PA Road Trip: A Philadelphian’s Guide to the River Road, From Bristol to Easton

You may know this iconic route as the way to New Hope — but with loads of history, natural landmarks, and even a chance to fete your inner child, there’s much more to discover.

A visitor exploring Ringing Rocks Park / Photograph by Kevin Giannini/Alamy Stock Photo

For nearly a century, the Delaware Canal carried the coal that kept Philadelphia homes warm from the interior of the state to the big city. Built in 1832 to bypass the rapids and falls along the river itself, the canal ceased operation in 1931, and the company that owned it donated it to the state for use as a park. A road parallels that park for nearly its entire length from Bristol to Easton. And along it, you’ll find loads of history, charming villages, and a wonder of nature.

I’ll start with the natural wonder: Ringing Rocks Park near Upper Black Eddy. A blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sign points the way to the park from River Road, and a hiking trail to it begins about a half-mile north of that sign. At its end sits a field of boulders that resonate like bells when they’re struck with a hammer. (BYO!) That park lies about three-quarters of the way along the river from Bristol to Easton. You should allow yourself some time to wander Bristol’s cute downtown at the beginning of your trip, like I did. The riverfront park there includes the lagoon at the canal’s south end and has information about the waterway’s history.


Starting at: Bristol
Ending at: Easton

Journey: Two days.
Stopping in: Yardley, Washington Crossing, New Hope, Lumberville, Treasure Island, Point Pleasant, Riegelsville.
Must-see: The Crayola Experience.
On our playlist: “Affirmation,” by George Benson; Chaka Khan; P-Funk.

Just northeast of downtown Bristol, the Margaret R. Grundy Memorial Museum gave me a chance to see how the upper half lived in the Victorian era: The home the Grundy family purchased in 1884 has been preserved in its Gilded Age state (reservations required).

My next stop was Pennsbury Manor, a reproduction of William Penn’s 1683 country estate built between 1937 and ’39. Scholars have questioned the accuracy of the reproduction, but the adjacent museum provides a glimpse into the world of Pennsylvania’s founder. Workers were installing a new exhibit by Native American artist Nathan Young while I was there: “nkwiluntàmën: I long for it; I am lonesome for it (such as the sound of a drum)” runs through April 2024. It’s a sound art installation that brings the heritage of the Lenape, from whom Penn purchased much of his colony, into our time.

The liveliest place on the journey is New Hope. I don’t think I need to say much more about Bucks County’s adult playground except that the Great Barn Taproom has the only farm-to-glass beer brewed hereabouts: All its barley is grown at its farm up in Kintnersville.

I did make one unusual stop, prompted by my interest in state historical markers. (There are several pertaining to the Delaware Canal and the Pennsylvania Canal system along the road.) The marker I was particularly interested in is next to the ferry landing for Treasure Island Reservation at Lock Number 17. I had heard about this place and also wondered why its boat landing was covered with “Private Property — No Trespassing” signs. I learned that the island, one of the nation’s first Boy Scout camps, had been sold to a private owner who now runs it as a family campground.

Up the road in Point Pleasant was a place I wish I had been able to visit: F.P. Kolbe Gifts for Home & Garden and the May Cafe, which boasts decorative objects in its front yard right where the River Road connects to the former bridge across the river here. Sadly, it was closed both times I passed by.

The Delaware River bridge in Lumberville / Photograph by EQRoy/Alamy Stock Photo

Speaking of bridges, many historic spans cross the river, connecting towns in Pennsylvania with their New Jersey counterparts. Two of the most noteworthy are the pedestrian-only suspension bridge between Lumberville and Raven Rock, which replaced a covered road bridge in 1947, and the suspension bridge at Riegelsville, built in 1904 to replace a bridge that washed away in a flood the previous year.

I arrived in Easton after dark, when the city square sparkled with lights strung in its trees. I hadn’t expected the old industrial burg to look so magical, but the owner of the Lafayette Inn (rooms from $150), where I spent the night, explained that the city had renovated Centre Square very recently. Speaking of old, this B&B, housed in an 1895 mansion atop College Hill, two blocks from Lafayette College, features rooms outfitted with authentic antique furniture and modern comforts.

The next morning, after taking in the college campus, I let my inner six-year-old come out at the Crayola Experience, a four-story fun factory with all kinds of interactive exhibits. After wrapping and naming my own crayon, I went into the room where you can play with modeling putty and made a locomotive.

The building housing the Crayola Experience was originally modified to serve as a museum devoted to the history of the Delaware Canal. A working model of the canal remains in place on the center’s third floor; visitors can grab a “canal barge” and send it on its way back to Bristol.

Wander Luxe

Bucks County Baseball Co. in Bristol / Photograph courtesy of Bucks County Baseball Co.

The downtown Townley House Hotel (rooms from $242) in Easton offers 16 uniquely furnished rooms, including one that’s accessible by wheelchair.

Northampton Street in Easton offers a globe-spanning variety of fine restaurants along a one-block stretch, including the BayouThree Oak Steakhouse, and Aman’s Artisan Indian Cuisine. And don’t miss the Sunday brunch at the Riegelsville Inn.

Mill Street
, Bristol’s main shopping street, is lined with unique boutiques, restaurants and services. Antiques lovers and collectors will find shops selling vintage swag of all kinds, including Bucks County Baseball Co., the Mill Street Shop and Canal’s End Antiques. But they had me at fromage at the Forager, the newest store on Mill Street, specializing in cheeses and specialty foods from local farms.

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Published as “Following the River Road from Bristol to Easton” in the June 2023 issue of Philadelphia magazine.