The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (DWGNRA) has a natural magnetism, with the dramatic rift in the Appalachian Mountains drawing admirers for centuries. Victorian-era vacationers and artists first sought out the Delaware Water Gap as a fresh air escape, and modern-day outdoor lovers still have plenty of reasons to visit the geological marvel that was once hailed as a scenic Wonder of the World. The best way to experience the beauty here is with trip to the 70,000-acre Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Here are eight reasons to start planning your visit.

1. Have a picnic in postcard-worthy spots.

Thanks to its natural beauty, the DWGNRA is loaded with picturesque picnic spots, ideal for everything from family gatherings to outdoorsy romantic escapes. Families can spread a picnic blanket at Milford Beach, which has been welcoming visitors since 1945. The kid-friendly picnic area provides paddling access to the Delaware River, along with a lifeguard-patrolled swimming beach. Visitors entering the park are charged $10 per vehicle. 

For a serene retreat, head to the waters of Tom’s Creek, and then hike the 0.8-mile Tom’s Creek Trail.

2. Hike popular trails.

Hikers and backpackers visiting the DWGNRA are treated to an abundance of breathtaking vistas, providing more than 100 miles of footpaths to explore. 

The recreation area offers plenty of family-friendly hikes, like the 1.9-mile Hidden Lake Trail, and challenging climbs too. The 1.2-mile Red Dot Trail offers a birds-eye-view of the Delaware Water Gap from the flanks of Mount Tammany. A panoramic 26-mile section of the Appalachian Trail also rambles through the park and traverses over peaks.

3. Gather the whole family for unforgettable outdoor adventures.

Fishing in the Pocono Mountains
Fishing is just one of the family-friendly ways you can enjoy DWGNRA. 

In the DWGNRA, adventurers can take their pick of experiences for all ages. The park offers plenty of camping options, from back country spots along the Appalachian Trail to family-friendly tent and RV sites at Dingmans Campground.

For paddlers, waterside camping spots like River Beach Campsites are available along the banks of the Delaware River. During the summer, the recreation area also offers three lifeguard-monitored swimming beaches spread along the Middle Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River, a pristine waterway perfect for cooling off in warm weather. (Fees apply for these beaches.)

The DWGNRA is also ideal for family fishing trips. The park’s waterways host a diversity of fish species, catering to anglers of every appetite. Cast for brown trout in Toms Creek, drop a line for largemouth bass in Hidden Lake, or angle for walleye in the Delaware River. Note: A fishing license is required in Pennsylvania.

The National Park Service also offers programs for visitors throughout the year, with everything from guided interpretive hikes to ranger-led lantern strolls to Dingmans Falls.

4. Explore on two wheels.

From gravel grinders to road purists, there’s something for every sort of cyclist at the DWGNRA. Off-road fans have the McDade Recreational Trail, a gravel path that parallels the Delaware River through the recreation area for 32 miles, showcasing a collection of historic sites and providing access to idyllic picnic spots and swimming beaches. While portions of the trail are challenging—like the hilly stretch between park headquarters and the Bushkill Access—there are family-friendly options too. Near Milford Beach, the northern terminus of the McDade Recreational Trail, the multi-use path is flat and well-suited to young riders.

Need a pair of wheels? Edge of the Woods Outfitters offers mountain bike rentals, cycling tours, and Pedal & Paddle packages for visitors to the recreation area.

5. Dig into intriguing local history.

The Delaware River Valley boasts more than 13,000 years of human habitation, and many reminders of this rich history still remain today. The region’s first residents were Native American and many landmarks still bear Lenape names, including the word Pocono, translated as “a stream between two mountains.”

The recreation area is loaded with historic towns: Milford located to the north and Stroudsburg to the south. Visitors can also explore history in the town of Delaware Water Gap itself at the Antoine Dutot Museum & Gallery or the historic Deer Head Inn, the longest continually-operating jazz club in the country. Originally known as the Central House, the lodge’s main building dates back to the middle of the 19th century, and the location was later renamed the Deer Head Inn during the 1930s.

6. Marvel over wondrous waterfalls.

Dingmans Falls in the Pocono Mountains
Dingmans Falls is the second-highest waterfall in the state.

In addition to the photogenic Delaware River, the DWGNRA is teeming with smaller tributaries of the waterway—and brimming with waterfalls. The park boasts some of Pennsylvania’s most impressive cascades, including the state’s two highest.

For waterfall chasers, 130-foot Dingmans Falls (the second-highest waterfall in Pennsylvania) is accessible via the Dingmans Creek Trail along a route also showcasing Silverthread Falls. Additionally, the park also boasts Raymondskill Falls, the state’s loftiest waterfall. The celebrated cascade tumbles over a trio of staggered steps, plummeting a total of nearly 150 feet.

7. Embark on an idyllic float trip.

The DWGNRA is threaded by a 40-mile portion of the Middle Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River. The waterway sluices lazily around dramatic curves, offering a scenic stretch of flat-water ideal for family paddling adventures and relaxing float trips.

Inside the recreation area, it’s easy to get on the water via access points located approximately every four to eight miles along the river—and for longer excursions, the Middle Delaware is also part of the 200-mile Delaware River Water Trail. On weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day, you can take advantage of the free River Runner shuttle bus, which runs along the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River between Stroudsburg and Milford.

Float trips, canoe and kayak rentals, and paddling excursions can be arranged by a number of local outfitters, including Edge of the Woods Outfitters, Chamberlain Canoes, or Shawnee River Trips.

8. See fascinating wildlife.

Wildlife is brimming in the Pocono Mountains
Keep an eye out for the many birds that call the area home.

The mosaic of habitats encountered within the DWGNRA makes the park a wonderful wildlife oasis, particularly for birds — in fact, there are more than 260 species. Birders can spy everything from majestic bald eagles to tiny ruby-throated hummingbirds, and the recreation area is also a vital stop for migratory species. During the fall, Kittatinny Ridge is a key corridor for migrating raptors, and during the spring, vast numbers of northbound songbirds descend on the area. Beyond the diversity of birds, the park’s wild spaces are also roamed by creatures like white-tailed deer, black bears, and gray foxes. So don’t forget the binoculars!

Nature lovers can also learn about the region's flora and fauna at the non-profit Pocono Environmental Education Center (PEEC). An education partner of the National Park Service, PEEC offers a variety of educational programs and workshops geared at kids and families, and offers six family-friendly hiking trails.

Written by Malee Baker Oot for Matcha.