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

  • The Asbury Mill
  • Wattles Stewardship Center
  • NJ Audubon's thirty-fifth outpost is a model for blending environmental awareness, wildlife habitat, and agriculture.

    1024 Anderson Road\r, Port Murray 07865, 908-366-7781

  • Soups on Main
  • Organic-style, healthy fast-food for cozy dining in, carry out or delivery. Dozens of delicious, hardy soups, salads, wraps and more made fresh every day with ingredients that are locally grown, raised, pastured, and free of any pesticides, hormones, chemicals, or inhumane treatment. Pre-order from our daily menu posted online. Farm to Ladle, Pot to Table!

    199 Main St., Hackettstown 07840, 908/736-6004

  • Roseberry Homestead
  • 540 Warren Street, Phillipsburg 08865

  • Evergreen Valley Christmas Tree Farm
  • Choose and Cut from 10,000 trees! Blue Spruce, Norway Spruce, White Pine, Scotch Pine Fraser Fir, Canaan fir, Douglas Fir. Family run on preserved farmland. Open Nov 27 - Dec 23, 9-4. Closed Mondays. Easy Access from Routes 78 or 80.

    77 Jackson Valley Road, Washington 07882, 908-835-0557


This story was first published: Summer, 2021