SPECIAL OFFER: - Limited Time Only!
(The ad below will not display on your printed page)
When the weather calls for one of those 3H (hazy, hot, and humid) weekends, take some advice from Big Mouth Billy Bass, the singing fish: "Take them to the river!"
That's right. Pack everyone in the car, turn on the AC full blast, and set the global positioning device for Bucks County, PA. At River Road, just one hour northeast of Philadelphia, look right. You'll see your salvation: the lazy Delaware.
Bucks County, you see, is the place for tubing, a sport of great skill requiring you to stick your butt in an inner tube and relax for 2, 3, or 4 hours while the river drags you along. You can even "tube in" to an island hot dog stand (about 3 miles downriver from Point Pleasant), complete with tables in the water.
The Delaware's only 1 to 5 feet deep along the 6-mile stretch from Point Pleasant to just north of New Hope, and flows at a leisurely 1.5 miles per hour. That makes it super safe, and bathtub warm -- averaging 70-plus degrees F from May through October.
For something a little faster-paced, rent a canoe or kayak. You'll find outfitters just off River Road (signs direct you to them). But whether you tube or boat, make reservations well in advance. In the summer, everyone wants to put their derriere in the Delaware.
If it's not too brutally hot, take a bike ride. The 12-foot-wide towpath of the Delaware Canal, a National Heritage Hiking Trail, runs for 60 delightfully flat miles from Easton to Bristol.
You can also cross the Delaware on one of five bridges near New Hope, and ride New Jersey's own towpath along the D&R Canal. The path runs along the other side of the river for 25 miles, from Bull's Island, New Jersey (8 miles north of New Hope) to Trenton.
Both towpaths are scenic, and filled with small towns that once served barge operators when they pulled up for the night. You can stop at any of them for brunch or just to wipe the sweat from your brow.
The most popular route: Start in New Hope, the unofficial capital of Bucks County, and ride up to Centerbridge. Cross the bridge to the New Jersey side, and ride through Stockton and Lambertville. Then cross the bridge back again to New Hope.
Another well-trafficked route starts in Washington Crossing State Park. Ride up to New Hope, cross the bridge to Lambertville, ride south to Washington Crossing, New Jersey, and cross the river back to your car. For a good breather, rest your legs on the deck of Faherty's, a restaurant right on the towpath by Washington Crossing overlooking the canal.
In New Hope, it's also possible to tour the canal by mule-led barge, just like you could in the waterway's heyday. The difference is, now you must pay for the experience, and listen to some pretty hokey narration.
When the day's over (or it's raining), plan to hang out in New Hope, once a thriving artist's colony, now a popular tourist spot. Tchotchke shops outnumber galleries these days, but the town remains as quaint as ever. It's easy to spend hours here, just strolling up and down Main Street, stopping in sidewalk cafes, admiring the 16th-century architecture, or just watching the passing scene.
When you've tired of New Hope, cross the bridge to Lambertville, NJ, Bucks County's "Second City." This is where serious art, antique, and collectibles shops -- not to mention gourmet restaurants -- have migrated in recent years. And see what New Hope was like before the day trippers arrived. You never know how long it will stay that way.
For a more "packaged" experience, check out Lahaska, just five miles away. Its claim to fame is Peddler's Village, a tidy little shopping complex filled with crafts, collectibles, and specialty shops, all housed in 18th-century style buildings. Both Peddler's Village and New Hope are early-to-bed kind of places, with most shops closing around 5 or 6 p.m.
Add some history to the trip with a stop at Washington Crossing Historic Park, right off Route 32, just 7 miles south of New Hope. It's on the site where Washington and his bottomed-out troops crossed the icy Delaware on Christmas Eve and won an essential victory in the Revolution.
There's a free, 20-minute movie (afternoons only) about the history of the area, plus a "village" with soldiers' graves, a blacksmith's shop, and other period buildings. Grab some quick eats at a restaurant across the street from the park entrance, a nearby pizza place, or a deli around the corner.
Washington didn't have the benefit of Bowman's Tower, a 110-foot watchtower with 360-degree views of the area, but you can climb this stone observation tower that was built in the 1930s and check out the cool views.
Getting to Bucks County is half the fun. Whether you're coming from the north or south, use River Road (Route 32), an idyllic, two-lane country road, with scenic twists and turns. You'll see old-fashioned barns, osprey, deer, and, of course, plenty of river. Stop at a roadside stand for local produce, including some of the juiciest, tastiest tomatoes you've ever eaten in August.
Type of trip: Water sports, biking, shopping, museums
Best ages: 9 and up
Ideal trip length: Day trip or weekend
Distance: Philadelphia (40 miles), New York (70 miles), Baltimore (135 miles)
Best time to go: Summer
Weather: Summer is usually humid and in the 80s F, with some days in the 90s.
Lodging: Bucks County is filled with gracious antique-filled inns and farmhouses. Rates vary from season. Some B&Bs have no-kid policies so check before booking. B&Bs outnumber motels in New Hope, so if you're looking for cheaper lodging, try Doylestown, just 10 miles away.
Squirm factor: None. Tubing down the Delaware is nearly as fun as Nintendo.
River Country 2 Walters Lane, Point Pleasant Phone: 215-297-5000
Freeman's Bicycle Shop 52 Bridge St., Frenchtown, NJ Phone: 908-996-7712 Also on Rt. 412, Ottsville, PA, 610-847-5506
New Hope Cyclery 186 Old York Rd., New Hope Phone: 215-862-6888Boating:
New Hope Canal Boat Co. 149 Main St., New Hope Phone: 215-862-0758
Masterpiece Galleries 15 W. Mechanic St., New Hope Phone: 215-862-4444Parks:
Delaware Canal State Park Easton, PA to Bristol, PA Park office: 11 Lodi Hill Rd., Upper Black Eddy, PA Phone: 610-982-5560 Maps of the canal are available at the park office, as well as the D&R Canal Commission's Web site below.
Washington Crossing Historic Park On Route 32, just a few miles north of I-95 Washington Crossing, PA Phone: 215-493-4076Museums:
James A. Michener Art Museum 138 S. Pine St., Doylestown Phone: 215-340-9800
The Mercer Museum 84 South Pine St., Doylestown Phone: 215-345-0210
Fonthill E. Court St., Doylestown Phone: 215-348-9461 Note: Reservations required
Moravian Tile Works 130 Swamp Rd., Doylestown Phone: 215-345-6722Favorite Local Spots:
Faherty's Restaurant/Pub At Washington Crossing Bridge and Route 29 Phone: 609-737-0400
Peddler's Village At Routes 202 and 263, Lahaska Phone: 215-794-4000
Bucks County Conference and Visitors Bureau Phone: 1-800-836-BUCKS
New Hope Information Center Phone: 215-862-5880
Lambertville Area Chamber of Commerce Phone: 609-397-0055
Bed-and-Breakfast Association Phone: 1-800-982-1235
Never fear about what to do on a threatening day. Rain can only enhance the experience at the Mercer Museum, a giant, concrete castle built by archaeologist and tilemaker Henry Chapman Mercer. Not only is it wonderfully gloomy at this gothic mansion in Doylestown, but 50,000 artifacts from pre-industrial times are packed into nearly every available space.
Little rooms are crammed with old tools, plows and everything imaginable from life before the iMac. Kids will love the vampire-killing kit and gallows, but there's friendlier stuff, too. They can go on a visual scavenger hunt, take the reins on a simulated horse and buggy and try on vintage clothing.
Nearby is Mercer's house, Fonthill, part cement castle, part eccentric's house, and an excellent example of turn-of-the-century art and architectural decoration. For more living history, try the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works, also a Mercer creation. There, you can watch glazed tiles being made in a traditional arts-and-crafts style (and buy them).
Just down the street is the James A. Michener Art Museum, devoted to art, not to Pulitzer-Prize winning Michener, a Doylestown native (it's just named after him). The permanent collection consists of 19th- and 20th-Century American art; regional and national artists are featured in changing exhibits.
End your day in the heart of town for dinner. Doylestown isn't a destination like New Hope or Lambertville, but it does have some great cafés.
Favorite local spot: Gerenser's Exotic Ice Cream 22 S. Main St., New Hope Phone: 215-862-2050 Note: Why get vanilla when you can have chocolate cherry cordial or honeydew ice cream? These folks have been stirring up unique flavors (plus the standards) since 1943. Prepare your taste buds.
Best souvenir: A beautifully glazed, relief-design tile from Moravian Pottery & Tile Works. Kids can buy letter-shaped tiles and spell out their names or initials.
Annual events: New Hope Outdoor Arts and Crafts Festival Phone: 215-598-3301 October, throughout downtown New Hope
What to pack: Bug spray and long pants to prevent Lyme disease when walking or cycling.
Traffic alert: River Road (Route 32) is a scenic, two-lane road, but not the most direct route. If there's an accident, traffic can get backed up. To avoid delays when coming from the north, take the PA Turnpike south and catch Route 202 East to New Hope. Parking is a big problem in New Hope. Plan on paying to park in a lot.
Reviewed April 2004.