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Kayaking with History

How often do you travel outside of where you live to do something touristy? Probably pretty often. But how often do you take the time to do something touristy in the town you live in? Not so often, right? In fact, we often turn our noses up at tourist attractions in our own towns.

Well, a couple weekends ago I decided to take advantage of a tourist attraction in my own town. And spoiler alert: I didn't regret it.... well, not totally.

The view of the Lehigh River on our kayaking trip.


I heard about Historic Bethlehem River Tours while doing hours of research about places to kayak around me. My boyfriend and I have recently fallen in love with kayaking and want to invest in our own kayaks for next summer. But, since I am such a crazy planner... I want someone to take me on a route and show me the access points and what to look for instead of just winging it. That's when I stumbled upon this river tour company.

Historic Bethlehem River Tours advertises that you will launch at Sand Island, paddle by the Bethlehem Steel Stacks, learn about the history of Bethlehem along the way, and then finish a few miles down the river. At that point, you hop on a bike and take the D&L trail back up to where we started. Now, most people that live in Bethlehem are obsessed with the Steel Stacks. I am no exception. Bethlehem Steel is still a huge part of the city's culture, even though the company is no longer in business. Yes, I woke up early on a Sunday morning to watch the implosion of Martin Tower (the old Bethlehem Steel headquarters). So the opportunity to kayak down the Lehigh river and learn more about the history of Bethlehem Steel was extremely appealing to me. They even said that they take your picture on your kayak in front of the Steel Stacks!

Unfortunately, the river was too low for us to be able to start at our original location. Skeptical and upset, I did some research. The river was only a foot deep where we were launching... I guess that makes sense as to why we wouldn't safely start there. We had to move our starting location to a few miles down the river where the water was closer to seven feet deep. Okay, I get it. I'll suck it up.

I'm very happy that I had faith in our guide. Even though I didn't get to kayak past the beloved Steel Stacks, we did get to discover a forgotten island!


Our kayaking group ended up being much larger than I had expected. I was thinking it would be a small group of 5, maybe 10 people. Turns out there were 20 of us, including the guide! Now, one thing you may not know about me yet is that I hate people. At 28 years old, I should not be so jaded. But I am. When I am out in public, I wish I was home with my boyfriend and my two cats. Them I like. But I don't want to hear about a stranger's life story or why their day has been awful. I don't even want to make small talk. I just want to enjoy what I'm doing with the people I chose to enjoy it with. I know, I'm awful.

Well, this trip kind of reinforced that again. Remember how I said I only slightly regretted doing something touristy? I only regretted it because I was stuck on a river with 18 other people, most of which did not understand what it is like to be out in nature. Seriously, how can you still not figure out how to maneuver you kayak an hour into the trip? When I'm on the water, I want to hear the birds chirping and all the wonderful sounds that you don't get to hear when you're walking around the city. What I don't want to hear is a stranger yelling to her friend about some nonsense. So, I just safely hung at the back of the group and kept a bit of a distance from the loud ones. Oh well. It was the only way I could maintain some positivity and not be bitter! No one should be bitter on the water.

The instructor actually knew a lot about the area. Every so often he would have us all paddle close to shore and rest for a bit while we engaged in "story time". This was very welcomed because I am not in the best shape and my arms were definitely fatigued. He talked about how the area was settled by Moravians and how the town got the name of Bethlehem. But what I found to be the coolest part was when we paddled to Island Park.

Right now, Island Park looks like nothing. It appears to just be a narrow island in the middle of the river consisting of nothing but trees and wildlife. There was no sign of human interaction with this island. But apparently, that wasn't always true! In the late 1890's Island Park was an amusement park! In that time period, many amusement parks popped up in an effort to help the trolley companies make money. But the unique thing about Island Park was just what it sounds like... this amusement park was on an island in the middle of the river. Now, I don't know about you... but that sounds like something that would definitely draw my attention! All it cost was 10 cents for your round-trip trolley fare AND the entrance to the park!

Once we paddled around the tip of the island to the other side, we saw remnants of the bridge that took people to the island. All that was left was one of the base pieces. The crazy thing is that there were trees growing out of it! The park closed around 1920, so much time has passed for all of this foliage to grow. But while the park was open, you could ride the ferris wheel, wooden roller coasters, and even see some live music. John Phillip Sousa played there in the early 1900's. Pretty cool!

My boyfriend and I on the Lehigh River. Island Park is actually the set of trees on the right side of the photo, completely blending in with the rest of the scenery.


All in all, I was happy I decided to go a bit out of my comfort zone and partake in this kayaking trip. I learned a lot of really cool facts about my city and spent a beautiful day out on the water. My boyfriend and I always say that even a crappy day on the water is better than a great day on land. We would always rather be on the water. It could be a tube, a kayak, or a boat! Doesn't matter, I'll be relaxed.

I'm sure there will be many more cool things in my town to do going forward. After all, that's why I love it so much!


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