the opposite side of the road directly across from the entrance to the lot. Take a moment to appreciate a great view of the river from the parking area. There is a kiosk with a map of the trails and an explanation of the mining history of the site here as well. This was the location of the Pahaquarry Copper Mine.
This hike begins opposite from the Copper Mine parking area on the east side of Old Mine Road. The trailhead is marked by a wooden sign. You will be following the red-blazed Coppermine Trail, the white-blazed Appalachian Trail and the blue-blazed Kaiser Trail. If you choose the extended version of the hike, you will do a short out-and-back on the turquoise-blazed Turquoise Trail (now called the “Buckwood Trail”) to a view over Sunfish Pond. You can download a copy of the National Park Service’s trail map here. The trails are all well-marked and well-maintained. There are no really confusing intersections or navigational challenges. You can just head out on the trail and use the map to gauge your progress.
As you enter the woods, you will immediately come to the ruins of the mining operations at this site that gives the trail its name. There are stone foundations and other remnants just off of the trail that you can explore. You will also see several mine openings that have been blocked off as you walk. The trail at this point goes in one direction-up, just follow the red blazes. About 1/4 mile in you will pass a trail that leaves to your right marked by a wooden sign that reads “Kaiser Trail Spur 0.4 miles”. You will be returning on this trail in a little while.
You are going to climb steeply away from Old Mine Road. To your left and below you will see a creek lined with hemlocks cascading down a series of waterfalls. This creek will parallel the trail for the next mile or so and will make your steep climb much more palatable. In about 1/2 mile, the trail will turn left to cross this creek on a wooden foot bridge. When the flow is high, this is a great place to take a couple of pictures.
After crossing the bridge the trail turns right on the north side of the creek and continues to climb steeply. This entire stretch of trail features a series of waterfalls, although the creek is well below you to your right. Take note of the opposite side of the creek. The sheer hillside covered in rhododendrons and mountain laurel is striking. At about the 1 mile mark, you will come to a hemlock grove where the stream splits at another series of falls. Here you can access the creek and this is another terrific place to take some pictures and to enjoy the sound of the water and the beauty of the spot.
See more pictures from this hike on the Photographs Page
Leaving the hemlock grove, the trail will climb some more for about a 1/4 mile before leveling off. You have done most of the hard work for this hike. That’s not to say you’re done climbing-you’re not-it’s just that you won’t have anything like what you just accomplished ahead of you. As the trail levels off, the woods change. You go from the hemlock lined gorge into more of a typical hardwood forest of oak, maple and beech. For the next mile the trail “trends” uphill, rather than climbs. Near the end of the Coppermine Trail you will crest a small ridge before heading slightly downhill to the intersection with the Appalachian Trail marked by the well-known white rectangles. To your left is a parking area and trailhead on Camp Road where a lot of hikers enter this section without the need for the climb you just made. (I’m not judging anyone here!) Turn right onto the Appalachian Trail here and continue to head uphill on the spine of the ridge top.
You will be walking along the ridge top for the next two miles. You will be teased by glimpses of long views on both sides of the trail but without any real open spots. You will pass two unmarked side trails that head to your left and lead to some very nice views eastward. They are worth the small detours. However, at about 1 1/2 miles from the spot where you turned off of the Coppermine Trail, you will come to an open east looking view that is just spectacular. Below you will see Yards Creek Reservoir and to your right the nose of Mount Tammany. This is a place to take a seat and have a drink and a snack before continuing on.
In another 1/2 mile you will come to the intersection with the blue blazes of the Kaiser Trail. It heads off to your right. It’s about 2 miles and 40 minutes of walking downhill back to the parking area from this spot. Turning right here will give you a six mile loop with over 1,200 feet of vertical climbing. (That’s a perfectly acceptable day in the woods!) Continuing on to Sunfish Pond adds 4.8 miles (2.4 miles out and 2.4 miles back) and about another 1 1/2 hours of hiking. There are a couple of small climbs of around 50 feet in elevation along the trail so use this to guide your decision. If you’re heading back from here, skip the next three paragraphs.
Should you decide to continue on, you will be following the AT along the ridge line. In about 1/2 mile you will come to a sign indicating you are leaving the Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area and entering Worthington State Forest. This is just past a spot where the AT has been re-routed and turns right and climbs higher on the ridge. About 1/4 mile past the sign you will come to a beautiful west looking view from a bare section of the ridge. You can see a long stretch of the Delaware River laid out 1,000 feet below you. I don’t need to tell you this is another spot for some photographs. This is also the high spot on the hike at about 1,530 feet.
In about another mile the trail will leave the ridge line and enter into some deeper woods. Keep an eye out for the intersection with the Turquoise Trail-it can be easy to miss. When you come to the Turquoise Trail, turn left and follow the trail about 1/4 mile to an elevated overlook of Sunfish Pond from the north end. This is one of my favorite spots in New Jersey. Another place to rest, take some pictures and have a drink or snack. When you’ve had enough of this place re-trace your steps on the Turquoise Trail and turn right on the Appalachian Trail to head back. It’s almost 2 1/2 miles of backtracking to the intersection with the Kaiser Trail.
Now I’m not encouraging this type of behavior, but if you’re really feeling it, you can add another 1 1/2 miles to this hike (that would be 12.3 in total!) by looping around Sunfish Pond. There’s never a bad day to walk around the pond, but this will turn the hike into a “Death March”. It will take a little over 1/2 hour to circle the pond-so make sure you’ve got the extra time. To do this, continue on the Turquoise Trail away from the AT. A short climb will bring you to the Sunfish Pond Fire Road that follows the east shore of the pond. Turn right and take the fire road to the end. Turn right again and follow the Dunnfield Creek trail for about 150 feet back to the AT at the south end of Sunfish Pond. Turn right and follow the AT along the west shore of the pond and then all the way back to the Kaiser Trail from here.
Back to the Return Hike
So, short version or long version, you will be taking the Kaiser Trail downhill from here. The blazes are intermittent but this is an easy trail to follow. In about 1 mile you will come to a spur trail marked by a wooden sign that heads off to your right. This will take you to the Coppermine Trail at the hemlock grove. That’s an alternate way back but requires backtracking 1 mile of the red trail. Stay on the Kaiser Trail here and continue downhill. You will get some seasonal views down on the Delaware River here through the trees but nothing spectacular. After descending another 1/2 mile you will come to a second spur trail heading to your right (Also marked by a wooden sign). Take this one. It’s just under 1/2 mile downhill back to the red blazes of the Coppermine Trail, just above the ruins. Turn left here and head back to the trail head and the parking area.