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Delaware River - Kayak Trip / Canoe Trip

Report Type: Extended Trip Report
Trip Dates: May 2005
Nearest City: Hancock, NY, USA
Difficulty: Moderate/Difficult
Submitted by: rhartigan

Description:

Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River

Summary:
This trip took us through the beautiful and sometimes challenging Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River area. The total river miles was 51 with approximately 50 rapids ranging from very shallow but simple Class I, to very rocky and long challenging Class II’s, including the infamous “Skinner’s Falls”. We spread the trip over the course of 4 days paddling with 3 nights of camping. All property along this stretch of the river is private, and camping arrangements must be made with the private campgrounds in advance. This can make trip planning a bit more complicated, as if one campground is full, there may be no other campground in that particular area, which will affect your daily distance paddled. We chose to make this trip the week before Memorial Day weekend, as we are well aware of the unbelievable amount of traffic that Delaware River sees on these peak weekends. For this trip, the daily air temperatures were in the low 60’s, and the water temperature was right around 60 cool, but comfortable. Night temperatures were around 40 degrees perfect for tent camping. The water depth and CFM was rated as average to slightly below average. We chose to go without wetsuits in these conditions.

Although most people on this river travel by canoe, the 4 of us did this trip in 13 foot Old Town kayaks, loaded with our camping gear, food, etc. For water, we drank straight from the river, courtesy of the incredible “First Need Water Purifier” this thing is incredible the water tasted better than any public water we found along the way!

One of the biggest surprises to us was the extremely shallow parts of this river. In many places, we found ourselves literally bumping along through little riffles, in little more than 6 inches of water with occasional larger rocks bringing us to a halt. Before the trip was over, each of us had chosen a poor enough line that caused us to get out and drag the boat behind us for a ways.

Keep your eyes peeled we saw plenty of eagles on this trip about 8 bald eagles, and at least that many golden eagles.

Bring your polarized glasses! I can’t live without them, as most anglers and boaters would agree. In the shallow water with bright sun above, we could easily watch the schools of shad making their northern run directly beneath our boats. The glasses are also key in making out submerged boulders in your path. We also regularly saw (but couldn’t catch) rainbow trout, and the amount of carp in the river is ridiculous, ranging from 12 inches to 3 feet in length. This stretch of the river is the border between New York and Pennsylvania, so you must have a valid fishing license from one of those 2 states to fish from your boat. If you plan to fish from the shore, you must have the state’s license for the shore you are on keep this in mind when booking a campsite If you plan to fish at camp, you’ll need to have that state’s fishing license.

Day 1 Friday, May 20, 2005
We put in on a Friday morning at Buckingham Access, Route 191, PA, river mile 325, 5 miles south of Hancock, New York. This site has parking for about 20 cars, a boat ramp and porta-john. The boat ramp is heavily used by fly fishing outfitters during peak times, so be sure to leave room on the ramp for trailers to back in while you’re packing up your boats. Our destination this day was “Soaring Eagle Campground”, located at river mile 312.7 in Stalker, PA, just upriver from the “Kellam’s Bridge”. This was a 12.3 mile paddle, that took us about 4.5 hours including some fishing time, one boat drag through a shallow spot, and one stop to stretch and relieve. There are officially 12 Class I and 1 Class I+ rapids in this area. We found them to be pretty placid under these river conditions. The most challenging thing was picking a line to weave through the exposed rocks and extremely shallow spots nothing scary at all.

The Soaring Eagle Campground, like almost all riverside attractions in this area, was wiped out by the April 2005 floods. They have been working very hard, and had most of the property cleaned up and ready to go. We loved this place for it’s down-home charm, and camped only 75 feet from the riverbank. The owner, Brian, makes occasional loops around the campground on his four-wheeler, and will deliver bundles of firewood to your site for $5! Great people, and a beautiful spot. This campground is still north of where all the big canoe outfitters offer trips (Kittatiny, Indian Head, Landers), so you’re most likely to run into fisherman and local campers than scout troops and huge family celebrations a plus for most of us! This camp site cost us $10 each for the night a fair price for a beautiful and quiet place.

Day 2 Saturday, May 21, 2005
Soaring Eagle Campground (river mile 312.7) to Lander’s River Trips Skinner’s Falls Campground (river mile 295.5).

The total paddling miles was long 17.2 miles, estimated at 7.25 hours. With stops for fishing and stretching, and one stop to cook lunch, it took us about 8 hours for this long day’s paddle. As soon as you leave the Soaring Eagle Campground, you pass under the old Kellam’s Bridge. Other than anglers, the river was relatively quiet again, because the major canoe outfitters don’t work north of Calicoon, NY.

This section has a few more challenging rapids compared to the first day of the trip. Officially, there are 10 Class I rapids, and 3 Class I+ rapids. At least for us, however, we found one particular Class I+ to be the most challenging rapid of our entire trip. Approximately 3 miles south of the Kellam’s Bridge, you’ll come to this rapid (name unknown). The water speed picks up sharply leading into a double-drop stairstep-style rapid with a bolder in the middle that, depending on how you enter the rapid, can require major maneuvering in fast water. There are 2 ways to enter this rapid (at least at this river condition). The first way is on the very far right, staying to the right of a large pour-over bolder, and just a few feet from the river bank. Water pillowing off the bolder causes a squirrelly angled 2 foot wave at this entry, after which you’ll quickly roll over a 2 to 3 foot drop, followed by a similar drop shortly thereafter. The second way to enter (and the way that we chose before seeing the right side option) is more challenging, requiring a nearly 80 degree turn in between the 2 drops. Enter to the left of the first pour-over bolder, but stay very close to the bolder. Brace and perform a heavy right turn immediately after the first drop around the bolder, making your way into the right side fast channel in time to miss a pour-over on the left side of the second drop. Basically, you’re performing an S-turn through the rapid. This one was tons of fun, and we all made it through with only minor wobbles, but some great chest-high water and big smiles. This rapid was only about 75 feet long, but we found it to be more challenging than the famed Skinner’s Falls that we would run on day 3, simply because of the maneuvering and tight fast spots. Unskilled canoeists may want to think about walking this one if your gear is not stowed perfectly and securely.

Lander’s River Trips Skinner’s Falls Campground is located on the left (New York) side of the river, just above the Skinner’s Falls Bridge, which is easily identified by the large white and red rapids warning sign on the bridge. We pulled up on their boat launch, and went into the office at the top of the hill. The weather was turning on us, with some rain, lots of wind and very dark clouds, so we opted for one of their wooden three-walled shelters over tenting for the night. This gave us a larger (but short) dry spot to hang out together and play some cards than if we had each huddled into our small tents. Because this campground is run by a canoe livery, it is more crowded and more expensive. Strangely, if you are using your own boats, you actually have to pay an additional $10 to camp! For 4 of us, the bill was $70 for the night steep! The campground does have a general store, which stays open until 10 PM, and offers ice, soda, snacks, tarps and other various sundries but no beer! Bring your own flask and pick up some ice and soda for a night around the campfire.

Day 3 Sunday, May 22, 2005
Skinner’s Falls Campground (river mile 295.5) to Ascalona Campground (river mile 279)

Another long day, 16.5 miles with a paddling time estimate of 7.5 hours. With stops for cooking lunch, fishing, etc., this leg took us about 8 hours. This leg contains by far the most rapids of this journey - 15 Class I rapids, 4 Class I+ rapids, 5 Class II or II- rapids and the morning starts off with a bang at Skinner’s Falls, a solid Class II rapid with three 2-3 foot drops with exposed rocks in between each. The rapid is quite long, extending approximately 200 yards. As recommended by the warning sign, we stuck to the right and hopped out on the bank to scout this one before entering. While scouting, we spotted a swamped, destroyed canoe underneath one of the drops be careful and scout this one before running it!

We chose to enter the rapid slightly right of the center of the river, where the water was pretty rough, but there was actually less exposed rock to maneuver around than on the slower far right channel. Once in the rapid, keep an eye out for rocks and be ready to respond properly. We ran right down the center of the second and third drops, lapping up chest-high water on both drops. High-five’s all around nobody went in! If you’re not ready for this type of rapid, you can portage on the right bank, but it is extremely rocky and will take quite a bit of time.

Further down river, you’ll head through Narrowsburg, where the river gets quite deep and makes a sharp S-turn between large cliffs on both sides. Be wary of surprise boulders just under the surface in this area. About a half mile after you pass under the Narrowsburg bridge, you will see the Narrowsburg Boat Launch on the right, where a porta-john awaits for those in need!

This was a long and tiring day by the end, with four very long class I+ to II- rapids right at the end. Shoulders sore and minds drifting toward camping, it took all we could muster to stay on top of things through these long rapids, including the “Number 9 Railroad Rapids” and a few others. These rapids go on for hundreds of yards, and have angled shifting currents that take the passable channel from left to right and back many times. There are many spots that are too shallow to paddle, and a fairly strong current makes getting pinned on a rock more dangerous than earlier in this trip. Mentally and physically worn down, we pulled in to Ascalona Campground on the New York riverbank around 5 PM, ready for grub and relaxation.

Ascalona Campground was also hit hard by the floods, but they’re working very hard to get it cleaned up, and it is a wonderful place. There are about 8 tent sites along the water, and a small gravel loop of RV sites along NY Route 97. The tent sites each had a huge tree or two as cover, which was great. The only downfall here was the road noise from cars and trucks whizzing up and down NY Route 97 at 60 mph. The private campground owner’s had our site already stocked with wood for us when we arrived, and charged us $12 each for the night, including that wood. They have a water spigot, clean porta-john, and a pay phone on property. We also caught a few smallmouth bass fishing from the shore at dusk a nice spot!

Day 4 Monday, May 23, 2005
Ascalona Campground (river mile 279.5) to Highland Access (275)

Thankfully, this day was planned to be quite short to give us a break and allow time for us to pack the car and then drive back north to retrieve our other car back at Buckingham Access. Although it was a short paddle, it did contain some challenging water - 3 Class I rapids, 2 Class I+ rapids, 1 Class II- rapid (Cedar Rapids, mile 275 right before Highland Access on the NY side). On this leg, you pass under the historic “Roebling Bridge”, the original Delaware Aqueduct, built in 1848 and since restored. Starting under this bridge, it’s pretty much rapids and weaving around rocks the rest of the way, ending with Cedar Rapids, a solid Class II- that is long and challenging with many exposed rocks and one powerful 2-3 foot drop in the center. The rapid continues around a sharp right bend in the river, with angled left to right and right to left currents similar to the previous day.

Soaked, tired, yet smiling hugely, all four of us paddled away from Cedar Rapids and up to Highland Public Access on the left (New York) side of the river, where our car awaited. We chatted with a ranger for a bit while unpacking our sandy, muddy, soaked boats. After jamming the car with gear and overloading the roof with 4 boats, we headed back up Route 97 North, crossed the river at the Lordville Bridge, connected to PA Route 191 North and pulled into Buckingham Access to get the other car.

In our case, both cars were fine at each location. We shuffled boats and gear to the proper cars, swapped handshakes and laughs, and returned home, proud that 4 of us had successfully pulled off this trip with no major incidents, not a single dump.

Conclusion:
This is an incredibly beautiful trip, with some challenging sections connected by shallow calm sections. If you’re like us, and part of your desire for nature involves getting away from the masses, this is a great trip pre-Memorial Day or post-Labor Day (or at least midweek in the summer if you can pull some time off work).

We’ve been paddling quiet rivers for about 4 years in our kayaks, including 2 previous trips on the Delaware further south, in the much easier but much more crowded waters of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (if you haven’t paddled a large river yet, start here no reservations required for the camp sites, which means you can adjust your schedule on the fly according to conditions, how tired you are, etc.).

If you’re comfortable on larger rivers in all conditions occasional high wind, rain, very shallow spots, strong currents and you have the gear required for a journey of this length, then you are easily read for this trip.

For us, we found the 2 very long paddling days to be too long, but this again was a product of some campgrounds not yet being open from the flood. Call around to the campgrounds using the links provided below, and you could set it up to make the days shorter and easier.

In the end, it’s all about getting out with a few great friends and creating memories for a lifetime. This was an excellent trip, and is one more we can add to our bag and look back on fondly.

Trip Tips:

  • Cell phone service is extremely limited in the Upper Delaware area.
  • Calicoon, New York offers more services than most other towns you will paddle through restaurants, gas station with pay phones, ATM, etc.
  • Overnight parking is allowed at the public river access spots unless noted on the sign. We spoke to one of the park rangers, and he said that he was “watching our cars for us” and that in the busy summer months, parked vehicles are frequently broken in to. Tips don’t leave a note in the window saying how long you’ll be gone this is an open invitation to thieves. Don’t leave valuables in the car, and certainly don’t leave them in a visible spot. If possible, remove all roof rack attachments and lock them safely inside your vehicle, or use a long cable and master lock to lock them to your roof. Call the NPS headquarters before your trip and let them know what vehicles will be left and where, so that they can keep an eye out for you.
  • Fishing Licenses get the proper licenses if you plan to fish. The rangers take this very seriously, and will check your credentials if you’ve got fishing gear with you. Fishing without a license will get you a $90 ticket!
  • Respect the anglers when possible, paddle behind anglers instead of in their fishing zone. We found that, most places, this wasn’t possible, due to the water depth. If this occurs, I recommend a quick apologetic hello to the anglers “Sorry coming through” in almost all cases, we found the anglers quite accepting of a brief break in their action as long as we were obviously respectful about it. On two occasions, we did get some bitter looks, but those were only from anglers who weren’t of the proper attitude that the river is for all people to enjoy which it is!
  • Save weight bring a water filter/purifier, and you can save about 50 gear pounds per person on this length of a trip! I recommend the General Ecology First Need Purifier Deluxe easily purchased from Campmor.
  • Bring at least one extra paddle in your group there are challenging rapids, and the larger the group, the more likely that at least one of you will take a swim.

    Accommodations:

    Private Campgrounds.

    Outfitting:

    3 Old Town Castine Kayaks and 1 Perception Monterey.

    Fees:

    Fishing licenses required if fishing. No permits required to launch non-powered boats or to park overnight.

    Directions:

    Put in: Buckingham Access, Route 191 North, Pennsylvania side, 5 miles south of Hancock, New York. Highland Access, Route 97 South, Highland, New York.

    Resources:

    Campgrounds and Lodging in the Upper Delaware River area:
    http://www.nps.gov/upde/lodging.htm

    Weather and Climate Information:
    http://www.nps.gov/upde/climate.html

    Download River Maps and Order a Free NPS Brochure and river map:
    http://www.nps.gov/upde/maps.html

    River Conditions:
    http://waterdata.usgs.gov/ny/nwis/uv?01428500

    Get your PA fishing license online:
    https://www.theoutdoorshop.state.pa.us//fbg/fish_secured/FishOutdoorShop.asp?ShopperID=E23E7E75BD054A24AB9DB637EF8BED5E

    NY fishing license information:
    http://www.dec.state.ny.us/website/dfwmr/license/decalsproc.html

    Helpful Phone Numbers:

    • Park Service Headquarters: 570-729-7134
    • Visitor Information: 570-685-4871
    • River Hotline Recorded Message (updated daily): 845-252-7100
    If you have any questions, feel free to email me.


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