4 am each other’s phones start to go off, echoing around the house. We're up before the sun, it's way to early. Klein pops his head up in the bed, confused why we're moving around the house already. He slumps his head back down with a loud flop while we prep the last bits of our camping gear. We have a 8:30 canoe launch in Pennsylvania and need to hit the road by 6.
An hour and a half later we pull into the Smithfield Beach parking lot. Moments later a massive blue bus pulls in and everyone starts loading their gear into the back. Our driver knows these back roads and quickly gets up river to the launch point, Dingman’s Ferry.
We’ve canoed this river twice now and have our shit together. This time our good college friend is coming along. Two of us jump out of the bus right away, and pick a canoe and kayak. The third runs across the road to hand off paper work. All in all, 15 minutes later we’re out on the water way before all the other groups.
The whole trip is 20 miles long. Which sounds like a lot but on the water you can cover 10 miles in 4 hours with a few stops to walk around on the banks. The river is very calm, and generally quite shallow. On a warm summer day a quick dip into the icy water is an awesome refresher. To break up the peaceful river are small rapids. Just enough rough water to get you excited. Expect to eat lunch before you make camp. On one trip we packed sandwiches, the second time we brought sandwich ingredients and made them on a beach. There are many perfect spots to pull off.
Around 10 miles in, roughly half way, you’ll start seeing camp site signs popping up. All the sites on the Delaware River are first come first serve, and primitive. Around 2 you want to start looking for a site and by 4 a lot will be gone.
The river cuts between New Jersey and Pennsylvania. We’ve camped on both sides, and prefer the PA side. The NJ side is great, but more clearly marked. Which means those sites go fast! We quickly discovered that the PA side has almost no river level markings to indicate there is a site up the bank. Pulling off and walking up the bank we discovered a fantastic PA camping site which didn’t seem like an official one, until we spotted a very discreet “82” on a metal circle nailed in a tree.
I’d encourage anyone canoe camping along the river to just pull off whenever they see a small trail from the bank back into the woods to investigate. You might strike out or luck out and find the best site ever, like we did.
In camp we took turns walking around the woods cutting apart down trees with our axe. Generating a stock pile of wood for the entire night. As the sun started to set Clara pulled a big pile of coals together and started cooking an amazing dinner in her cast iron pot. We cracked open a few beers and sat around sharing camping stories.
In the morning, we built up a raging fire to generate some fast coals. Kyle used our frying pan to make a few amazing breakfast sandwiches, while I whipped up some Aeropress coffee. After hanging around for awhile we slowly loaded up our canoe and kayak and pushed off into the river.
We’d pushed ourselves hard the first day covering 14 miles. The second day we had a much shorter trip. By 3 we were unloading our gear at Smithfield Beach, getting ready to drive back to NYC.
The Delaware River is an amazing 2 day adventure. Using one of the local canoe rental services is fantastic. Included in the rental fee is a free bus service that picks you up from your car and drops you at the top of the river. Then at the end of your trip you just pull up your canoe and drive home.
The river is very calm, only broken up a few times by mild rapids. Most of the first come first serve camping sites along the river are very well maintained. Offering a fire pit, and a composting toilet, NJ side only.
Plan on bring lots of snacks, cold drinks, and sunscreen. When we went it wasn’t too hot but your rowing in the sun, and you’ll want to hydrate. We packed tons of water and didn’t regret it.
Overall if your comfortable backpacking this trip is blast. The sites are nice and big, the water calm, and it’s removed enough from any towns you feel like your really exploring. Highly recommend.
Best Sites we've come across
98 (includes an outhouse)