Where does the Delaware River start

Living a couple of miles from the Delaware River all my life I have seen its beauty and have seen its fury. The Delaware River is a background here in Bucks County and to the city, I love, Philadelphia and runs and ends into the Delaware Bay separating the South Jersey Shore and the state of Delaware but where does the Delaware River start?

The Delaware River begins in 2 branches in the Catskill Mountains of New York. The Western Branch of the Delaware River starts near Mount Jefferson, the Eastern Branch begins near Roxbury at Grand Gorge. Both branches of Delaware merge in Hancock, NY, & flow as 1 river down to the Delaware Bay.

If you live for the outdoors as my family does there is no more beautiful spot in the world than the location where I live in one hour-20 minutes you could be in in the Pocono Mountains at the Water Gap fishing for freshwater trout or 1-20 minutes hour south on the Delaware Bay fishing for Weakfish and Blues. This is why I never knew that there was more river above the Water Gap on the Great Delaware River.

Map of the Delaware River

The Delaware River is the longest un-dammed river in the United States east of the Mississippi, extending 330 miles from the confluence of its East and West branches at Hancock, N.Y. to the mouth of the Delaware Bay where it meets up with the Atlantic Ocean. The river is fed by more than 2,000 tributaries, including 216 major ones, the largest being the Schuylkill and Lehigh rivers in Pennsylvania.

From Trenton to the Delaware Bay, the river is tidal. This portion of the river is also known as the Delaware Estuary where the river’s freshwater mixes with the saltwater of the ocean. In the Delaware Bay, the tidal change is about six feet, but in Trenton, it is about ten feet. While the entire tidal Delaware River is considered estuarine, salinity levels do change, from salt water in the bay to mostly freshwater at Trenton, N.J. The river is considered brackish around Wilmington, Del. The Delaware Estuary is part of the National Estuary Program, a project set up to protect estuarine systems of national significance.

Though the watershed drains only four-tenths of one percent of the total continental U.S. land area, 15 million people about 5 percent of the nation’s population rely on the Delaware River Basin for their drinking water. This includes the largest and fifth-largest cities in the nation New York and Philadelphia.

The Three Main parts of the Delaware River are:

  • Uplands –The Delaware River’s Uplands extend from the Catskill and Pocono mountains where it bubbles forth as cool mountain springs and trickling streams, to Hancock, NY where it’s East and West Branches meet to form the main stem, which flows down to the Delaware Water Gap where it enters the Piedmont section of the watershed
  • Piedmont-The steep slopes of the Delaware watershed’s Piedmont end abruptly at the Kittatinny Ridge, with the 3,000-4,000 foot peaks of the Pocono and Catskill Mountains giving way to the gently rolling hills and sweeping valleys of Piedmont. The difference between the two regions is dramatically illustrated as the River spills through the Delaware Water Gap, a narrow opening in the Kittatinny Ridge.
  • Estuary-The Delaware Estuary stretches 134 miles from the Trenton falls to the mouth of the Delaware Bay between Cape May, NJ, and Cape Henlopen, DE. Approximately 8 million people live within the Delaware Estuary’s watershed, many depend on it for food and drinking water


How Deep is the Delaware River


The deepest part of the Delaware River is 113 feet Big Eddy in Narrowsburg, New York. There is an effort underway to deepen the 102.5 stretches of the river under federal navigation in its channel as deep as 45 feet from Philadelphia and Camden out to the Delaware Bay. Mostly at the Port of Wilmington, Port of Chester, and the Port of Camden and Port of Philadelphia. Combined with these areas creates the biggest areas of shipping in the whole United States.

The Delaware River port complex refers to the ports and energy facilities along the river in the tri-state PA-NJ-DE Delaware Valley region. The Delaware River can freeze in parts mostly along Interstate 80 between Pa and NJ. I’m from Bucks County Pennsylvania and Delaware can also be knee-high deep in some spots north of the tidal water that runs up to Trenton New Jersey. The average annual flow rate of Delaware is 11,700 cubic feet per second at Trenton, New Jersey. With no dams or impediments on the river’s main stem, Delaware is one of the few remaining large free-flowing rivers in the United States.

The Upper Delaware System is made up of two Tailwater Rivers they are called the East and West Branches which converge in the town of Hancock New York both of which forming the Delaware River.

                                              West Branch Delaware River

The West Branch Delaware River is one of two branches that form the Delaware River. It is approximately 90 mi long and flows through the U.S. states of New York and Pennsylvania. It winds through a mountainous area of New York in the western Catskill Mountains for most of its course, before joining the East Branch along the northeast border of Pennsylvania with New York. Midway or so it is expounded by the Cannonsville Dam to form the Cannonsville Reservoir, both part of the New York City water supply system for delivering drinking water to the City. It joins the East Branch at Hancock to form Delaware. For the lower 6 mi (10 km) it forms part of the boundary between New York and Pennsylvania

East Branch Delaware River

The East Branch Delaware River is the other branch that forms the Delaware River. It is approximately 75 mi long and flows through the U.S. state of New York. The East Branch of Delaware is one of the two main branches that combine to form the Delaware River. The East branch is approximately 75 miles long from its source to its confluence with the West Branch in Hancock, New York. From its source in Grand Gorge, NY the East Branch winds its way through the western edge of the Catskill Mountains draining an area of around 371 square miles. The East Branch of Delaware averages 75 to 150 feet wide and is flat throughout most of its course.


Where Did Washington Cross the Delaware River

On December 25, 1776, General George Washington and a small army of 2400 men crossed the Delaware River at McConkey’s Ferry, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, on their way to successfully attack a Hessian garrison of 1500 at Trenton, New Jersey. Despite how the famous picture or the painting where Washington’s most famous is portrayed, the Delaware River is very narrow at this location. Durham boats and flat ferries were used to cross. They were probably fixed to a wire strung across the river.

The river and until today is less than 300 yards wide I live 10 miles from this spot in Bucks County PA downstream.  General George Washington and the Continental Army’s famous crossing of the Delaware River on December 25-26, 1776 was done during a winter Nor’easter.

By the time that most of the soldiers had reached the launching point for the boats, the drizzle had turned into driving rain. And by 11 o’clock that evening, while the boats were crossing the river, a howling nor’ easter made the miserable crossing even worse. One soldier recorded that “it blew a perfect hurricane” as snow and sleet lashed Washington’s army. A full 3 hours behind schedule temperatures for the crossing ranged from 29 degrees to 33 degrees, with brisk winds coming out of the northeast.

George Washington was 44 years old at the time of the Delaware River crossing. Future US President James Monroe crossed with the American forces and was wounded at the Battle of Trenton. There were roughly 1,380 Hessian soldiers in and around Trenton at the start of the battle. Because of the weather, that night was so bad the Hessions feared no attack. They were wrong.

For Exploring on Delaware river or and any isolated places in the country use an A great tool for active outdoors person buy this   Garmin Instinct Tactical, Rugged GPS Watch, Tactical Specific Features, Constructed to U.S. Military Standard 810G for Thermal, Shock, and Water Resistance

  • Constructed to U. S. Military standard 810G for thermal, shock, and water resistance (rated to 100 meters)
  • Built-in 3-axis compass and barometric altimeter, plus multiple global navigation satellite systems (GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo) support helps track in more challenging environments than GPS alone

JimGalloway Author/Editor

Reference:  History ChannelGeorge Washington crosses the Delaware River

JimGalloway is a proud member of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network




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