The calendar isn’t lying. Summer is nearly gone. And with travel restrictions, social distancing, and a deadly virus alive in our midst, it just seems that area residents can’t get a break — especially a vacation break.
Yet our region provides a number of small outings where individuals, couples, and even families can get out for the day or evening and get a dose of summer — without spending a lot.
So take a look at some of my easy, pleasant, and sometimes offbeat tips pulled from my former columns, pack up your cooler, and get your last taste of summer along the Delaware River.
Following the river from the north to the south, we’ll start in Lambertville and the Lambertville Canal and Wing Dam, where one can get one of the most spectacular views of the river.
As I’ve reported before, the entrance to this beauty is hidden in plain sight — right off Bridge Street by a small bridge over the canal.
Okay, finding parking in Lambertville may be a problem, but there is a parking area behind the Lambertville Inn that connects to the towpath along the canal — where a vital train line that connected towns along the Delaware River once ran.
Some of the sites seen include the remains of a lock that let barges move between the canal and the Delaware River as well as abandoned passenger train cars, remains of the unsuccessful late-20th-century effort to restart train passage.
Further up are the unglamorous but necessary Lambertville Sewage Buildings and a weir where the canal water roars through and leaves behind branches and logs.
Then about a half-mile across from a bench on the right is a path leading down a bluff toward the river. Fraught with gnarled tree roots and rocks, it invites only the intrepid to enjoy its reward: the wing dam.
Built in the early 1800s to feed the canal and power Lambertville paper mills, it is now regulated by the Delaware River Basin Commission based in Trenton.
A combination of stone and concrete, the dam extends from both sides of the river in a chevron formation with an opening to let the water race through. Although often submerged after high waters resulting from heavy storms, the dam is usually slightly above the water line and provides visitors with the opportunity to walk close to the surface and into the center of the river.
There you can stand — or sit — with water running under foot and hear only the musical sound of the moving water. Look south and gaze at the white-capped water rushing over rocks and around small islands, then notice the river arching to the left and Bowman Tower on top of its mountain to the right.
Turn around and gaze at the silent traffic glittering in the sun as it travels across the Lambertville-New Hope Bridge and the 19th and early 20th century buildings of both towns seemingly out of a vintage Bucks County painting.
The experience — especially in the summer — is like walking into a postcard.
However there are some warnings. First the downward path is steep and uneven, so people with mobility issues should be extremely cautious or avoid it completely. And second, as observed during a recent visit, some visitors were not practicing social distancing and wearing masks. The site is open daily from dawn to dusk.
While there, take an advantage of a walk on the New Hope-Lambertville Bridge. Built in 1904, the 1,053-foot truss bridge also replaced two wooden bridges and stands where the Coryell’s Ferry operated. The name New Hope is connected to the settlers’ optimism of rebuilding after several mills burned down in the 1700s. Lambertville is named in honor of early 19th-century U.S. senator and acting New Jersey governor, John Lambert.
While the view of the river and towns is splendid, this two-lane bridge is just part of a tale of two bustling towns. In fact Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission information says more pedestrians use this bridge than any other span along the entire length of the Delaware River and its “walkway — which was widened in 2004 — can be especially crowded on pleasant summer evenings, with tourists, restaurant-goers, antique hunters, and local residents crossing between the two riverside communities. The Commission has recorded as many as 14,000 pedestrian crossings on the bridge on a single weekend day.”
Choosing an early weekday morning may be good way to cut down on the crowd and to find a parking space in the two towns that have limited metered or paid parking.
Couples looking for an easy romantic evening can watch the sun set, the stars sparkle, and the town lights glisten on the water.
Wear a mask and keep a good pace, and it can be a socially distanced fine outing.
Goat Hill Overlook outside Lambertville is a small New Jersey State Park where easy and short hikes lead to a spectacular view of the Delaware River. Make that two views. One is an easy and family friendly walk that leads to an open area with picnic tables. The other leads to an extended rock formation and is for the more sure-footed and adventurous. Nevertheless both provide commanding views of the Delaware River, the towns of Lambertville and New Hope, and the bridge that connects them.
To get to Goat Hill Overlook, take Route 29 to just south of Lambertville and take Valley Road, and then turn left on Goat Hill Road; follow up about a mile and then on the left turn on Washington Road. Follow it to the parking lot.
Incidentally, the Washington name comes from the belief that General George Washington had visited the area at least twice: once in the early days of the Revolutionary War to gather information and plan attacks and later when he and General Marquis de Lafayette made a visit to the stone promontory.
Open daily from morning to dusk. It’s free, has easy parking, and is easy for socially distancing.
Baldpate Mountain Park is about a five to six-mile trip south in Hopewell Township. Formerly known as Kuser Mountain, this park owned and operated by Mercer County has more than 12 miles of trails. Some are short loops at the top of the mount. Others are steep and include climbs up rocky hills.
In addition to the beautiful overlook of the Delaware River, on a clear day visitors willing to search will be able to locate the gold dome of the state capitol in Trenton as well as the tips of Philadelphia’s skyscrapers. Picnic areas and restrooms are available.
Baldpate Mountain, open from dawn to dusk, is located off Route 29 North. Turn on Fiddlers Creek Road and look for the entrance on the left.
Open daily from morning to dusk. Free, has easy parking, and is easy social distancing.
Washington Crossing State Park, five miles south on Route 29, is the place where the Revolutionary forces crossed the Delaware River on December 25, 1776, and turned the tides of the American Revolution with victories in Trenton and Princeton. In addition to housing the Colonial-era Johnson Ferry House, the 140-acre natural area features a nature center and 15 miles of moderate trails through forests and fields. It also includes picnic areas, restrooms, and a museum.
Open daily from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., the park is free from Labor Day through Memorial Day. It is located on Route 29 and Washington Crossing-Pennington Road in Titusville.
Next to the park and connecting it to Washington Crossing Historic Park in Pennsylvania is the Washington Crossing Bridge. The 877-foot metal truss bridge was built in 1904 to fill the span where two former wooden bridges operated before being swept away in floods.
The bridge also stands in the place where Colonial-era ferries operated, including McKonkey’s Ferry. That line was commandeered by General George Washington for the famous Delaware River crossing to surprise the British forces in Trenton and Princeton and turn the tide of the American Revolution.
And that is just one of the magical parts of this bridge. Not only can one see tree-lined riversides and 18th and 19th-century buildings, but one can imagine the ragged Revolutionary forces mustering their strength and resolve to engage the most proficient military force known in the world in a fight for liberty.
The bridge not only connects two states, it also connects two state parks, both with exhibitions and restrooms. There are also restaurants on both sides of the bridge, though pizza and ice cream are just a quick ride on both sides too. Free parking is available in the state parks on both sides.
The river side of Washington Crossing State Park is free with free parking. Here visitors can find a trail along the Delaware and Raritan Canal, access to the river, picnic areas, and a path that leads into the main park (where visitors pay $5 per carload through the main entrance).
Afternoons tend to get busy with picnickers, waders, and kayakers and canoers, so social distancing may be a bit of a concern. Mornings and evening may be a better choice.
In Trenton, 10 miles south, is South River Walk Park. Located over the Route 29 tunnel in Trenton, the park that makes a good destination for city lovers and adventurous souls was built by the State of New Jersey and given to Mercer County in 2004.
The 6.5-acre park provides an easy walk that has a wonderful view of the Delaware River. It also provides history lessons on the region through signage and public art, including a series of arches that represent Trenton’s history from its Native American origins through the American and industrial revolutions and beyond.
It is open dawn to dusk, every day of the year. Parking is on the adjacent street. It’s free, and there is street parking next to or near the park. Not as busy as the other parks, social distancing is easy.
There is also the opportunity to walk across two nearby bridges.
One is the 1,022-foot-long Trenton Makes Bridge — formally named the Lower Bridge — that connects Trenton and Morrisville, Pennsylvania.
The Lower Bridge is the site of the first bridge ever to span the Delaware River. The original opened in 1806 and over the next three decades was modified to resist floods. Then it became another first — the first in the nation to accommodate interstate railroad traffic.
Today’s manifestation was built in 1928 and stands on the original bridge’s stone support. It uses a metal Warren Truss design — Englishman James Warren’s 1848 innovation of using a metal arch frame with triangular shaped beams to support weight — and consists of two lanes and a walkway on the north side. There one can pause and watch water rush over rocks, seagulls roost, and large turtles sun.
On the south side are the famous 10-foot-tall letters that spell the slogan “Trenton Makes — The World Takes,” which the city adopted early in the 20th century when Trenton was a center for steel and pottery. The sign has continued as a logo of sorts for Trenton and has appeared on everything from the album cover for internationally known Trenton saxophonist Richie Cole’s “Trenton Makes,” films including John Sayles’ 1983 “Baby, It’s You” and the Janet Evanovich novel-inspired “One for the Money” in 2012, numerous postcards and posters, and even part of a mural in New York City’s Penn Station featuring a poem by nationally recognized and formerly Trenton-based poet Pablo Medina.
The sign lights were originally placed on the bridge in 1935, replaced in 2005, and are now undergoing a remake. And while the best spot to see the bridge sign is from a train traveling across the railroad bridge to the south, an evening walk on the bridge will cast you in the sign’s red glow and take you into another realm.
That goes for the panorama of the city’s skyline. The New Jersey State House’s gold dome and buildings sketching the history of late 19th and 20th century architecture — from Victorian church tops to brutalist concrete structures — are interesting during the day, reflecting on the river. But watching the city slowly light up at night is a quiet enchantment.
The bridge, however, is accessible from the Morrisville side. Drive on Bridge Street over the bridge and immediately turn right onto Park Avenue, where there is parking.
The other bridge is the Calhoun Street Bridge, less than a mile to the north from the Trenton Makes Bridge. It can be reached easily by walking along the raised towpath on the Morrisville side of the river, with an attractive and commanding view of Trenton and the river as a bonus. Or one can drive back to Bridge Street, turn right, turn right onto Delmorr Avenue, and follow it straight. When you see the bridge clearly, get ready to park on the right.
The 1,274-foot Calhoun Street Bridge also connects Trenton and Morrisville and boasts its own claims to history. As the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission (DRJTBC) notes, the original wood bridge — then called the City Bridge — was built in 1861 by the Trenton Bridge Company on a ferry site. After that bridge burned in a “spectacular” fire in 1884, it was replaced by a metal bridge built by the Phoenix Bridge Company of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.
Today that bridge — standing on the original stone piers — is the only of the DRJTBC’s 20 bridges made of wrought iron and the oldest roadway structure in continuous use between New Jersey and Pennsylvania. It was also part of the original 3,389-mile-long Lincoln Highway — America’s first transcontinental roadway, connecting New York City with San Francisco. A Lincoln Highway sign with arrows indicating the directions New York City and San Francisco can still be seen next to the active guard station near the Pennsylvania side.
The walkway on this bridge is also on the northern side and presents a view that belies the reality that you’re in the capital of the most densely populated state of the nation. Trees line both sides of the river, and in addition to being able to see turtles and large carp swimming below, there are even a few uninhabited islands to create a sense of being far away.
Both bridges have light pedestrian traffic, so social distancing is easy.
Bonus Delaware River Bridge & Park
The Lumberville-Raven Rock Pedestrian Bridge, 13 miles north of Lambertville, has the distinction of being the only pedestrian-only bridge on the Delaware River.
But that wasn’t by design. The original vehicle wood bridge was constructed by the Lumberville Delaware River Bridge Company in 1856. It operated until 1903, when a portion was destroyed by a flood. A steel truss replacement was installed the following year, and the bridge continued to operate until 1944 when its timber portions were deemed unsafe.
The current 689-foot bridge started its life when the DRJTBC hired the Trenton-based John A. Roebling Company to design a pedestrian suspension bridge in 1947. Built on the original piers, the bridge is part of a heritage of Roebling bridge-building that includes the Brooklyn Bridge and the 1847 Delaware Aqueduct, the nation’s oldest suspension bridge connecting New York State and Pennsylvania.
The easiest access to the Lumberville-Raven Rock Bridge — which in 1993 underwent major rehabilitation — is by visiting Raven Rock, part of New Jersey’s Bull’s Island State Park. Once there, simply park and follow the road towards the bridge. Then there’s the leisurely and quiet stroll over the water that leads to two dining venues. The first is the historic Black Bass Hotel, where adults looking for a romantic getaway may be able to spend time in the glass-walled riverside restaurant or with outdoor dining. The other is the quaint Lumberville General Store where families can find snacks and beverages.
By the way, the name Lumberville connects to the town’s sawmill past. Raven Rock’s nomenclature is less clear and has been linked to a possible Leni Lenape name.
Parks on both sides of the river provide opportunities for picnics, hiking, fishing, and even boat launching. It is as close to one-stop summer fun as one can find.
Free, with free parking, and open from morning to twilight, the park also gets busy in the mid-afternoon. But there is plenty of room for social distancing and a pause on the pedestrian bridge over the Delaware River may just be ticket for a brief summer break.
For more information on Bulls Island State Park, visit www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/bull.html.