There’s no arguing that summer days are best spent on the water. In New Jersey, kayaking is a great way to get out and explore our state’s landscapes from a new perspective. Don’t just take our word for it. Some of NJ’s coolest sights are best taken in from the area’s lakes and rivers. Want to paddle past Batsto Village? How about along the Manhattan skyline? With the water flowing underneath you and sunshine all around, take this as an opportunity to reconnect with nature. When you’re ready to venture outdoors, head to these New Jersey locations first for your kayaking excursion.
1. Batsto River – Burlington County, NJ
If you’re set on a Pine Barrens expedition, head to Batsto River. This waterway flows from Quaker Bridge to Batsto Lake and through Wharton State Forest. The trip takes three to four hours, depending on skill level and the river conditions. The route features plenty of bends and twisting turns. Experienced kayakers should have no problem traversing this narrow run. However, beginners might enjoy the gentle current when traveling upriver.
Along the way, there are plenty of calm sceneries to take in and bridges to cross under. In the shallow marshy areas, expect to see turtles, deer, green snakes and more. Make the most of your trip by stopping off for a leisurely picnic.
2. Cranberry Lake – Sussex County, NJ
The size (180 acres) and shallow waters of Cranberry Lake make it an excellent option for beginner paddlers. It averages about eight feet deep and features 55 miles of shoreline, with almost the same amount of designated campsites. As previously mentioned, if you’re looking for an easy ride or a more intimate kayaking journey, Cranberry Lake is your spot. The area is dotted with scenic lake cottages and the nearby Allamuchy State Park provides coves and inlets for exploring.
3. Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area – Sussex County and Warren County, NJ
On the border of New Jersey and Pennsylvania is where you can find one of the best kayaking spots in the state. Whether you’re in need of an adrenaline rush or want a leisurely paddle, The Delaware Water Gap is a popular destination for all types of water activities. As the largest free-flowing river on the East Coast, there are different sections to explore and each has its own characteristics.
Those who venture through the National Recreation Area can expect an easy ride with plenty of wildlife and camping opportunities. That is if you want to make it more than a day trip. Stop off at any of the “islands” along the stretch of river. This includes Minisink, Namanock, Dingmans, Shapanack and Bucks Bar.
4. Hackensack River Water Trail – Bergen County, NJ
With 45 miles of river, the Hackensack River Water Trail has several launch sites throughout Bergen County. Depending on where you depart, there are opportunities for bird watching, catch-and-release fishing and of course, kayaking.
Considering this is a tidal waterway, it’s a perfect route for experienced kayakers. One option is to even take a guided moonlight tour through the Meadowlands. For novices or those with children, Overpeck Park features calmer waters for daytime paddling. The park runs through Leonia, Palisades Park, Ridgefield Park and Teaneck.
5. Lake Absegami – Bass River State Forest, NJ
Located in Bass River State Forest, Lake Absegami is the creation of two streams that were dammed together. The lake features 67 acres of the picturesque Pinelands National Reserve, an area that is a haven for rare species of wildlife and vegetation– including the rare dwarf pines. If you’re visiting this South Jersey gem, you’ll enjoy the sights of the cedar swamp beside 12 miles of hiking trails. Contact Flatwater Paddle Co. in Lake Absegami for rentals.
6. Lake Hopatcong – Sussex County, NJ
Ready to take on the largest freshwater lake in New Jersey? Don’t be intimidated. Lake Hopatcong has a reputation of being one of the best kayaking locations in New Jersey for a reason. The conditions cater to both adventure seekers and novices with areas of waves and coves. Traditionally, the water is the calmest during the early morning or evening. However, waves can reach up to three feet.
The trip itself is worth it for the historic homes that sit on the shoreline, which make for a lovely backdrop. Other less explored areas of the lake include Liffy Island and “the canals,” which extend under Route 15 and along Fireman’s Field. During the summer months when the lake is most crowded, kayakers must take boat traffic into account.
7. Manasquan Reservoir – Monmouth County, NJ
Paddling around the Manasquan Reservoir offers the best of both worlds. To start, there are plenty of cedar trees and marshland to take in. The views of which are accompanied by natural wildlife including bald eagles and great blue herons. As you make your way toward the ocean, you’ll be accompanied by marinas and beach homes.
The reservoir itself, which spans 770 acres, is home to 1,200 acres of woods, wetlands and many nature trails. It sees about one million visitors annually. Along with kayaking, it’s also a popular fishing and boating spot.
8. Monksville Reservoir – Passaic County, NJ
Both fishing and kayaking enthusiasts should pay a visit to the Monksville Reservoir. This manmade lake is home to largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, rainbow trout and more species of fish. The area itself is open 24/7. Kayaks can be rented daily between 9:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. and there are two ramps on the north and south ends. The reservoir spans 505 acres and is about a three-mile journey. Goers will be surrounded by woods and trek through sunken forests in the water. There is also hiking available nearby at Long Pond Ironworks State Park.
9. Navesink River – Monmouth County, NJ
Marine animals, a gentle sea breeze, beautiful waterfront homes. What more could you want out of a Jersey Shore kayaking experience? When paddling the Navesink River in Rumson, this is exactly what you’ll find. (And maybe even a dolphin.) This spot boasts amazing views and is a quick eight-mile journey. So you’ll be in for a rather tranquil ride. The water here is quite shallow but offers additional opportunities to explore Blackberry Bay Park or the nearby Shrewsbury River.
10. Passaic River – Multiple NJ Counties
The Passaic River is a 90-mile waterway that stretches across Hudson, Essex, Bergen, Passaic, Morris, Union and Somerset Counties. Therefore, there are lots of launch points to depart depending on whether you want to paddle through an urban or natural setting, upstream or downstream. You can ride past a famous New Jersey National Park site, the Paterson Great Falls. Or, take a trip through the city of Newark and explore its parks and landscapes. Its slow current is suitable for beginners and intermediate kayakers.
11. Rancocas Creek – Burlington County, NJ
Rancocas Creek has an important place in New Jersey’s early history as a waterway for Native Americans and European settlers. Today, it has continued to serve as a means of recreation for residents. Kayakers included. The 14-mile creek offers an array of scenery from woodlands to closed-canopy forests. This journey is ideal for those who want to spot some Garden State wildlife. Think box turtles, painted turtles, beavers, white-tailed deer, wood ducks, mallards and more.
12. Round Valley Reservoir – Hunterdon County, NJ
The bright, crystal blue waters of Round Valley Reservoir make it one of the most popular kayaking spots in New Jersey. It is the deepest freshwater lake in the state which is great for those who want to catch some lake trout while they’re out there. At the surface, there are more than 2,000 acres to explore by boat. During the summer, Round Valley Reservoir is also visited by a fair share of swimmers, picnickers and campers.
13. Splitrock Reservoir – Morris County, NJ
Splitrock Reservoir is a bit of a hidden gem. As in, the unspoiled views of the surrounding hills, cliffs and water might just make you forget you’re in NJ. The 625-acre reservoir is open to the public for paddling and fishing. The area is also home to some of the toughest hiking trails. Only non-motorized boats are allowed in the water so you can expect a rather calm and quiet ride. There are also hidden coves and sandy islands where you can pull over for a picnic or photo op.
14. Spruce Run Reservoir – Hunterdon County, NJ
A day at Spruce Run Reservoir features natural beauty as far as the eye can see. It’s part of the larger Spruce Run State Park. While on the water, shorebirds are likely to pass overhead. Trout and bass traverse the shoreline, along with 29 other species of fish in total. It’s the third-largest reservoir in New Jersey and the recreation area is a favorite amongst residents. On the 15-mile journey, you’ll notice your surroundings change from sandy beaches to woodlands. There are coves and islands to stop off at as well– just take note of harmful algae blooms in summer.
15. Wawayanda Lake – Sussex County and Passaic County, NJ
One of the most scenic kayaking destinations on this list, Wawayanda Lake is also one of the most highly visited. It sits on the NY/NJ border and is a glacially formed, spring-fed lake. The area is known as being the habitat for the red-shouldered hawk, barred owl and great blue heron. In the center of the lake, there are several different islands of all sizes to explore. Wawayanda is a paddler’s paradise any time of year but fall is an especially beautiful time to visit with the forested hills painting an autumnal backdrop.
16. Shepard’s Lake – Ringwood, NJ
Located in Ringwood State Park just a few minute’s drive from the Monksville Reservoir, Shepard’s Lake may look small, but it features 74 sprawling acres perfect for recreation. This spring-fed lake is the ultimate scenic backdrop for any day on the water. Shepard’s Lake is ideal for those looking to have a more relaxing day on the water.
You can rent kayaks and paddle boards at Shepard’s Lake with Flatwater Paddle Co.
17. Hudson River – Hudson County, NJ
Those in North Jersey can spend the day taking in gorgeous skyline views right from the Hudson River. This popular destination is a weekend hotspot for paddleboarding and kayaking alike. Those interested in the latter can find launch sites throughout both Hoboken and Jersey City. Rentals and excursions are offered by The Hoboken Cove Boathouse, Kayak Eco-Tours in Liberty State Park and Urban Paddle in Jersey City if you dare to take a ride on the radioactive river (just kidding, but not really).
What’s your favorite spot to go kayaking in New Jersey? Let us know in the comments below.
About the Author/s
Abby is The Digest’s Managing Editor. She spends her time looking at dogs on Instagram and eating her way around Jersey City.
Michael is the Editor-in-Chief of New Jersey Digest, COO of X Factor Media, and an avid writer. Growing up in Bergen County, he discovered his passion for words while in Friday detention. Michael loves kayaking, a fat glass of Nebbiolo, and over-editing.