When I want to put the congestion and stress of the 21st century behind me, I fire up my Kawasaki Nomad and tour western New Jersey and the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Known simply as “The Gap,” the park encompasses the borderlands of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Cruising the serpentine rural roads of western New Jersey is like rolling into the 19th century with farms, mountains, rivers and wildlife to see. And, once you enter The Gap, it gets even better. This is a perfect ride to soothe the nerves and revitalize the spirit.
I met my bohemian biking buddy, “Mad Dog” Romanowski, at the foot of Bearfort Mountain in West Milford. Rumbling into Abram S. Hewitt State Forest on State Route 511 led us to the shoreline of Upper Greenwood Lake. We sailed through a sea of forest green that envelopes Clinton Road into the Newark Watershed conservation area. Viewing the peaceful, sun kissed reservoirs, Mad Dog pontificated, “The gods are smiling upon us.”
The watershed’s 35,000 acres combined with the contiguous Wawayanda State Park’s 34,000 acres creates an extensive wildlife habitat. This is prime bear country and also home to rattlesnakes, coyote, turkey, beaver and deer. Watch for deer, they’re as plentiful as ticks on a country dog. Wawayanda State Park has a 255-acre lake, a white sand beach, picnic areas and boat rentals.
Reaching State Route 23, we roared northwest to State Route 565 and then to the Sussex County Fairgrounds turnoff. The poignant fragrance of farms caressed our senses while the sun embraced us in soothing warmth. Crossing State Route 206, we took Augusta Hill Road to State Route 519, and turned left on State Route 627 to 626. Cruising through picturesque farmlands, we savored the views of livestock roaming unfettered; no ugly, brutal factory farms here, just good old-fashioned family farms. You can also travel north on State Route 206 and connect with State Route 521 at Curvers Lake.
Route 521 is one of the premier motorcycling roads in western New Jersey, and our eyes devoured the curvaceous countryside. A section of 521 snakes along the western shoreline of Swartswood Lake. Swartswood State Park has a beach, picnic facilities, boat rentals and a campground. In Stillwater, State Route 617 offers a sinuous scenic diversion that rolls beneath the Kittatinny Ridge before reconnecting with Route 521.
We lunched at the Blairstown Diner, famous for its tasty meals and 1950s décor. The diner, the town and nearby Boy Scout Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco were the setting for the original Friday the 13th horror flick, starring Kevin Bacon. From Blairstown, we flew along State Route 94 to Interstate 80 and entered Delaware Water Gap NRA via Old Mine Road. This historic 110-mile roadway parallels the river and was built in 1650 to deliver copper from the Pahaquarry Copper Mine to Kingston, New York.
For decades, developers and the Feds wanted to dam the river, which would have drowned the entire region. Fortunately, the bureaucrats were defeated by grassroots opposition, but not before many locals were forced to leave. Today, this rural nirvana offers motorcyclists more than 200 miles of roads to explore (some unpaved). The 67,000-acre park is blessed with waterfalls, historic sites, hiking trails, 40 miles of pristine river and abundant wildlife. The park is home to bear, coyote, deer, fox, hawk, turkey and rattlesnake, most of which I have seen on one ride or another through this area.
Embraced by a canopy of trees in Worthington State Forest, we rumbled into the park proper and reached Millbrook, a restored 19th century village with actual buildings from that era. Anxious for a swim, we motored on. Although there are three public beaches in The Gap, we preferred to swim off the beaten trail. Parking our bikes, we walked to the river’s edge and plunged into the cool, clear water. Continuing our ride, we spotted six deer grazing alongside the road. We expected them to bolt into the forest. Instead, they ran down the road in front us while we followed. Finally, they veered into the forest and Mad Dog yelled, “Wow! Forget running with the bulls, we rode with the deer.”
Leaving Old Mine Road at the Flat Brook Bridge, State Route 615 North passes the Walpack Inn, which has interesting country décor but only average fare. We stopped at the Walpack Center, a modern-day ghost town with two churches, a post office and a few houses before heading to Dingmans.
Riding a motorcycle high above the Delaware River on the privately owned Dingmans Ferry Bridge with its wooden roadway and open steel girders is quite exciting. Nearby, the Dingmans Falls Visitor Center’s elevated boardwalk leads to two waterfalls, Silverthread Falls and the 130-foot Dingmans Falls. The George W. Childs Recreation Site’s circular trail brings you through a hemlock gorge to three thundering falls; and the Raymondskill Falls hiking trail leads to several impressive vantage points.
After visiting the waterfalls, fatigue rolled over us like waves on a beach. The next morning, we crossed the Milford Bridge into Jersey. Sailing over the hilly waves of State Route 650 through New Jersey’s Skylands, we took State Route 23 back to West Milford.
Cruising coolly on my Nomad, thoughts of the great roads, scenery, farms and forest of this New Jersey escape danced in my head. This, along with the river’s siren call, insured I would return to this favorite ride sooner than later.
Wawayanda State Park
885 Warwick Turnpike
Hewitt, NJ 07421
Swartswood State Park
1091 East Side Road
Swartswood, NJ 07860
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
1978 River Road
Bushkill, PA 18324