Best Places to Kayak in New Jersey

Two people kayaking out into the water.

Gearing up for your next kayaking adventure but aren’t sure where to go? You’ll find plenty of places to kayak in New Jersey, but which is best for you and your kayaking crew?

In this guide, we’ll give you some of the best places to kayak in New Jersey, whether you’re looking for adventure in the northern, central or southern areas of the state. Grab your paddle and get ready to explore kayaking in New Jersey’s rivers, lakes and more!

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Places to Kayak in Northern New Jersey

When you’re searching for places to go kayaking in New Jersey, start up north. North Jersey offers plenty of places to kayak with access to rivers and lakes. Here are some favorites, from hot spots to hidden wonders, that’ll get you closer to finding the best kayaking in New Jersey.

A list of places to kayak in Northern New Jersey

1. Lake Hopatcong

As the largest lake in Jersey, Lake Hopatcong has plenty of marinas and places to rent kayaks for your adventure. This lake is one of the top places to kayak in Northern New Jersey, especially in the summer, and weekends could become crowded with boat traffic. Evaluate the conditions to ensure they’re safe for you and your fellow kayakers before heading out on the water.

While the conditions on a lake are less intense than river water, windy conditions can create some waves on Lake Hopatcong, perfect for skilled and adventurous kayakers. The trip is worth the scenery that extends along the shore, which features beautiful homes. The lake itself is full of coves and islands to explore.

2. Monksville Reservoir

This horseshoe-shaped body of water offers calm conditions for a peaceful paddling experience. The reservoir takes you along a route under a bridge and among a unique area of submerged trees, which you can test your skills and navigate through.

The shores of Monksville Reservoir are undeveloped, meaning you’re less likely to see the crowds you would at Lake Hopatcong. Monksville Reservoir’s steep banks surround you with lush greenery in the spring and summer and in the fall, the amazing colors of the season make for a scenic kayaking trip.

Monksville Reservoir is about an hour away from New York City, making it the perfect location for some low-key kayaking. It’s also located near Ringwood State Park, meaning you can fill a day with other outdoor activities if you’d like.

3. Passaic River

The Passaic River winds throughout North Jersey from Newark to the Passaic River Park and is over 80 miles long. Plenty of sections of the river offer kayaking opportunities, with a region near the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge being suitable for beginners and kayakers with intermediate skills.

Because the river is so long and winding, it takes you through a mix of developed metropolitan areas and natural wonders. While the Great Falls of the Passaic River is a spectacular sight, it makes for dangerous kayaking conditions. Map out your kayaking route to avoid being in the water near the falls.

4. Wallkill River

This river starts in Sturgeon Pool in New York, then winds through Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge, Franklin Pond and other parks in Jersey. It’s also worth noting that the Wallkill River flows north.

On this river, you’ll see everything from wetlands to steep, rocky cliffs. When planning a kayaking trip in this New Jersey river, talk to the refuge office for updates about conditions as the water level is known to flood and go down with the seasons. If the water is low in some areas, you’ll have to carry your kayak across, watching out for slippery rocks and other hazards.

5. Split Rock Reservoir

Explore hills, cliffs and islands at this North Jersey kayaking destination. With a maximum width of about four miles, the reservoir is the perfect place to paddle around. You’ll also have opportunities for hiking and fishing at Split Rock Reservoir.

Find the public access parking area located near the dam, which is the only area visitors can access the lake through. At just over an hour away from New York City, Split Rock Reservoir makes for a fun kayaking day trip.

6. Overpeck Creek

A tributary of Hackensack River, Overpeck Creek’s calm waters make this location perfect for beginner kayakers and kids. You can bring your own kayak or rent one from the kayak center in the surrounding Overpeck County Park. Either way, you’re sure to enjoy your trip. Be sure to also check out all that the park has to offer on land.

7. Swartswood Lake

Swartswood Lake is a state park located in Northern New Jersey. This natural glacial lake spans 519 acres and offers a kayaker’s paradise. 

Only paddle craft and small electric-powered vessels are permitted on Swartswood Lake. Kayak rental is available from the park office, allowing visitors to explore all that the lake has to offer.

8. Lake Wawayanda

Serene wooded mountains create a scenic backdrop to Lake Wawayanda, drawing kayakers to the peacefulness of this quiet location. Launch your own kayaks or rent a boat to explore the lake. Once you’re done kayaking, explore Wawayanda State Park with its 20-mile section of the Appalachian Trail.

9. Cranberry Lake

Cranberry Lake offers a bit of everything for kayakers to see. The northern half of the lake features cottages and vacation rentals, while the undeveloped southern half offers much to explore. The lake also features several small islands to explore and the opportunity to see various birds and wildlife.

Where to Go Kayaking in Central New Jersey

Head a little more south to discover kayaking in Central New Jersey. There are plenty of destinations to check out in this area of the state, including these spots.

List of places to kayak in Central New Jersey

1. Raritan River

Re-live the rich history of the Raritan River as you kayak along its waters. You’ll find charming towns along this river that flows through Central Jersey. There are also plenty of parks and natural spaces along the Raritan River’s run, including North Branch Park and Johnson Park. Try to plan your trip through the Ken Lockwood Gorge, a scenic area home to wonderful scenery.

You’ll find great views along this river as it widens and narrows through Central New Jersey. Travel under bridges and catch a glimpse of wildlife. Parts of the river are calm and suitable for kayakers of different skill levels, though things can get a bit more tidal, depending on where you are.

2. Merrill Creek Reservoir

Woods and fields surround Merrill Creek Reservoir, creating a scenic setting near the Pennsylvania border. Explore the 650-acre reservoir between sunrise and sunset when the gates are open to allow boating. Whether on or off the water, you’ll catch a glimpse of wildlife in the surrounding environmental preserve.

If conditions are windy when you plan to kayak, you may experience rougher conditions than usual. Only go on the water at Merrill Creek Reservoir when it’s windy if you are experienced or stick near the shore for gentler conditions.

3. Navesink River

The Navesink River’s shores are home to beautiful homes and the waters host plenty of outdoor activities, from fishing to swimming and, yes, even kayaking. The river is much shorter than others in Jersey — about eight miles long — but offers shallow, tidal kayaking. As a bonus, the Shrewsbury River is close by, giving you even more kayaking opportunities.

While the homes on the shoreline are a great sight to see while kayaking, nothing beats taking in the natural scenery and wildlife. You should also consider making your way to Blackberry Bay Park, where you can have a chance to see marine animals while on the water, including dolphins.

4. Manasquan Reservoir

Paddle around the Manasquan Reservoir that sits in Central Jersey. It’s about 40 minutes to an hour from Trenton and features 770 acres of water to explore, along with a surrounding natural site to enjoy. The Manasquan Reservoir sees about one million visitors a year to enjoy the nature trails, fishing and more, though most important is the opportunity to kayak.

As you paddle down towards the ocean, you’ll see marinas and beautiful homes. Before that leg of your journey, you’ll see natural scenery with cedar trees and marshlands, so plan your visit to see the best of both the developed and natural worlds. The Manasquan Reservoir offers kayak rentals, perfect for beginners or explorers without their own vessels.

5. Spruce Run

Spend the day exploring Spruce Run with its abundance of wildlife, from birds to turtles and fish. This location is also popular for picnicking, swimming, fishing and camping, so consider staying at the Spruce Run Recreation area to extend your kayaking trip, which you’ll want to do at this scenic location.

There are plenty of coves to explore at Spruce Run, which makes for a more exciting kayaking trip. The recreation area has varying hours throughout the year, so be sure to check before visiting.

6. Delaware and Raritan Canal

The Delaware and Raritan (R&D) Canal once served as water transportation between New York City and Philadelphia. Today it’s one of central New Jersey’s most popular recreational waterways. The entire length of the canal features calm waters, perfect for leisure paddles or beginner kayakers. You’ll have the opportunity to paddle beneath bridges, and you’ll have to navigate the concrete canal locks if you intend to paddle the entire length. 

7. Mercer Lake

You’ll find various ways to put your kayak in the water at Mercer Lake, including a boat ramp and a kayak launch. Mercer County Park surrounds the lake, offering more than just kayaking for a full day of adventure. Like many other kayaking locations in New Jersey, you can either bring your own kayaks or rent from the boathouse. 

8. Lake Lefferts

Lake Lefferts, a man-made lake resulting from the Lefferts Dam, holds the flow of Matawan Creek. You can rent paddle crafts like kayaks and canoes to paddle around the lake. Whether you’re out for a leisure kayak trip or want to do some fishing, this lake is a great spot to check out with your crew. 

Best Places to Kayak in South Jersey

While we’re ending this list with the best places to kayak in South Jersey, it’s by no means the end of your adventure. Many places to kayak in this region of Jersey are tributaries to bays along the Atlantic, giving you a chance to see some great scenery and possibly aquatic life.  Some of the rivers we’ve mentioned, like the Raritan, also travel down to this area of the state, but there are even more kayaking locations in South Jersey. 

List of kayaking spots in South Jersey

1. Batsto River

Find this river about an hour away from Philadelphia. The Batsto River is a narrow run featuring plenty of bends and sharp turns, perfect for experienced kayakers, but the gentle flow also makes it great for an up-river trip. You can spend about three to four hours with a journey on this scenic route from Quaker Bridge to Batsto Lake or find chances to pull off onto the shore to take a break and picnic.

On your journey along the Batsto River, you’ll cross under bridges and through the Wharton State Forest. It’s a great way to experience the more natural and scenic kayaking routes in South Jersey.

2. Maurice River

Follow this 50-mile river from Union Lake to the Delaware Bay. A portion of the river is designated as Wild and Scenic, meaning it has cultural and recreational value for the region and is protected and preserved as a result. Pass a variety of animal and plant life along the Maurice River, which also offers kayak rentals and various river access areas.

3. Great Egg Harbor River

At 55 miles long, this is one of the longest rivers in South Jersey. With 17 tributaries as it flows towards the Atlantic Ocean, the Great Egg Harbor River widens as it goes along. Witness history as you pass through or begin your journey at Atlantic County Park. The river ends in the Great Egg Harbor Bay, which is in Ocean City, giving you a chance for even more outdoor fun.

4. Mullica River

Skilled and prepared kayakers can take the seven-hour journey from Atsion to Pleasant Mills. If you’re interested in Barton River, you may also want to check out the Mullica River since it’s also in Wharton State Forest. The Mullica River offers opportunities to camp, which is useful for those heading out on long kayaking trips.

You’ll find various splits, branches and lakes, and as you travel farther down the Mullica River, you’ll discover that it flows into the Great Bay.

5. Riverwinds Park

Spot majestic creatures like blue herons or river otters at this kayaking location. With parking for kayakers and a walkway to the water, Riverwinds is a convenient location. From there, you can access other creeks and locations along the water.

One popular kayaking spot along this area is the Delaware River, which is convenient if tides are low and you need to launch into the deeper river instead.

6. Richardson Channel

Located in Wildwood, New Jersey, Richardson Channel offers many opportunities for kayaking and other boating. Kayak fishing is popular on Richardson Channel, and sea and leisure kayakers also often start their trips here. 

The north end of the channel connects to Richardson Sound. The south end connects to various other sounds and channels that lead kayakers to the Cape May Inlet, which flows into the ocean. Depending on your experience level, you may choose from several possible routes.

7. Spicers Creek and Cape May Harbor

The Spicers Creek boat launch allows you to launch into the channel. From there, you can maneuver Schellenger Creek, which connects to Cape May Harbor. The creeks and channels in this area offer much to explore, especially for leisure or beginner kayakers. When exploring the harbor, be sure to stay cautious — you should expect boat traffic to be heavier as boats pass through the harbor to the ocean.

8. Rancocas State Park

Rancocas State Park is home to Rancocas Creek, which is popular among kayakers and canoers. This relatively wide creek meanders through scenic forests. Despite the occasional need to lift your kayak over fallen trees and other debris, the creek offers an easy paddle for beginners. 

9. Wading River

The Wading River is part of the Pine Barren Rivers, which are popular paddling destinations. Beginner kayakers particularly favor the Wading River, as it’s wide and typically has a slow current. You can bring your own kayak or rent one from one of the nearby outfitters. Keep your eye out for various birds and other wildlife here!

Frequently Asked Questions About Kayaking in New Jersey

Now that you know the best places to kayak in New Jersey, you may have questions about heading out on the water. Check out these frequently asked questions about kayaking in New Jersey to find the answers you need to plan your adventure:

Do You Need a License to Kayak in New Jersey?

Some boats require title and registration in Jersey, but kayaks do not.

Do You Have to Register a Kayak in Pennsylvania?

While you can enjoy plenty of places to kayak in New Jersey, you may want to visit nearby Pennsylvania from time to time. If you do go kayaking in Pennsylvania, you will need either a boat registration or a launching permit.

What Do I Need to Know Before Kayaking?

Whether you’re a beginner or have been kayaking for a while, you’ll need to take the right steps to prevent dangerous situations. Before you kayak, know these precautions:

  • If you’re a beginner, take a lesson to get the hang of kayaking.
  • Wear the right gear and clothing because the water may be cold, even if the weather is warm.
  • Pick the right kayak for your skill and the water you plan to be on.
  • Sit in the kayak and hold the paddle properly.
  • Always kayak with others, never alone.

How Old Should You Be to Kayak?

While there are no age restrictions on kayaking in New Jersey, certain ages may be too young to be in their own boat. Most young kids should ride in a double kayak with an adult, while older, skilled kids can ride a small kayak alone.

Take kayaking classes with kids and make sure everyone has the right safety equipment, no matter their age. 

Do You Need a Life Jacket to Kayak in New Jersey?

According to state law, kids under 12 must wear a life jacket while on board. Have one for every passenger of your kayak and ensure they are accessible. 

No matter the length of the kayak you’re in, you need to carry a personal flotation device (PFD).  Even if life jackets weren’t a requirement in the state, it’s in every kayaker’s best interest to wear safety gear.

When Is the Best Time to Kayak in New Jersey?

Spring through fall is best for kayaking, as some locations close in the winter due to ice. Summer will be more crowded, especially on the weekends, which may make kayaking difficult or unsafe.

Can You Kayak Anywhere in New Jersey?

Since there aren’t currently any registration laws for standard kayaks, there’s nothing restricting kayakers from using public water in New Jersey. For example, you may kayak in state parks and launch from public boat launches unless there’s signage or information posted indicating otherwise. It’s best to research when going somewhere new and avoid private land and water unless you’ve obtained permission.

New Jersey Kayaking Laws You Should Know

Like any state, New Jersey has boating laws that apply to kayakers. Having some knowledge of these laws helps ensure you and your kayaking crew stay safe and prepared on the water. Here are a few important kayaking laws you should know when planning your trip.

Kayak Registration Laws

Your kayak doesn’t need to be registered, regardless of length, as long as it’s non-motorized. However, if you add a motor to your kayak, it classifies as a motorized vessel you’ll need a license and registration to operate. Using a non-motorized kayak allows you to avoid registration and licensure.

PFD Regulations

As mentioned above, every boater must keep appropriate PFD on their vessel. While adults aren’t required to wear their PFD at all times, they must have it within reach. On the other hand, children must wear their life jackets at all times. PFD laws apply to any boat, including kayaks and other paddle crafts.

Kayaking and Alcohol

A day on the water is often associated with alcoholic beverages for many of-age adults. However, it’s illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol in New Jersey. Boating under the influence (BUI) is dangerous and can result in various charges and boating privilege suspensions. While BUI laws apply to motorized boats 12 feet and longer, which may not describe your kayak, it’s still important to practice safe drinking habits on the water.

Lights and Maritime Distress Signals

New Jersey law requires you to have a white light on board if you plan to kayak at night or in low visibility. Most kayakers use a flashlight or lantern. These devices help other boaters see you in low visibility conditions or allow you to signal for help in the dark. While not required, a whistle is also recommended for kayakers to audibly alert others when in distress.

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