MILFORD, Pa. - Had the government gone through with its plan to condemn the park here to make a dam in the 1960s, this gem would be deep under water today.
Luckily for tourists, the dam was deemed economically and environmentally unsound. Instead, the National Park Service and citizens advisory commissions from three states got together to clean up and improve the area, and most recently, it has been the subject of a $150 million development program - of the green kind.
Now, five hours southwest of Boston, barely over the New York border into Pennsylvania, lies the redeemed Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, 70,000 acres of unspoiled scenic serenity and the largest recreation area in the eastern United States.
Depending on the season, you can hike here, fish, snowshoe, swim, raft, golf and ski, not to mention picnic all alone with a bucolic view of river and woods.
The Delaware River, which cut through the Kittatinny Mountains over the years to create the water gap, is one of the cleanest and prettiest rivers in the East. Among the few historic structures that remain within the park is its only hotel, the Cliff Park Inn, built in 1820.
While most of us think of the usual national park accommodation as either a tent, a yurt, or at most a rustic cabin in the woods, Cliff Park Inn is a restored 14-room 1820s combination Shaker/Mission-style building with a massive front porch overlooking its own nine-hole USGA-rated golf course. Inside, guest rooms include amenities like bathrooms with free-standing claw-foot bathtubs.
Called one of America's Top 10 Most Romantic Inns by American Historic Inns, it eschews heart-shaped beds like its neighbors in the Poconos for four-posters and a restaurant sophisticated enough to satisfy the New Yorkers who escape the Big Apple for some outdoor adventure.
The inn's owners, Yvonne and James Klausmann, negotiated a long-term lease with the park service in 2003 because they wanted a job that allowed them to do outdoor activities together - ski, snowboard, snowshoe, mountain bike, fly fish, spin fish and hike - close to their home and business.
When we arrived in mid-February, the manager greeted us with an apology that "this is our 'low' season," as if the half-foot of snow outside the front door was a hindrance to outdoor activity.
We immediately borrowed some of the inn's snow shoes and headed across the golf course on one of the seven miles of mapped trails to the bluff, from which the "cliff" part of the inn name comes.
After 20 minutes we came to the spectacular vista of the Raymondskill Falls and the Delaware River 900 feet below us, and we made a vow to come back for the three other seasons, when we could bring a picnic up here, and when we could see the changing color of the leaves in this unspoiled place.
You can hike 27 miles of the Appalachian Trail within the park and never see a soul, winter or summer. A short drive will take you to 50 more miles of multiple use trails at Promised Land Trail System offering mountain biking, hiking and cross country skiing. You can drive to High Point State Park 25 minutes away in all four seasons and hike to the park tower and see three states at one time: Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. There's a brand new bike path along the Delaware River, or you can get right in the river to swim or on it with canoes, kayaks, tubes, fishing boats or rafts at the nearby Kittatinny Canoes.
Back at the inn, weather permitting, where else can you play nine holes of golf for $14?
Downtown Milford, about a five-minute drive from the inn, has several antique shops, as well as the mansion Grey Towers, the ancestral home of Gifford Pinchot, who was the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service and twice governor of Pennsylvania. There's also The Columns, a historical museum that owns the blood-stained Ford's Theater flag that cradled the head of a dying Abraham Lincoln. The nearby towns of Lafayette, N.J., and Hawley, Pa. are also noted for antique shops.
Outlet shopping is available 45 minutes away at Woodbury Commons, and you can find culture 25 minutes from the inn at the Mountain Laurel Center for the Performing Arts in Bushkill.
We found, however, that looking out of our window onto 500 acres of woods and farmland and hills and stars without any other lights or sounds of civilization was enough entertainment.
If you go
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
Cliff Park Inn
* 155 Cliff Park Road, Milford, Pa., 800-225-6535
* $129 to $249 a night including breakfast
* www.cliffparkinn.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
* Kittatinny Canoes, 800-FLOAT-KC, www.kittatinny.com