Paddling on the Musconetcong River

The Musconetcong near Saxton Lake

The Musconetcong River ranges from calm and wide to quick and narrow. “If I were to summarize the Musconetcong River I’d say it’s one of the more popular paddling streams in North Jersey,” says John Brunner, former Executive Director for the Musconetcong Watershed Association (MWA). “The Lenape word ‘musconetcong’ connotes ‘swiftly moving stream’, and that characteristic is one of the appeals of the river. Most of the river moves along but it’s appropriate for novice paddlers; for the most part there are not many challenging rapids.”

Despite the Musconetcong’s generally benign reputation, there are actually critical changes as it flows a little more than thirty miles along Warren County’s southern border to the Delaware River through an ever-changing landscape. Paddlers, who can put in at points along the entire length the river, must be aware of still-existing dam locations, and wary of the skeletal remains of more dams that hide just beneath the water’s surface. Through its upper watershed “lakes district”, the river quickly emerges from its confluence with Lubbers Run, then towards flat water dam pools at Waterloo Village and Saxton Falls, where you can take out just above the dam. “That part of the river is very doable for people who don’t even want to be on moving water. It an easier section, very different up there in terms of the habitat. But it’s full of invasive plants, just a different look.”

The water gets a bit “gnarly” as it moves towards Hackettstown, and a maze of boulders, fallen trees and concrete remnants can distract less proficient paddlers from the marvelous scenery through Stephens State Park. Many favor the twelve-mile stretch between Beattystown and Hampton Borough where short spans of Class II rapids scatter between placid stretches that float through secluded natural areas and picturesque hamlets marked by historic bridges. The Penwell Mill dam requires portage, or there you can begin a less challenging trip towards Point Mountain and Changewater. Another good starting point is at the MWA River Access Center in Asbury where an easy paddle commences to the Bloomsbury dam.

The removal of several dams has made paddling from Bloomsbury to the Delaware less restricted, but no less challenging. The water is swift through the Musconetcong Gorge approaching Finesville, and downed trees often block the channel. “The last mile or so before you get to the Delaware, it’s really windy and swift current with blind curves and places that are completely blocked, so it’s always a thrill to go down there,” says Brunner. “If you have good paddling skills you can avoid the hazards, land on shore and carry around.”

Beginner or expert, a few essential tools will enhance your Musconetcong paddling experience. The first, of course, is common sense. The river is safe under most conditions, but high water can kill you. The USGS Gauge level reading at Bloomsbury is always available online. Only a few sections of the river are navigable throughout the year, but spring and late fall are fairly reliable. “A gauge level below 1.8 feet is tough; the water is bony, shallow,” explains Brunner. “Three feet is pushy, and six feet pushes the river out on the banks, people tend to drown at that level.”

Nearby accommodations and attractions

  • Garden State Heirloom Seed Society Museum
  • , Columbia

  • Rutherfurd Hall
  • Consider Rutherfurd Hall as refuge and sanctuary in similar ways now, as it served a distinguished family a hundred years ago.

    1686 Route 517, Allamuchy 07820, 908/852-1894

  • Wild Ridge Plants
  • Nursery propagated native plants available wholesale or retail by appointment. Our plants are chemical-free and local provenance. Consulting and growing services, presentations, guided walks.

    , Pohatcong, 908/319-7230

  • Shippen Manor Museum
  • Restored c.1754 stone ironmaster's home associated with c.1741 Oxford Furnace.is open first and second Sundays, 1-4pm, for tours through Colonial and Victorian rooms with costumed docents. There are special events throughout the year as well as programs for schools. Sunday concerts on the manor lawn are a favorite during the summer.

    8 Belvidere Ave, Oxford 07863, 908/453-4381

  • Roseberry Homestead
  • 540 Warren Street, Phillipsburg 08865

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This story was first published: Summer, 2021