Top Spots for Kayaking & Canoeing in New Jersey

New Jersey is home to some of the most calm, scenic lakes and rivers in the northeast. Whether you’re a beginner or have been paddling around for years, you’ll want to check out these amazing waterways. We’ve compiled a list of the best places for kayaking and canoeing in New Jersey. Some are well-known. Others are hidden Jersey gems. All are fantastic. Grab a paddle and let’s go.

For a Tranquil Day on the Lake:

Lake Wawayanda, Hewitt
Enjoy a restful paddle at Lake Wawayanda, surrounded by 2,167 acres of rare Atlantic white cedar wetlands in Northern NJ, near the NJ/NY border. Calm waters, lush green vegetation, and plenty of lily pads make this spot an absolute paddler’s delight. Take in the beauty of this glacially formed spring-fed lake as you coast along and listen to the sounds of nature. Red-shouldered hawks, barred owls, and great blue herons are among the wildlife you’re likely to spot along your journey. Great for families and beginners, this lake is a very popular spot. In the summer months, you can expect tranquil waters but not solitude. Get there early to beat the crowds. Launch from the dock or beach, and pack a lunch to enjoy a picnic on the shore.

Lake Wawayanda

Union Lake, Millville
Situated on 5,000 acres in historic Millville, you’ll find Union Lake, a favorite NJ kayaking and canoeing destination. On any given day in the summer, spring or fall, paddlers of all levels can be seen enjoying this massive man-made lake. Make your way through open, calm waters and picturesque scenery to more secluded waters shaded by trees. Coast a little farther and discover islands where you can beach your boat, kick back, and enjoy the breeze. Birdwatchers, be on the lookout for bald eagles, belted kingfishers, osprey, ducks, and wild turkeys. Stop back in the fall to see flocks of songbirds begin their migration.

Union Lake

Parvin Lake, Pittsgrove
Just outside the Pine Barrens, you’ll find a quiet, relaxed waterway known as Parvin Lake. This kayaker and canoer’s dream boasts an interesting mix of history and restful waters, perfect for a day of paddling. Take in the spectacular assortment of fragrant plant life that blooms in spring, including dogwood and magnolia. Or see if you can spot the endangered swamp pink plant and state-threatened barred owl that found refuge here. If you need to rent your kayak or canoe, check out Al & Sam’s. After a leisurely paddle around the lake, go for a hike on any of the fifteen miles of trails at Parvin State Park. Need more than a day? No worries. Cabins and campsites are available for overnight stays.

Parvin Lake

For a Tour of the Pinelands:

Wading, Batsto & Mullica Rivers, Wharton State Forest

In the heart of the Pinelands National Reserve, Wharton State Forest covers more than 110,000 acres across three counties in South Jersey. It’s home to a scenic forest landscape and several rivers that offer ideal settings for paddlers. One of the best spots in the Pine Barrens for beginners, the Wading River is known for its slow current and few turns for easy navigation. Canoe or kayak under towering pines and cedars and stop at a sandy spot for a short break and a few snacks. For a half-day kayak or canoe trip that takes you through dense forest and enchanting cedar swamps, plan to explore the winding waters of the Batsto River. Along the way, you can spot historic sites like old cranberry bogs and former ironworks. Experienced paddlers may want to take on the twisting waterways of the Mullica River. Here, you’ll navigate through narrow corridors and swampy terrain teeming with cypress knees and other unique plant life. You can rent a boat or book a guided trip with the expert educators at Pinelands Adventures.

Pine Barrens

For a Historic Paddle:

Delaware and Raritan Canal, Princeton

Kayaking the Delaware and Raritan Canal (D&R Canal) in New Jersey offers a unique blend of history and nature. With launch points in more than a dozen historic towns, the 40-mile canal offers a scenic journey that can be as long or as short as you desire. Glide past remnants of the canal's industrial past, like lock gates and towpaths, while surrounded by serene forests and meadows. The nearly-still waters are perfect for a leisurely paddle, ideal for spotting turtles basking on logs or blue herons taking flight. Remember, some sections require portage (carrying your boat) around locks and low bridges, adding a touch of adventure to your kayaking expedition on the D&R Canal.

For a Saltwater Adventure:

Sandy Hook Unit, Gateway National Recreation Area Highlands
Noted for clean beaches, stunning landscapes, rich military history, and avid birdwatching, Sandy Hook Unit is also a paddler’s paradise. This northern barrier ocean beach (and New Jersey treasure) is one of three units that make up the 27,000-acre Gateway National Recreation Area in South Jersey. Shorebirds, turtle sightings, and breathtaking views make your time on the water a true adventure. Head out early for a tranquil solo paddle or plan an outdoor day for the entire family at this birding, fishing, hiking, swimming, and boating oasis.

For a Fishing Expedition:

Monksville Reservoir, Ringwood
This reservoir in northern New Jersey is a hot spot for paddling enthusiasts, especially kayakers who love to fish. Spanning more than 500 acres, the reservoir is about a three-mile journey with tranquil waters surrounded by serene forests, peaceful hiking paths, and challenging bike trails. Kayaking anglers should get ready to brag a bit – trophy-size muskellunge, walleye, bass, and trout are often reeled in here. If fishing isn’t your thing, the photos you’ll bring back of the stunning submerged forests found in the reservoir are enough to make it worth the trip.

Discover even more boating and paddling adventures, and download a free travel guide to be in the know for all things New Jersey. As always, check the official websites or social media pages of your destinations for the most up-to-date info before you go.