The D&L Blog

Delaware & Lehigh - White Haven: The Upper Grand

Trail Blog #1

Written by: Jay Marsden

Last week I spent a day in and around White Haven, the north entrance to Lehigh Gorge State Park and the D&L Trail. I was able to hitch a shuttle ride with one of the local bike shops in downtown Jim Thorpe, which allowed me all the time I needed to explore my first trailhead and then enjoy the ride back home at my own pace.

White Haven is a town of rich history and a unique sense of tourism. Once the meeting place of the Lehigh & Susquehanna Railroad and the Upper Grand Section of the Lehigh Canal, White Haven thrived as a transportation point for raw materials needed by industrial towns such as Bethlehem and Easton. The town’s name is derived from Josiah White, the co-founder of Lehigh Coal and Navigation Co. and one of the chief engineers who created the lock system that successfully moved materials down the Lehigh and Delaware canals.

During my visit I found that those who come to White Haven are there for a very strange reason – they visit in order to leave. So whether they follow the remnants of Lehigh Canal down the Lehigh Gorge by foot, bike, or water, the attraction here is that it’s a really good place to grab a quick bite to eat, read about and witness some of the most interesting historical stories and sites of the 19th century, and charge into what this part of Lehigh River is known for: good whitewater and paddle sports, rails-to-trails hiking and biking, and rugged side trails into the beautiful Lehigh Gorge.

Like I said in my last post, I won’t dwell on obvious things; I’d rather share what I really enjoyed. This being said, one of my favorite things here is the White Haven Bakery, located just above the trailhead on Main Street.  This is an authentic home style bakery with some of the tastiest smells you can possibly imagine. You will find traditional favorites like hearty breads, spectacular cakes for an upcoming party, or even blueberry bread, pastries and cupcakes to grab on the go. The White Haven Bakery should not be missed (did I mention the Cheese Danish is unreal). NOTE: go early as they usually close by early afternoon.

There are a lot of lunch options in White Haven, like a burger that will strangely surprise you, a solid New York style slice of pizza, or a dense hoagie for the trail. Believe me; I understand what it’s like to have a full stomach on a trail day but… who can resist?  Go for the “Hubcap Burger” at the White Haven Family Diner on Main Street. But don’t ask for it by that name, the waitress may get offended.  Just ask for a hamburger with your preferred toppings and leave it at that, when the burger arrives you’ll understand its nickname. The next two options are a little quicker but just as satisfying.  Pizza from Antonio’s in the shopping center is the best along the trail – thin crust, quickly prepared, and excellent sauce.  Finally you might like Renee’s Cold Cut Hut, a new joint just above Main Street that is doing quite well with its $4 hoagie days. These subs travel well in a backpack and taste great riverside. What more can a rail-trail junkie ask for?

The day I spent on the White haven to Rockport section of the trail turned into one of this summer’s most beautiful days.  Bright blue sky with puffy white clouds were scattered through the sun filled air. With the Lehigh running at a nice pace, all the tributaries along the  trail were swiftly running too. It was exactly what a day in early June is supposed to look like. I caught glimpses of kayakers surfing the standing waves in the gorge below, I dropped off of the trail in each direction to explore whatever features I could find on my bike, and I read all about this section on the D&L and DCNR’s interpretive signs. However, there were a few stand-out things that I thought other riders, hikers, and kayakers would not want to miss.

About a mile and a half past the White Haven gate there is a small road crossing. This area is the village of Lehigh Tannery, where large hemlock trees provided the essential ingredient for curing hides. Just across the bridge to the left you can see the remains of the second largest tannery in America during the 19th century.  If you continue just pass this historic site on the road you’ll find the Tannery Depot general store where you can buy snacks, camping and fishing supplies, and most importantly ice cream!  Word has it that there is 20 miles of single track near here too.  If you’re an interested and respectful mountain biker, you can ask the locals where you might find this mythical trail head.

One of the most spectacular points along this part of the D&L Trail is about five miles above Rockport. Once a small settlement within the Lehigh Gorge, Hickory Run was a village founded on lumbering where sawmills and a tannery once thrived. Just about a mile past the D&L marker for Hickory Run, a subtle clearing within the trees on the left stands one of the most well preserved ruins of the Upper Grand Section of the Lehigh Canal: Lock 24 and Dam 16. This amazing display of 19th century manpower stands strongly after almost 150 years. It is a great place to stop, explore, and maybe grab a handful of trail mix but be careful for snakes on hot days.  And watch your step – you will be walking on some significant history. Standing 28 feet tall, the high lift lock and dam are in amazing shape and among the few still standing.  Dam 16, the stair like structure to the left was a unique part of this canal section; it redirected water from the Lehigh River into the massive locks such as this one near Hickory Run.  This lock and dam were in use until the 1862 flood when industry decided it would be more beneficial to invest in a railroad rather than restoring the canal.

Once in Rockport you will find park restrooms.  Otherwise you may have to use what we call “utili-trees” (terrible river guide joke) along the way. Rockport is the only “civilized” stop between White Haven and Jim Thorpe. However, if you are paddling the river to Jim Thorpe you will be flowing down some very technical Class III whitewater. For those river rats who know every rapid by heart I only have one recommendation that may be still quite unknown. The rapid known as White Falls marks the portion of the river where Stony Creek enters the Lehigh. Here if you travel about a mile up the creek you will find one of the most spectacular tributaries along the Lehigh. A beautiful buttermilk waterfall flowing over sundrenched rock will be encountered after a short creek side hike.   Please be careful and respect the power of nature if you do choose to explore this spot. It is quite amazing but it is only accessible from the river (sorry rail-trailers).

The White Haven trail head and the section of the trail that heads south towards Jim Thorpe truly captures the beauty of the Lehigh Gorge, its lush tunnels of mountain laurel and rhododendron may shield you for the first 15 miles but soon they will reveal the  humbling mountain walls and some awe-inspiring rock faces . Before I part, here are a few tips before you hit the trail:

  • This is a natural area that can become very remote and unpredictable very quickly, so tread lightly and always practice appropriate safety precautions when traveling either by bike, boat or foot.
  • It is better to be prepared than to be unprepared in areas like the Lehigh Gorge. Take advantage of the shopping center in White Haven. There is a grocery store there for necessities (and also Wood’s Ice Cream.  They make a mean milkshake in case you were wondering).

If you have any questions about anything I wrote in this blog or you if you’d like to add something I missed, please feel free to comment below or contact me at [email protected]