Kayaking in NJ | Our Favorite Places to Go Kayaking In New Jersey
Whether you like the adventure of riding the whitewater waves or paddling on the calm rivers, when you are kayaking in New Jersey, there is a lot to see and do.
Kayaking became popular when plastic kayaks became readily available and affordable in the consumer market. Kayaks replaced canoes that were bulky, heavy, and hard for the novice to maneuver. Kayaks are getting more enticing for people who know little about boats but love to be out on the water. You can even go fishing with a kayak. Kayaks are easy to understand and use for kids to grandparents.
If you are not comfortable using a standup paddle board, you will love the stationery options of the kayak. You can ride inside kayaks or on top. You can get into tight spaces with a kayak, and it allows you to get low impact exercise which is perfect for all body types.
While kayaking used to be a male dominated hobby, in recent years kayaking has evened out to be 50 percent male and 50 percent female. The average age range is 12-year-olds to men and women in their seventies.
Always research the area completely before planning your kayaking adventure. The weather, rental prices, and tour times can change frequently so it is best to plan accordingly. If you plan to kayak frequently throughout the year, it would be wise to look into purchasing your own kayak to save money and time renting one. You should also consider investing in a life jacket and kayaking gear that fits your needs so you are comfortable and prepared when out on the water.
Keep in mind that several kayaking launch areas require a permit. Contact the launch site in advance to make sure you are prepared with the right permit and ask any questions you may have if you are new to the area.
We rounded up our favorite top 10 areas to enjoy kayaking in New Jersey. The choices are in no particular order and each one is unique in its offerings. While there are several options that did not make our list, our picks will get you out on the water whether you are a novice or advanced, with a multi-generational family or by yourself, or prefer to choose your launch site based on urban or wildlife environments.
Hudson River –
The Hudson River is a popular waterway that flows between New York and New Jersey. With 315 miles of nature and historic treasures, you will fall in love with its architecture and landscape.
Many towns on the river have kayaks for rent and guides for the area are prevalent. The Hudson River stretches from eastern New York into the Atlantic Ocean. You will get the best of both worlds with the urban landscape of New York City and the more scenic northern tip of New Jersey.
Consider researching the river towns along the Hudson River and obtaining a map so you can mark your favorite spots. If you are new to the area, talk to a kayaking guide that can give you the inside scoop on which areas are good for beginners, and have them point out any historical spots that may be of interest to you.
The Hoboken Cove Boathouse offers free kayaking to the public. It was established in 2004 and is run by the City of Hoboken.
You can also take a kayak eco tour through Liberty State Park. See local wildlife at Caven Point and the Hudson River Estuary.
If you are an advanced kayaker, try the kayak tour through Kayak East that starts at Liberty State Park. The tour boasts an incredible view of Manhattan and an up-close view of the Statue of Liberty. Bring your camera for great sunset pictures on the water. Tours run May through September.
The Manasquan Reservoir in New Jersey is a great place to go kayaking in New Jersey with the family. It is a manmade lake in southern Monmouth County. The lake is pristine and great for a natural experience sans noise and fumes of other boats. No gasoline engines are allowed, so breathe in that clean New Jersey air.
At Manasquan Reservoir you will find a well-stocked visitor center with a bait shop and indoor restrooms. There is ample parking including larger spaces to accommodate boat trailers.
In addition to the calm kayaking opportunities for all ages, you can also take advantage of the five-mile perimeter trail which is used for hiking, riding, and more. The trail is well maintained and relatively flat. There is even a wetlands area for diverse bird watching.
Manasquan Reservoir offers kayak rentals for persons over 18 and a small concession stand on weekends. If the weather is pleasant, consider taking a picnic lunch or purchasing some fishing gear from the rental shop to extend your stay.
There is a daily ramp fee, but season passes are available for frequent visits. The boat ramp is available to the public from March 1st to November 30th. Kayaks and all boats must be at least eight feet in length. All visitors that are out on the water need to wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved type I, II, III hybrid inflatable, or V personal flotation device in working condition.
Rancocas Creek flows through Mount Holly which is one of the oldest cities in New Jersey dating back to the late 1600s when Quakers settled there.
The creek is great for beginner kayakers as it contains little debris with wind blocking tall trees and solid creek banks for taking a break when paddling.
The creek can be navigated in one day, but it is recommended that you split the trip into two or more manageable days. To fully experience Rancocas Creek by kayak, paddle the 14-mile trail from Burlington Country College’s Pemberton Campus through Historic Smithville Park and on to Mill Dam Park in Mount Holly.
Accommodations are best found in Mount Holly. The creek does have open areas that would be conducive to primitive camping, but no modern facilities are available along the route.
Deal Lake runs through Asbury Park and small towns that are near the Atlantic Ocean. It is the largest freshwater coastal lake in New Jersey. Deal Lake is unique in the fact that is made up of smaller ponds and channels instead of a single area. Also unique is that its shoreline touches seven different municipalities. The lake is full of coves that will shelter you from the wind, however, the water is usually brown and murky.
If you have a fear of deep water, you will love Deal Lake. 90 percent of the lake’s depth is between three and four feet. Even though the water is very shallow, it is free of any debris that could damage a fiberglass kayak. It is recommended to use the launch site at the park located across from Allenhurst Train Station.
Along with many freshwater wildlife, you might also see saltwater creatures like oysters and clams thanks to the lake’s proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. You will mostly find homes and trees along the shoreline. The scenery also includes a flume that connects the lake to the ocean, high rise apartments, and even a high-end golf course.
Waterfowl is prevalent as kayakers have spotted Canadian geese, egrets, ducks, and herons. Turtles and large carp have also been spotted.
After a day of kayaking, bask in the music scene and active nightlife. You can also find theaters, lighthouses, golf courses, and museums to round out your trip.
Cape May Harbor has a multitude of launch spots along the southern New Jersey coastline, the least crowded being the launch site at Delaware Avenue. You will also find plenty of parking there are well.
Cape May is known for its variety of birds. You can easily birdwatch while you are kayaking. If the tide is cooperative, you can kayak from the Cape May Canal to the Delaware Bay.
The best time to visit Cape May is in the spring and fall. The powerboats and mosquitoes tend to dominate the harbor in the summer months.
You will find historic Victorian houses and estates along the Cape May Peninsula as well as unique shops and restaurants. The lighthouse provides scenic views of the Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
The Delaware Bay
The Delaware River offers 200 miles of scenic waterways from Trenton, New Jersey to Hancock, New York. In the summer months, bask in the sunshine as you lazily take in the sights and sounds, or take a thrill ride down the rapids. While some parts of the Delaware River are pure wilderness, you will also find an urban area that is in an arm’s reach of popular cities and suburbs. The water is clean and free from pollution and dams, commonplace when kayaking in New Jersey.
Types Of Kayakers –
The Delaware Bay is a good spot for the beginner to intermediate kayaker. There are access points every four to eight miles, creating quick trips if you only have a day to give to the water. While on most days the bay is pleasant and calming, it can also get choppy quickly when an unexpected storm rolls in.
You can either go north or south while kayaking on Delaware Bay. If you choose the northern path, you will find designer bayfront homes. If you continue to paddle, you will come across Reed’s Beach. Reed’s Beach is famous for horseshoe crabs and shorebirds. The southern path allows you to kayak past the Cape May Canal and enter Higbee Beach. Higbee Beach has over 400 acres of hiking trails and lots of wildlife spotting opportunities. Further south is the SS Atlantis, a concrete ship that was designed during WWI when there was a shortage of steel.
There are no accommodations on Delaware Bay, but nearby Cape May has no shortage of places to stay. However, along the Delaware River there are over 20 rental services if you need a kayak or simple gear. Some of the launch points also offer basic instruction if you need a refresher or have never been out on the water before.
Since there are so many miles to explore, it will take a few trips to get used to the curves and the location of exposed rocks. Take your time and enjoy the nature around you. Kayaking is like riding a bike, it gets easier and more comfortable over time.
Merrill Creek Reservoir
Merrill Creek Reservoir is perfect for a day paddle. Even though it is surrounded by beautiful hiking trails, you feel like you are in a remote area when you hit the coves. This area can get windy, but the shoreline should be sufficient for safety with most kayaking levels.
The reservoir is owned by seven power companies that surround the Delaware River. It was built atop Scotts Mountain and has water spots that span 200 feet deep.
There is no fee to kayak on the reservoir, but it is only open during the day with no gas-powered boats are allowed.
If you love wildlife, you will be excited to see the black bear, white-tailed deer, bald eagles, foxes, horned owls, and more as you paddle and hike through the 650 acres.
There is also a well-kept nature center overlooking the lake that has bathroom facilities and educational information including history of the area. The nature center is the only building you will find on the property. Swimming or camping is not allowed.
Great Bay Wildlife Management Area
Great Bay Wildlife Management Area is known for the migration of shorebirds along the Atlantic Flyway and is located in Tuckerton, New Jersey. You will find nooks and crannies that will delight the most advanced kayaker and open areas that are perfect for practicing your paddling stroke.
The Great Bay Wildlife Management Area is filled with winding areas of tall grasses and bayberries which invite the diverse group of shorebirds. You may even spot a seal or two near the coastal inlet.
It is free to launch your kayak along the Refuge. You can also use the launch and pick up a free trail map at First Bridge Marina & Kayaks.
Need a break from paddling? Visit the Tuckerton Seaport, a local cultural center. There is also a wide variety of restaurants. Local attractions are accessible by kayak.
You can make reservations at a local bed and breakfast or find a hotel along the route towards Atlantic City.
Swartswood Lake is a gentle introduction to kayaking. The area does not allow motorboats, and you will love the tranquility of blankets of lily pads and calming waters.
A great place to frequent in the Summer, Swartswood Lake has kayak rentals and instructors for building your confidence in the water. You can even begin kayaking in the guarded cove where state park lifeguards are on duty from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Once you are comfortable with your new paddling skills, try kayaking along the shoreline in the main lake. The water is shallow and easy to recover from if you accidentally capsize.
You should be able to circle the lake within two to three hours at an average pace. You can even stop for lunch at The Boathouse Restaurant which is located along the shore of the lake.
Swimming is available at the state park’s beach. Kayaks can be rented from Row Your Boat, and there is an entrance fee when parking inside the state park.
Ken Lockwood Gorge
Ken Lockwood Gorge is located in Hunterdon County, New Jersey. The steep, hilly woodlands create a beautiful natural landscape. It is perhaps best known for trout fishing. It has been designated a Trout Conservation Area, and visitors are not allowed to fish with bait in this area.
You can access the gorge by using the Raritan River Road or the Columbia Trail. The gorge also offers mountain biking trails and lots of areas to enjoy the breeze of the water with a picnic blanket or camping hammock.
Although you will find a plethora of fisherman, you will not find facilities, designated parking, or lunch on the property. If you need to purchase a meal on your trip, consider stopping at one of the several quaint options in Califon which is north of the gorge and high bridge.
If you are interested in kayaking, you will need to bring your own as the gorge does not offer any rentals. Use your kayak to explore the wildlife or catch a few fish. Near the Ken Lockwood Gorge you will find water rushing over large boulders and rock. The rest of the river is rated Class 1.
Keep in mind you will need to check the water levels via an online site to check the depth of the river. There are times where the water is not deep enough to paddle. However, do not assume that if there has not been any recent rainfall that you will not be able to kayak. The Spruce Run Reservoir periodically releases water to keep the river at an acceptable height for small boats.
Kayaking in New Jersey has a wide variety of adventurous options. From easy calm waters to rapids for the advanced kayaker, you are sure to find a site that meets your unique kayaking needs.
New Jersey has over 63 rivers for you to explore. From freshwater to saltwater, the rivers of New Jersey are full of impressive and diverse shoreline wildlife.
Kayaks are growing in popularity due to their portable, quiet nature. When you kayak, you can get much closer to nature than you can with a motor boat. Kayaks produce less noise than gas-powered boats when you are paddling through the water and do little to disrupt the river’s wave pattern. Kayaking allows you to see fish, turtles, and other wildlife up close. It also gives you the opportunity to be closer to the surface of the water than a standard boat or canoe.
Kayak Benefits –
Even when the water is shallow, a kayak can still skim across the top of the water. This is great for when rivers are low. A standard boat may not be able to make it through very shallow waters, but a kayak can easily make its way through. A kayak is also easier to paddle and maneuver by the shoreline, allowing you to feel at ease when the water is choppy or you need a barrier from strong winds.
Investing in your own kayak has its advantages too. You do not need to worry about carrying fuel, maintenance, an engine, or renewing a boating license.
Keep in mind that kayaking is a sport that requires practice. You will not be able to be good at all of the kayaking skills when you first start out. If it is in your budget, consider investing in a kayak instructor to help you learn the proper skills. You will need to practice paddling strokes that will keep you from getting pulled out into the lake or ocean. You will also need to learn how to get back into your kayak if it capsizes.
Consider researching ACA certified instructors for kayaking classes. Learning from an instructor that has a lot of experience on the water and is understanding of your lack of knowledge of the sport can help you have a positive first experience. A certified instructor can also help you choose the right kayak if you are interested in purchasing your own and give you recommendations on the right type of gear to use.
Safety is very important when kayaking, especially if you are going out into the water solo. Personal floatation devices are required at most of New Jersey’s launch locations and are worthwhile pieces of gear no matter where you kayak. When kayaking solo, it is important to leave your location, time, and route expectations, referred to as a float plan, with a friend or family member before heading out. That way if you grow tired or do not make it to your final destination in a timely manner, a loved one will be able to easily check up on your whereabouts.
Do not forget to dress for the weather. It is a good idea to dress in layers to protect yourself from the sun and shield yourself from wind or rain. Invest in a pair of quality river shoes to protect your feet from sharp rocks on an impromptu hiking trail.
It is very important that you know your physical limitations when kayaking. You need to be able to paddle to your destination and back within the day or have a planned camp site to rest. Do not plan trips that exceed your level of activity, especially when you are new to kayaking. Learning to navigate the river and weather patterns is a learned skill. Respect the water and start out with one or two-hour trips that are easily achievable and give you time to enjoy nature and not stress about time management.
Since kayaks have a low profile in the water, it is recommended that you do not kayak in waters where large boats are present. These waters can be hard to navigate for seasoned kayakers, and you should take extreme caution if you are kayaking alongside gas-powered boats.
If kayaking at night, you should supply your kayak with lights that can be seen from 360 degrees. These lights should be white in color and can be applied to your kayak using suction cups, bungies, or clipped on your person via your life jacket or a head lamp. It is also recommended that you carry or whistle or similar noise device to let other boaters know you are in the water. Always assume that other boaters cannot see you and steer clear of their path at all times.
One of the favorite activities when kayaking in New Jersey is the ability to fish in areas that are not accessible by large boats. Whether the fish are naturally present or the state of New Jersey supplies the fish on a frequent basis, there are lots of varieties to get excited about.
When using a kayak primarily to fish, you will want to look for a few options unique to fishing. Fishing kayaks are wide to keep them stable in the water. They have holders for fishing rods and storage space for tackle boxes. You might even come across kayaks that have swivel seats and rudders or foot pedals that help drive the kayak. All the features above are helpful to an avid fisherman who enjoys a leisurely paddle.
Whether you kayak to enjoy nature, get a bit of exercise, or catch fish, we hope you have found a new place in New Jersey to enjoy your next kayaking adventure.