Delaware Water Gap is one of the most visited parks in New Jersey. Even though the following hike can be quite strenuous for people who are out of shape, on a nice day the trails will be full of people with their dogs or children. Those who know me know that I'm not too fond of crowds on trails. Still, I am willing to suffer them to do as nice a hike as this one.
Hiking - The Sunfish Pond Small Loop
Start hiking the white-blazed Appalachian Trail, which winds its way over Dunnfield Creek. After heavy rains, the creek can get quite impressive; during more serene times people walk down to it and even try hiking on the streambed. I can only recommend the former, but you may want to hold it off, as you'll get much more intimate with the creek later on.
After about ten minutes, you'll get to a fork on the trail. The Appalachian Trail leaves uphill to the left, while the green-blazed Dunnfield Hollow Trail starts towards the right. Turn left here and begin to climb the Appalachian Trail. This first section will take you about ten minutes, after which the trail levels off for a while. I haven't been here often enough to be certain, but this spot tends to attract bears; I've seen them here twice already. The bears cross the trail quite freely, and while they seem to be used to people, it's always a good idea to never get stuck between the mother and the cub.
The Appalachian Trail now becomes a dirt road and actually descends a little. Soon, however, the climb begins again, and while it's not as steep as before, the footing is extremely difficult with lots of large rocks covering the trail. Most of the time you'll hike on the top of a ridge, but the few trees here and there will offer enough shade. Half an hour to an hour later, you'll arrive to the real top of your climb, Backpacker Site 2 (the only place for legal camping on this portion of the trail), and the crossing with the blue-blazed Douglas Trail. If you walk towards the left, you'll be able to find a few good spots to overlook the Delaware River.
As you continue on the Appalachian Trail, you'll descend rapidly, after which the trail levels off and continues forward. The trail is now clearly a woods road, and the footing is much more comfortable. Ten to fifteen minutes later, you'll arrive at the Sunfish Pond.
On a good day, this glacial lake 1380 feet above the sea level offers one of the most beautiful sights you can get. Its waters are crystal-clear, and the surrounding forest is lush green. While there is a strict no-camping policy in effect, I failed to notice any "no swimming" signs, and I've seen lots of people taking a dip here. If you feel like it, you can circle around the lake, which will add about a mile to your total hiking distance. Once you are ready to leave, just take the green trail and start another climb.
The green-blazed Dunnfield Hollow Trail starts with a short but very steep climb. Throughout the climb you'll be exposed to the sun, as the wide trail winds its way through low undergrowth, with only few tall bushes that are too far off to offer any shade. Once on the top, the trail levels off for a short while and then starts a very steep and difficult descent on an extremely rocky surface. Once down, you'll get no rest, and instead will be forced to cross a large rock field. Be sure you are well rested before you get on the green trail.
As much as I enjoy the challenge of the Appalachian Trail and the beauty of the Sunfish Pond, the serenity of the walk along the Dunnfield Creek that beats them all. For the next half an hour, you'll be strolling along a quiet creek through an open forest with large patches of fern undergrowth, enjoying the tranquility. On a late afternoon, this part of the trail is completely deserted and achieves an almost fairy-tale quality.
After about half an hour, the trail is joined by the red trail that you crossed while on the Appalachian Trail. From here on, you are likely to meet other hikers, and the environment becomes more civilized, with a wide gravel road and bridges instead of a narrow dirt trail and rocks to cross the stream. Fifteen to twenty minutes later, a blue-blazed trail joins you from the left. If you are in a really good shape, you may want to consider taking it. It will eventually lead you to the top of Mount Tammany (described as a separate hike here), and add about 3 miles and 1,250 feet elevation to your hike. Otherwise, follow the green trail that soon rejoins the Appalachian Trail and some ten minutes after that ends on the parking lot.
Note: There is another Sunfish Pond loop hike, which is about two miles longer, and will let you hike the ridge back to Mount Tammany. However, the ridge trail is unkept, overgrown and infested with deer ticks, and the park rangers strongly discourage everybody from going there in summer.
© Jozef Purdes, 2003