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Kayaking In NJ (New Jersey’s 19 Best Paddling Locations)

Mark Armstrong
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Put down that NJ diner menu and grab a paddle!

New Jersey’s offering an invitation: scenic waterways, diverse ecosystems, and the thrill of exploration from the seat of a kayak.

When you want to escape the crowds and get a different perspective of the Garden State you can take to the water. To make it easier, we’ve listed some of the best places to go kayaking in NJ, from coastal to inland locations.

19 Best Places To Go Kayaking In New Jersey

1: Liberty State Park

Paddling the Hudson River near NYCPin
Courtesy: Alec Perkins on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Liberty State Park can be one of the best spots to paddle if you’re after spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty. There’s also a bridge connecting the park to nearby Ellis Island (although this is not open to the public).

The launch ramp is located at the southern end of the park and kayaks can launch for free. You can paddle around Liberty Island and Ellis Island, or head up the Hudson River along the Jersey City waterfront for views across to Greenwich Village.

Kayaks can be rented at Liberty Harbor in Jersey City, just across the Morris Canal Basin from the state park.

It can be important to note that there is usually a lot of boat traffic in this area, including ferries and large ships.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I/II (easy)

Where to launch & how to get there:

Liberty State Park Boat Launch, 275 Morris Pesin Drive, Jersey City, NJ 07305.

2: Parvin State Park

Parvin State Park features two lakes and a creek, giving you added paddling choices. Parvin Lake, the largest of the two, offers flatwater for relaxed paddling and can be great for beginners.

This can also be a good location to spot wildlife, including the state-endangered barred owl. The park is surrounded by pine forests and swamp hardwoods, making it a great place to enjoy nature. You can also fish in both Parvin Lake and Thundergust Lake, as well as Muddy Run. Bass, catfish, pickerel and yellow perch are generally the top target species.

Guide to NJ bass fishing

Kayak rentals are available inside the park, next to the visitor center, where you can also launch from the adjacent beach. Alternatively, there’s a boat ramp at Fisherman’s Landing, just off Parvin Mill Road.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I/Flatwater (easy)

Where to launch & how to get there:

Parvin State Park Office, Pittsgrove, NJ 08318.

3: Horseshoe Cove

Horseshoe Cove can be found in Gateway National Recreation Area, which can offer many paddling opportunities. This protected area acts as a barrier between the Atlantic Ocean and Sandy Hook Bay. The cove can be a more sheltered spot to paddle than out in the bay or the Atlantic Ocean. But it can sometimes be difficult due to the tide.

There are several places where you can launch your kayak within the park, with one being near Beach 1, about a quarter mile north of Parking Lot L.

There are many beaches where you can stop. You can also paddle around the various coves and inlets outside of Horseshoe Cove, including heading south to Highlands Reach and the Navesink River.

Kayak rentals can be found in Sandy Hook.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I/II (easy to moderate)

Where to launch & how to get there:

Hartshorne Drive, Highlands, NJ 07732 (opposite campground parking lot).

4: Hackensack River

A woman paddling along Hackensack riverPin
Courtesy: Kai Schreiber on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Hackensack River can be a diverse location to paddle, with both urban and natural environments to explore. Launching at Laurel County Park, you can head either north or south, with views of Manhattan in the distance.

Heading upriver, you’ll find the Hackensack Meadowlands Conservation and Wildlife Area, which features creeks and marshes, as well as lots of bird life. There’s also a public boat ramp at the entrance to Mill Creek Marsh.

If you head downriver from Laurel Park, you can explore the Saw Mill Creek Marsh, which is actually over the state line in New York. Kayak rentals and tours are available in Laurel Park.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I/II (easy)

Where to launch & how to get there:

Laurel County Park Boat Ramp, Laurel Hill Road, Secaucus, NJ 07094.

5: Delaware Bay

A dolphin and kayakers at Delaware BayPin
Courtesy: Jim, the Photographer on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Delaware Bay sits between New Jersey and Delaware, and offers excellent paddling opportunities, with wildlife viewing and coastal scenery. There are several places you can launch along the coastline, including at Norbury’s Landing, just north of the Villas in Cape May.

From this launch, you can paddle south toward Cape May. This lets you kayak alongside the ancient maritime forest at Higbee Beach as you head toward the Cape May Lighthouse. Just past Higbee Beach, you can see the wreck of the SS Atlantus.

From Norbury’s Landing, you can also choose to paddle north to explore the Dennis Creek Wildlife Management Area. However, the tide and the wind can affect how difficult it is to paddle.

You can rent kayaks from several locations in Cape May.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I/II (easy to moderate)

Where to launch & how to get there:

2-98 N, Delaware Avenue, Villas, NJ 08251.

6: Round Valley Reservoir

Round Valley Reservoir can be an ideal place for a relaxing paddle or some kayak fishing – it’s stocked with lake trout.

The reservoir features clear water and beautiful natural scenery. With a motor limit of 10 horsepower, it can also be peaceful and great for families and new paddlers. The reservoir is surrounded by a state recreation area and is the only state park in New Jersey to offer wilderness camping, with the eastern shore campsites accessible only by boating or hiking.

There’s a public boat launch on the northern shore and kayak rentals are available off-site and can be delivered to the reservoir upon booking.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I/Flatwater (easy)

Where to launch & how to get there:

County Road 629, Lebanon, NJ 08833.

7: Monksville Reservoir

Monksville Reservoir lies within Long Pond Ironworks State Park in the New Jersey Highlands. This beautiful reservoir benefits from calm, flatwater and beautiful surroundings. There are even a couple of sunken forests.

There are also historical sites to see inside the state park, including waterwheels and the remains of 18th and 19th century ironworks.

This peaceful reservoir, on the Wanaque River, covers just over 500 acres and is surrounded by forests. It features two boat launches, both with parking. The South Boat Launch has a kayak outfitter adjacent, offering hourly rentals.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I/Flatwater (easy)

Where to launch & how to get there:

South Boat Launch, 1081 County Road 511, Ringwood, NJ 07456.

8: Cooper River

Rowing event at the Cooper riverPin
Courtesy: Michael W Murphy on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Cooper River is a tributary of the Delaware River and can give you some great views of the Philadelphia skyline. The river is generally calm and slow-moving, so it can be good for paddlers of all levels. The flatwater river is also used by rowing teams and is home to several championship regatta and rowing events.

Launching at Cooper River Park, you can paddle in either direction, with parkland and homes along the banks. You can also follow along the Camden Water Trail that stretches 13 miles along the Cooper River and around Petty’s Island in the Back Channel of the Delaware River.

There are several places to launch along the river, including the kayak ramp on South Park Drive. Kayak rentals are available in Cooper River Park.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I (easy)

Where to launch & how to get there:

Cooper River Park Kayak Landing, S Park Drive, Collingswood, NJ 08108.

9: Atlantic City

Atlantic City is probably best known for its casinos and its beachside boardwalk. This Vegas of the east coast can be a great paddling destination, with beaches, bays, and several protected natural areas, including Absecon Wildlife Management Area, part of Pine Barrens.

You can launch directly into the Absecon Bay, just north of Atlantic City. The bay can be ideal for fishing and wildlife viewing, with many birds calling the area home.

The waters in this salt marsh area tend to be calm but you can head out through the inlet into the ocean for close-up views of Atlantic City. The ocean can be choppier so it can be better if you have sea kayaking experience and a suitable craft.

Kayak rentals are available from Kammerman’s Marina in Clam Creek in Atlantic City or additional rentals and guided tours can be found in Ocean City.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I/II (easy)

Where to launch & how to get there:

Absecon Creek Boat Launch, 527 4th Street, Absecon, NJ 08201.

10: Raritan River

Vibrant autumn foliage along the banks of Raritan River in Clinton, New JerseyPin

The Raritan is the longest river that’s entirely within New Jersey. It offers a mostly  urban and suburban paddling experience, with some fantastic views of the New Brunswick skyline.

Launching from Johnson Park, you have the option of paddling along the river past New Brunswick or you can cross over the river to access the Delaware and Raritan Canal.

This can be paddled in both directions and is generally a good spot for beginners. The canal can be ideal if the water levels in the river are not on your side, as this is a shallow tidal river.

The river can be a great spot for wildlife, particularly birds, with over 200 species being spotted along the banks.

Class of rapids rating:

Class I/II – easy, mostly slow-moving water

Where to launch & how to get there:

Johnson Park, Johnson Drive, Piscataway, NJ 08854

11: Wawayanda Lake

Sunlit summer landscape of Wawayanda LakePin

Wawayanda Lake is a glacially formed lake with areas of mixed oak hardwood forest and Atlantic white cedar swamp. The state park on the northeast shores of the lake can be an excellent place to launch, with kayak rental available at the boathouse if you don’t have your own kayak.

Part of the Appalachian Trail runs through the Wawayanda State Park, so there’s excellent hiking on offer if you want to make the most of the outdoors.

This scenic lake is home to the endangered red-shouldered hawk, so you might want to pack your binoculars. It’s also a good place to spot great blue heron as well as the barred owl and eagles.

Class of rapids rating:

N/A – flatwater lake, easy

Where to launch & how to get there:

Wawayanda Boathouse, Highland Lakes, NJ 07422

12: Merrill Creek Reservoir

Scenic view of Merrill Creek Reservoir during the fall seasonPin

Merrill Creek Reservoir is one of the best kayaking locations for wildlife viewing.

The reservoir is home to bald eagles and they can often be seen in the trees surrounding the water, fishing in the lake, or gliding overhead. There are two active bald eagle nests: one on the eastern shore and one on the western shore.

The reservoir is set within over 2,000 acres of forests and natural areas, so you can get a sense of remote and pristine exploration despite being only a few miles from several towns in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

You can paddle through flooded forests of bare trees and watch out for white-tailed deer on the shoreline.

Class of rapids rating:

N/A – flatwater lake, easy

Where to launch & how to get there:

34 Merrill Creek Road, Washington, NJ 07882

13: Lake Hopatcong

Lake Hopatcong is New Jersey’s largest lake. At nine miles long and over 2,500 acres, there is no shortage of paddling space. It’s also a great fishing spot, with largemouth bass being one of the target species for anglers.

This can be an interesting place to paddle for all skill levels. The water is flat and there are lots of sheltered bays and coves for beginners to explore. There are also several islands and inlets to check out, along with waterfront homes.

Watch out for boat traffic in the summer.

The lake is the headwaters of the Musconetcong River, which can also make for a fun kayaking destination. The river has a three mile water trail for kayaks and canoes.

Class of rapids rating:

N/A – flatwater lake, easy but with occasional boat traffic

Where to launch & how to get there:

Lee’s County Park Marina, 443 Howard Boulevard, Mt. Arlington, NJ 07856

14: Cranberry Lake

Cranberry Lake sits within the Allamuchy Mountain State Park. The park covers an area of almost 2,500 acres of mixed oak and hardwood forests.

The lake was once developed as a resort in the early 20th century but some of the vacation homes remain and are now permanent homes. The lower section of the lake is the more wild section, with areas with no development at all. This can be a good spot to paddle if you like to relax and immerse yourself in nature.

There are small islands and coves to explore. You’ll also find wildlife among the wooded shoreline. Great blue heron can be found, as well as ospreys.

If you like to fish, the lake is home to largemouth bass, pickerel, and perch, so remember to pack your fishing license and rod.

Class of rapids rating:

N/A – flatwater lake, easy

Where to launch & how to get there:

S. Shore Road, Byram Township, NJ 07821

15: Passaic River

The Passaic River is a slow-moving river that flows through some of the most highly-populated areas of New Jersey. The upper stretch flows through a suburban landscape mixed with wetlands and meadows before it flows past Newark and into Newark Bay.

While this has historically been considered a very polluted river, there are signs of the water quality improving, with plenty of wildlife to be found along its banks. Turtles, egrets, hawks and eagles have been spotted along the river.

Launching at Berkeley Heights gives you the chance to paddle through peaceful stretches of the river and the wetlands at Chatham. There are some portages if you paddle all the way to Newark, including Great Falls and Dundee Dam.

Class of rapids rating:

Class I/II – easy, generally slow-moving river

Where to launch & how to get there:

24 Snyder Avenue, Berkeley Heights, NJ 07922

16: Spruce Run Reservoir

Spruce Run Reservoir is surrounded by picturesque rolling hills and offers 15 miles of shoreline to explore, as well as lots of coves and creeks.

With restrictions on motorized vessels (maximum 10 hp limit), this can be a great place for family trips. However, the lake does get windy toward the center. When the wind speeds are 25 mph, a flag will be displayed at the boat launch to prevent all boaters from using the reservoir.

There’s a campground on the shores of the lake, as well as picnic areas. Kayaks and SUPs can be rented from the boathouse at the Recreation Area during the summer.

Fishing is also permitted in the lake and tributary streams. Target species include catfish, bass, and yellow perch.

Class of rapids rating:

N/A – flatwater lake, easy

Where to launch & how to get there:

Spruce Run Boat Launch, 12 Van Syckels Road, Clinton, NJ 08809

17: Crosswicks Creek

If you want to increase your chances of spotting eagles and ospreys, Crosswicks Creek is the place to kayak. This tidal creek can offer intermediate paddlers a chance to experience some of New Jersey’s wildlife in a peaceful environment despite being close to urban areas.

You can paddle both upstream and downstream but you might find your kayaking adventure is determined by the water levels. A few miles upstream from the launch, you can paddle through the Abbott Marshlands near Bordentown.

There’s a water trail through the Marshlands where you could even spot a beaver or a river otter if you’re lucky. You’ll also see wild rice growing in the marsh grass.

Class of rapids rating:

Class I/II – easy to moderate depending on tide and water levels

Where to launch & how to get there:

Monmouth Road/Rt.537, Cream Ridge, NJ 08514

18: Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is a 12-square-mile Wilderness Area that provides habitats for migrating birds and many native species.

Despite being in the Newark metro area and only 26 miles from New York’s Times Square, paddling through this swamp can feel like you’re miles from anywhere.

The swamp is home to the federally-endangered Indiana bat, although you’re unlikely to spot these creatures during the day. You could spot bullfrogs, painted turtles, or perhaps a bald eagle, as these species can all be commonly seen in and around the swamp.

Launching at the southern area of the wildlife refuge, you can access the Passaic River that flows through the swamp. Paddle upstream on the slow-moving river to explore the swamp and keep your eyes open for wildlife.

Class of rapids rating:

Class I/II – easy, slow-moving water

Where to launch & how to get there:

170 Lord Stirling Road, Basking Ridge, NJ 07920

19: Split Rock Reservoir

Split Rock Reservoir is one of the more peaceful places to go kayaking in New Jersey. Gas motors are not allowed and there is only one launch point: a car-top launch located at the southern end of the lake, near the dam.

The reservoir is roughly three miles long and is surrounded by forests and a natural landscape. The northern end of the lake offers a more remote paddling experience, with small islands to paddle around and both a wooded and rocky shoreline to explore.

If you’re looking to kayak fish, you’ll find smallmouth and largemouth bass, as well as crappie, pickerel, and perch.

This is an ideal place for beginners to kayak, with calm, sheltered waters that are also perfect for canoeing. However, there are no kayak outfitters on the reservoir.

Class of rapids rating:

N/A – flatwater lake, easy

Where to launch & how to get there:

Car Top Boat Launch, 342 Split Rock Road, Boonton, NJ 07005

Kayak Rentals And Tours Around NJ

If you don’t have a kayak of your own, there are many places where you can rent one near these top locations. There are also several outfitters that offer guided tours.

Remember to check out our article on New Jersey’s state kayaking laws before you start paddling.

Final Words

Kayaking in New Jersey can offer fantastic views, whether you’re looking for cityscapes or natural scenery. With both coastal and inland waterways, there can be something to suit just about everyone.

We’ve found our favorite locations, so when you find yours, tell us about them in the comments. Maybe you know someone heading to the Garden State?

Share this guide with them so they can check out some of the best paddling spots.

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1 thought on “Kayaking In NJ (New Jersey’s 19 Best Paddling Locations)”

  1. Big water like lakes and deep rivers (mostly mentioned here) have boat competition and not a very nice place to be sitting low in a kayak. I like the smaller waters like steams and shallow rivers like the Wading River in Chatsworth.


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