D&L Trail

4 Days

150 miles

Gravel Tour

Weaving through gorges, industrial relics, farmlands, and river towns, the Delaware & Lehigh Trail traces old canal routes along the Lehigh and then Delaware River in Pennsylvania.

I cycled the entire trail in Spring 2024 with a number of local friends.

Logistics

The D&L allows for a lot of flexibility in approaching a thru-ride, with options for hotel and inn stays in the major towns, bed & breakfasts, or camping. We opted for a 4-day-3-night southbound trip with overnight stops in Jim Thorpe, Easton, and New Hope. This allowed for a leisurely pace with plenty of time for cultural touring.

The best resource for information on the trail is the official Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor webpage – check out the Interactive Map for trail conditions. We had a number of closures and obstacles to avoid on this trip, which I’ve detailed below. In addition, their official D&L Trail Guidebook, available on their online store, is the single best trail guidebook I’ve ever purchased.

Weather along the trail will vary. Starting near the summit of Nescopeck Mountain and ending along the Delaware River just north of Philadelphia, the trail passes through a number of different terrains and hardiness zones 6a through 7b. Be sure to pack raingear and layered clothing to help deal with varied temperatures.

Since this is a point-to-point ride, you’ll need to arrange two sets of vehicles, or a shuttle. We opted to use Pocono Biking’s private shuttle service, ferrying us from our cars at the terminus in Bristol to the trailhead in Glen Summit. Parking in Bristol was easy and free, but I recommend reaching out to the town to confirm.

Day 1 - Glen Summit to Jim Thorpe - 36 miles

Day one started with an early morning drive to Canal’s End road in Bristol, Pennsylvania, the trail’s terminus. From there, we caught a shuttle up into the rolling hills near the state’s famous northern anthracite coalfields.

Our first day was grey and drizzly, but tempered by the fact that a southbound D&L ride is a mostly downhill affair. With temps in the mid-40’s, we layered up and began riding the newest and most remote portion of the trail.

The Black Diamond portion of the trail runs along an old rail grade past beaver ponds, thick forests, and extant tracks.

Before long the trail passes through the village of White Haven, underneath Rt. 80, and into the gorge proper at the Lehigh Tannery site.

The route through the Lehigh Gorge is stunning, with the roaring river down below the trail, rocky cliffs and waterfalls above, and bits and pieces of canal history coming into view alongside the river.

Exiting the thinnest portion of the gorge, the D&L enters Penn Haven junction and presents the first of many trainspotting opportunities along the route. We were lucky enough to catch a Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway train just south of the junction, running on the embankment just above the trail.

The trail continues south past Glen Onoko and the abandoned Turn Hole Tunnel, then over a tall trestle shared with the railroad, and down a long run into the western side of Jim Thorpe, landing riders right at the town’s Victorian-styled train station.

Happy to be in town for the rest of the day, we locked our bikes up and grabbed some grub at Molly Maguire’s. Jim Thorpe is worth taking some time to explore; it’s a perfect little mountain town with plenty of shops, interesting restaurants, and a theatre. We took a brief stroll before heading to our bed & breakfast and turning in for the night.

Day 2 - Jim Thorpe to Easton - 47 miles

Day two began with a challenge: a trail closure and bridge out south of Jim Thorpe. Our options were not ideal; we could either road ride up Rt 209, with its rocky ledge and blind curve (not safe); try and get through the closure (not physically possible); or, ride along the active rail line to Weissport (not a remotely good idea). Luckily, we had an ace-in-the-hole: Ben at Ride Revive Bicycles, who has helped fix one of our rides the previous night. Ben gave us a quick ferry two miles south to Weissport, where we grabbed a stellar breakfast at Central Lunch.

Central Lunch is the quintessential American breakfast spot. Friendly service, hot coffee, and the best value breakfast sandwich I’ve maybe ever had. After breakfast, we started our ride south through the towns of Parryville and Bowmanstown, and toward the Lehigh Gap.

Approaching the gap, the trail passes through flat fields until it narrows along the river, winding east and then south, past the Lehigh Gap Nature Center and the Appalachian Trail’s crossing. This area was previously the site of the New Jersey Zinc Company, which laid two-and-a-half miles of waste slag in the area, and which emitted enough air pollution to deforest the gap. The area has since been reseeded and is a testament to conservation success.

As the trail nears Northampton, things become busier and more industrial. We passed over the river via a vehicular bridge in town, then entered Canal Street Park and continued south.

This area of the D&L is still a work-in-progress, which makes it a mixed ride. Some parts are newly constructed, with beautiful fences and well groomed gravel pathways along the river. Other parts are rawer and rootier, and would not be passable on a road bike. Eventually, the trail becomes a road ride between Northampton and East Allentown, along North Dauphin and North Bradford street.

One of the only actual climbs on the D&L occurs in Overlook Park, where the trail exits the road and gains about a hundred feet, offering a westward view of downtown Allentown.

After passing through Allentown, the trail makes a sharp eastward turn and runs for several miles along Norfolk Southern’s Allentown Terminal, then into Bethlehem. We stopped for a bite to eat at the Wooden Match, right along the trail.

At this point, we were in the home stretch towards,Easton, our destination for the day. The trail becomes rural again, passing through Lock 44 and then the National Canal Museum – a worthwhile stop for history fans. The museum offers canal boat rides, canoe rentals, and exhibits about life and operations along the canal.

Finally we made it to Easton, the end of our longest day. Since we were staying across the river in an AirBnB, we stashed our bikes there, got cleaned up, and headed back into Easton for drinks and dinner. We first stopped at Jimmy’s Doggy Stand for an Easton-style dog, then headed to Thyme to experience its phenomenal view of the river confluence, and ended up at Stoke for coal-fired pies.

Day 3 - Easton to New Hope - 38 miles

Day three was gorgeous, the first fully sunny day of our ride. We woke up a tad late, grabbed coffee, and headed across bridges on the Delaware and Lehigh to begin our ride, as the D&L turns to the south along the border with New Jersey.

The trail passes under Route 78 and for the rest of the route is built on a comfortable crushed stone, dotted with trees, rolling over aqueducts and lock infrastructure, and running underneath the Nockamixon Cliffs.

Further south along the trail, we started to encounter closures in this part of the D&L that necessitated a few road rides, reroutes, and hike-a-bike’s around obstacles. The trail in this area has been under construction and maintenance to repair flood damage that frequently occurs.

By noon our group arrived at the Uhlerstown Covered Bridge and opted for a detour across the river in Frenchtown, one of the many quaint river towns that dot the Delaware. There, we stopped in at ArtYard, a fantastic local art museum, and grabbed a bit of lunch near the trail. On this side of the river the D&R trail serves as NJ’s equivalent of the D&L, and is a great backup option for moving south if there are trail outages in Pennsylvania.

South of Frenchtown, we experienced another closure at the Lumberville Aqueduct, out for construction. But our bypass along the road brought us past a historic sight: the high water mark from the 1955 floods, the worst floods the river has ever seen. It’s jarring riding down below the roadway and realizing just how high the river swelled after the back-to-back hurricanes.

One of the surprises I experienced on the trail was the abundance of wildlife. We saw a huge variety of animals, from snakes to snapping turtles, kingfishers to bald eagles.

After a bright and sunny day on the trail, we rode right into the center of New Hope. Artsy, vibrant, and bustling, the town is an ideal stop on a D&L trip. We made our first stop at Triumph Brewing before heading up to our stay at the New Hope Lodge, an old school motel atop the hill. Later, we headed to Karla’s for a phenomenal dinner before turning in.

Day 4 - New Hope to Bristol - 25 miles

Day four – our last leg, and the shortest stretch at 25 miles total. After a coffee downtown, we set out south on the towpath towards Washington’s Crossing.

The river begins to widen here, and the area becomes more actively industrial.

Along with the industry and population comes a less well preserved canal. Weaving in and out of neighborhoods, shopping centers, highways, and industry, the canal isn’t recognizable in many places. The only really confusing piece here is just north of Bristol, near the crossing of Route 95 and the Bristol Pike, where a roadwalk is required to cross the Pike and keep up with the canal.

Finally, the trail breaks into Bristol. We had a surprise in order – Bristol’s Sunday Stroll meant the streets were alive with vendors, music, and what had to be the entire town’s populace. We made our way downtown, along the river, and then to Canal’s End, where we left our cars three days earlier.

What a journey it was. The D&L is a gem of a trail, overflowing with human, industrial, and social history. The trail towns are wonderful and varied, and apart from a few outages the trail is a gentle, comfortable gravel with a manageable downhill grade. I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in trying cycle touring for the first time, or anyone interested in the canal history or river villages.

Go bike it!

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