We’ll soon be heading out on another of our longer bike rides, and like last year, we have some new gear. So we needed another shakedown ride, like last year. Also like last year, we chose to make the Delaware & Lehigh Trail the focus. But unlike last year, we made it a two-day affair over Memorial Day weekend.
For a 165-mile trail (admittedly with a few road sections), the D&L Trail seems to still be pretty unknown, as I first said four years ago and again two years ago. Oh sure, people in our area may know there’s a trail on the “Pennsylvania side” of the Delaware between Lambertville and Frenchtown, NJ, and maybe as far south as Washington Crossing. But few realize the trail begins in Bristol, a Philadelphia suburb, and goes through Easton, Bethlehem and Allentown and ends north of I-80. I just keep trying to spread the word.
One problem with a bike overnight is figuring out where to stash the car. We decided we’d get around that by just riding from home, through Princeton and Pennington and then down to the river, avoiding the worst of the Sourland Mountains. That was easy to map out, aside from one little mistake. We didn’t want to ride on busy NJ 29 and thought something called Old River Road would take us behind the Golden Nugget flea market to a spot where we could cross the road and bridge to the D& Canal towpath. Unfortunately, that looks like it’s at least partly PSE&G private property, and we found ourselves on the road for about half a mile.
Then it was just a few miles to Lambertville, where we crossed over to New Hope. Our first reward: a French bakery.
Properly fueled after close to 25 miles, we got ourselves on the D&L. The Garmin said the next turn is in 35 miles. Sounds good!
The trail isn’t paved — it’s an old canal towpath, after all, and uses varying degrees of crushed stone. And flat, flat, flat! I took my road bike, which now has 28mm tires with a bit of tread, and was fine.
At times it does get pretty narrow, with no room for oncoming riders and runners but the grass. (This is a southbound shot from Day 2, for those sharp-eyed to notice.)
Someone described the trail in New Hope as being almost like going through people’s backyards. And yes, they do back onto the trail and we got some glimpses into some lovely gardens. But we just kept going, under many bridges and past Tinicum Park and the polo field where we caught a match last year, past Riegelsville and canal banks covered with fuscia, pale pink and purple wild phlox, past wide views of the Delaware to our right, dodging hissing geese who didn’t move their goslings out of the way fast enough even as I yelled to warn them of our approach, and only finally stopping on the outskirts of Easton when we were tempted by … ice cream. Where else do you choose among 24 flavors of soft-serve? You can even mix, but I couldn’t decide what would pair well with amaretto. Suggestions for next time, anyone? Or do I just eat my way through the list?
That 35-mile point turned out to be the Forks of the Delaware, where the Lehigh River empties into the Delaware. But while it’s the northern end of the Delaware Canal State Park, it’s not the end of the trail. We kept going for another 10 traffic-free miles until we reached Bethlehem, where we had to figure out how to get onto the bridge that would take us to the south side and our bike-friendly Comfort Suites hotel. (Carrying our bikes up the stairs to the bridge may be possible, but we said no. No worries, it’s an easy and quiet loop through Sands Island.)
This was a 72-mile day with about 2,000 feet of climbing. But we didn’t even notice about half of it as we gently followed the rivers. And a good 45 miles with no traffic — awesome!
Check out the trail network in Easton. We didn’t venture into the city; maybe next time? And while we walked around Bethlehem and even caught a few minutes of a concert with the ruins of the old Bethlehem Steel factory as a backdrop (the Steel Stacks), next time we need to check out the National Museum of Industrial History.
We decided to try something different for the way back: mostly stick to the road. We lopped off a 21-mile section of trail with about 13 miles of roads to Riegelsville. Lovely countryside, any steep climbs were pretty brief and we were out of Lehigh County and in Bucks County before we knew it.
Then we were back on the D&L for another 10-11 miles before we reached Frenchtown.
One thing that had surprised me about this stretch on Day 1 was the number of food options. Lambertville, New Hope, Stockton and Frenchtown have no shortage of choices, of course. I had thought further north would be pretty empty, but after a customer at the soft-serve place filled us in on options down to about Bull’s Island (north of Stockton), I decided to pay more attention. After all, bike rides are (almost) always about the food.
Here’s what I found.
Riegelsville is a village of fewer than 1,000 people, but there are several food options. And the fire department, just a block or two off the trail, has a roast beef dinner and a pancake breakfast coming up. After that ride that ended with a roast beef dinner at the Stockton fire department last month, I’m a fan! (Oh, and somewhere between Riegelsville and Easton is a place that looked popular with the other kind of bikers — motorcyclists — and looked like it had BBQ.)
Cool side note: The folks at the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor have organized a free 17-mile ride from Riegelsville taking place this Saturday (June 1) for National Trails Day — and you get a $5 voucher toward lunch at an area business.
Continuing south, we passed a new restaurant called The Narrows that had a French look to the outside and has a menu that leans nicer than what we tend to stop for while biking.
Then there was Trauger’s Farm Market — I picked up some chocolate-covered pretzels on the advice of the owner’s pre-school-aged grandson. And, yes, it’s a real farm selling produce. Right now it’s pick-your-own-strawberries time.
It was only a few miles further to the Homstead General Store in Upper Black Eddy, next to the Homestead Coffee Roasters. Good coffee (or so this non-coffee drinker is told) is only $2, plus there’s a breakfast menu, sandwiches and … ice cream. There’s outdoor trailside seating and racks for bikes. Glad we stopped.
Or you may time your ride to coincide with one of the pancake breakfasts put on by Upper Black Eddy Fire Department. And across the river is Milford, NJ and more food options.
At this point, you’re only a few miles from the bridge that takes you to Frenchtown, the end of the trail on the NJ side. It’s a small town that is hopping on weekends and full of food options. (Obey those signs at the bridge and walk your bike on the walkway .. and don’t ride on the bridge either. The guy working for the bridge commission has to come out and tell you off — or he gets in trouble for not doing his job. We followed the rules … and he was kind enough to refill our water bottles.)
If you keep going south on the Pennsylvania side, you quickly reach Erwinna, where there’s another volunteer fire department with a food fundraiser — an almost-monthly spaghetti dinner. Go on some more and just south of the bridge to Bull’s Island you’ll come across the Lumberville General Store, a bakery and deli that our Easton soft-serve tipster says has been used for a Nicole Kidman movie It’s just down from the Black Bass, an inn and restaurant that could be another good (and nicer) lunch spot. (Campers, your options are Tinicum Park near Frenchtown and a private campsite a few miles north.)
But we crossed over to NJ in Frenchtown. We’d already found the trail much busier than on Sunday, and that’s before the always popular Frenchtown to Lambertville and New Hope sections. So perhaps it was a good call to head up and over the Sourlands there and eventually pick up one of our regular routes.
The first part was fine, but at some point I ran out of energy, and we dragged ourselves home. 61 miles, 3200+ feet of climbing on a hot day; it felt like an Anchor House ride! Yes, we saved ourselves more than 11 miles and 1 hour and 4 minutes of time in the saddle, but was it worth the extra climbs? Maybe we should see if there’s a way to leave the car overnight at Washington Crossing…