Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Delaware Canal Towpath Bike Ride

On Saturday, Nick and I took our 2nd annual Delaware Canal towpath bike ride.  We park in Washington Crossing on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware, cross over the bridge into New Jersey and ride north on the towpath, formally called Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park.

Here's the Pennsylvania side:

And here's the New Jersey side.  Don't be fooled: they were equally as sunny. 

Last year we only rode up to Lambertville, NJ/New Hope, PA, which is about a 7 mile ride from where we start.  This year we decided to ride up to Stockton, NJ, which is about 4 miles past Lambertville, and then cross over into Pennsylvania there.  This worked out perfectly so we could have lunch at one of our favorite places for a summer meal, Dilly's Corner, which is right on the corner after crossing over the bridge into Pennsylvania.  Once we were finished feasting, we headed south on the Delaware Canal State Park towpath.

All told, we biked 21 miles.  It took us a little over 3 hours since we were going at a leisurely pace and because I kept stopping to take pictures.  We ran into tons of wildlife and beautiful scenery.  I love that we can bike on two separate paths so we don't have to see the same things twice.  The paths are mostly quiet and peaceful, but it was nice to see so many other people enjoying the parks and the nice weather.

You may be shocked to learn that the original purpose of the canals was not so Pennsylvanians and New Jerseyites had a nice place to run and bike.  The canals were built in the early 1800s to transport coal to Philadelphia, New York, and the eastern seaboard.  At one point, we came across this sign.  Don't be fooled: we are about 70 miles from NYC!  I'm glad the Parks & Rec department has a sense of humor.

The point of the sign was to share what used to happen on the canals before they were used for recreation.  See how the barges got from the canals to the river?  Mules pulled the barges along the same paths that we run and bike on today.

There are a bunch of locks along the canals as well.   The old hardware is fun to look at, but they too once served a purpose in transporting barges up and down the canals.

Every so often, the canals have boards that are great at illustrating how business used to run back in the 1800s.  This illustration explains how the locks work much better than anything I could describe.

Our ride wasn't just a history lesson though.  We also ran into some pretty wildlife and chowed down on some delicious food! 

Shortly after starting out ride on the Jersey side, we ran into this Great Blue Heron.

He flew away so quickly that I didn't have a chance to turn my camera!  Check out those wings!

On both sides of the Delaware, we ran into families of sunbathing turtles.  They'll find any branch or rock that is protruding from the water and lay on it to bask in the sunlight.  That is, until they realize that we are looking at them.  This family stayed put long enough to get a few shots in, but once they caught on to us they jumped, one by one, into the canal.

After riding 11 miles, Nick and I were sufficiently hungry to feast at Dilly's.  My parents have been taking me here since I was a kid, and I've been taking Nick for the past few years.  The food is pretty simple, but it's the atmosphere that makes Dilly's a fun place to eat.  That green bridge in the background is the bridge that we crossed over on from Stockton, NJ.

Yep, that's the whole thing!  The parking lot is always packed and hard to navigate, so we were happy that we only had our bikes with us this time.

After placing your order, you are given a playing card.  When your food is ready, they call out your card to let you know.   That's me on the right in my very patriotic bike riding outfit!

I grabbed a table while Nick waited for our food.  They have a small indoor eating space, but most everyone eats outside in this covered patio, or in the garden that is right behind it (which is where I'm sitting).

I was pretty famished by the time our food made it to me.  It was as delicious as it looks.

After fueling up, we were ready to head south on the Pennsylvania side.  A few miles south of New Hope is the Revolutionary War memorial that I mentioned yesterday.  The best thing about this memorial is that it appears to be in the middle of nowhere and only accessible by the tow path.  I was sad to learn this year that there is a small park and a parking lot about a quarter of a mile from the memorial.  I guess it's a good thing that it's easily accessible so more people can visit it, but there was something special about the memorial when I thought it was hidden.

Still, it's a pretty cool memorial.  A stone wall surrounds a wide lawn, a flag pole, and a line of graves of unknown soldiers.

Around the bottom of the flagpole are plaques for the first states.  Delaware was the first state, but Pennsylvania was a close second, forming five days afterward on December 12, 1787.

The plaque in front of the graves explains that it is "In memory of many unknown soldiers of the Continental Army who died from sickness and exposure while encamped in these fields before the Battle of Trenton and were buried at this spot on Christmas Day 1776." 

Each grave had a flag and a Revolutionary War medal.

Just a few feet beyond this line of graves is a hill that descends down to the Delaware River.  A couple of women talking quietly on a bench were the only other people around while we were there, and it was very peaceful.  It was interesting to think that, besides the fact that it was colder and probably had more trees, the scene today is probably pretty much the same as it was when the soldiers were there over 200 years ago.  We like visiting this memorial each Fourth of July to pay respect to the soldiers who fought to form our country, especially the many unknown men and boys who died doing so.

The second half of the PA canal leg was pretty shady and our butts were starting to hurt, so we kept pedaling instead of stopping a lot to take pictures.  But I had to stop when we saw this mama duck leading her babies along the canal.  It was pretty shady, but you get the idea.  (I really need to learn how to work the manual settings on my camera!)  The babies were mostly staying close behind her, but every now and then one would get distracted and try to investigate something.  The mama duck would quack and the baby would scurry back to get in line with the others.  Then another baby would get distracted and repeat the whole scenario.  It was pretty hilarious to watch.

After we got home from our bike ride, we quickly changed into our bathing suits and took a dip in our neighborhood pool.  After a week full of sunny days in the high 80s, the water was just warm enough to be comfortable but just cool enough to be refreshing.  What a perfect end to our day!


  1. Lindsay - it sounds like a fabulous day with the perfect mix of exercise, history, nature, good food and good company. I love the photos of the wildlife, especially the sun bathing turtles.

  2. Thanks, those are our favorite kinds of days!

  3. Baby ducks! What a great day!


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