How to Make the Most of a Weekend in the Delaware Water Gap

Delaware Water Gap (Photo: National Park Service/James Hicks)

By Kalena Thomhave

April 20, 2023

From waterfalls and kayaking, to charming nearby towns with history and great restaurants, you can do a whole lot in a short amount of time visiting the Delaware Water Gap.

Within the more than 70,000 acres of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, the Delaware River cuts a path through the mountains of Pennsylvania to the west and New Jersey mountains to the east. The “gap” the river creates is an outdoor playground for more than 4 million people annually, making the national recreation area one of the most popular national park sites in the US. Indeed, the Delaware Water Gap may soon even become an official national park (though there is local opposition to that effort).

We’ve put together a possible itinerary for a weekend enjoying some of the best of what the Delaware Water Gap area has to offer, a mix of both natural wonders and small town flavor.

Friday

When you arrive at the Water Gap, take some time to check in wherever you’re staying. Perhaps you’d like to camp in the national recreation area itself, whether in traditional campgrounds with tents or RVs, at backcountry sites on the Appalachian Trail, or on the river at sites accessible by kayak and canoe. And while this part of the Pocono Mountains has been a popular retreat for people from surrounding areas for hundreds of years, you can still stay in modern, more luxurious lodging if you prefer. There are a few hotels in the town of Delaware Water Gap itself (like the Deer Head Inn), as well as plenty more options in nearby Stroudsburg or Milford.

It’s definitely a good idea to orient yourself to the area with a trip to the Pocono Environmental Education Center in Dingmans Ferry. Here, you can visit an exhibit on the different flora and fauna of the Delaware Water Gap. And if you’re fortunate, there may even be a nature program, like a guided walk or a presentation on amphibians, open to the public on the weekend of your visit. Check the center’s calendar as you’re making your vacation plans.

After you’re finished inside, you can take a short hike on one of the six trails that surround the center in order to familiarize yourself with this area’s beautiful terrain. The Tumbling Waters Trail is a three-mile, moderately difficult hike that offers a scenic view before trekking down to waterfalls. The 1.4-mile Two Ponds Trail is an easy hike that takes you through wetland and forest environments as you pass, that’s right, two ponds.

How to Make the Most of a Weekend in the Delaware Water Gap
Dingmans Falls (Photo: National Park Service)

Saturday

Rise bright and early so that you can beat the crowds at some of the more popular Water Gap attractions—waterfalls. There are several waterfalls in the area, so you have choices based on how long you want to hike.

For an easily accessible, yet perhaps more crowded option, you could head to the trailhead of the Dingmans Creek Trail, located near the Dingmans Falls Visitor Center. Dingmans Falls is the second tallest waterfall in Pennsylvania, and by hiking the oft-rhododendron-lined trail along Dingmans Creek, you’ll be able to see Dingmans Falls as well as the tall, narrow beauty of Silver Thread Falls. This trail is an out-and-back, easy trail that is 0.4 miles one way.

If you’d like to experience a waterfall surrounded by fewer people, you could hike to Hornbecks Falls, a slide waterfall. You’ll hike the Hornbecks Creek Trail, accessed via a small parking area between mile markers 10 and 11 on US Route 209. It’s an easy, roughly one-mile hike along the creek until you arrive at the lower portion of the falls.

Swimming, however, is not permitted in and directly around waterfalls in the recreation area, so to enjoy being in the water in the warmer months, you’ll need to travel to a swimming beach. There are two swimming beaches on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware Water Gap: Milford Beach and Smithfield Beach. Both beaches have picnic areas and restrooms.

You could also take to the water via canoe on the Delaware River. Several companies offer canoe, tube, and kayak rentals within the recreation area. If you book a river trip with one of these companies, they’ll provide you with the boat (or tube), life jacket, paddles, and the ride back to where you started your river journey.

Cap off a day of natural experiences with a visit to Millbrook Village, a recreation of a 19th century village in Hardwick Township, N.J. Here, you can wander the structures and learn what life was like in the Delaware Water Gap and nearby towns 200 years ago. 

For dinner, you could either make food back at your campsite or visit a local restaurant. If you choose the latter, you may want to look for restaurant options in Stroudsburg and Milford. Garlíc Restaurant in Stroudsburg offers a menu that promises more of a fine dining experience, perfect if you are looking for a special meal. Here, you can feast on options such as burrata, lobster ravioli, or tofu primavera pasta. In Milford, you could order American classics at Apple Valley Family Restaurant, which prides itself on its “affordable meals” and also offers outdoor seating. Or, also in Milford, you could experience the historic building that houses the Waterwheel Café and its globally inspired cuisine. If this is your last night in the Water Gap, order a special cocktail or mocktail to toast your trip!

How to Make the Most of a Weekend in the Delaware Water Gap
Millbrook Village (Photo: National Park Service)

Sunday

On your final day, savor your holiday in the Water Gap one last time over a hearty breakfast at a local restaurant. Compton’s Pancake House is a wildly popular diner in Stroudsburg that serves pancakes and other morning standards. The Cure Cafe, also in Stroudsburg, serves weekend brunch with breakfast specialties like eggs Benedict, frittatas, and plates with vegetarian sausage. If you’re staying toward the southern end of the recreation area, try the Milford Diner, a classic diner with a huge menu. If you have time, perhaps you can squeeze in one more waterfall hike or a visit to nearby Bushkill Falls, nicknamed the “Niagara of Pennsylvania.” Otherwise, head back toward home while making plans to visit the Delaware Water Gap again soon.

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