If you ever thought of kayaking and canoeing in NJ on a lake or river, make this the year you try it with the fam. Yes, our state is known for the shore, but there are gentler waters like lakes, rivers, and reservoirs where you can rent a kayak or canoe (or bring your own) and paddle for scenic miles. Whether it’s the miles-long Lake Hopatcong in Northern NJ, the wildlife-rich Rahway River in Central NJ, or the historic Parvin Lake in Southern NJ, there are lots of spots to get out on the water with rentals available on-site (or nearby). Scroll down on where to go kayaking and canoeing in NJ near you. And if swimming is more your jam, make sure you check out our guide to lakes in NJ and the best spots for jumping in. (featured photo credit: Istock/MaxTopchij)
Enjoy an afternoon on the water kayaking and canoeing in NJ
Kayaking and Canoeing in NJ – Northern NJ
With sweeping views of Hoboken and Jersey City on one side, the New York City Skyline on the other, and the Statue of Liberty in the distant background, getting out in a boat on the iconic river gives you a unique vantage point. Though the landscape is more urban than most traditional kayaking and canoeing places, you can still paddle along and feel miles away from the city.
Launch point: Liberty State Park at the Harbor Marina at 11 Marin Blvd in Jersey City, and Hoboken Cove Community Boat House at Maxwell Place and Frank Sinatra Drive in Hoboken.
Local Rental: Hoboken Cove Community Boat House has free kayaks available—a reservation is not necessary but can be made four days in advance if you’re worried about a long wait. Urban Paddle in Jersey City has rentals and works on a reservation system.
This scenic lake is in the center of Wawayanda State Park. It’s suitable for littles and beginners, but if you plan on going, make sure you go early—it’s a very popular spot. Check out the lily pads to the left of the launch spot and the southernmost part of the lake. And make sure to stop over on one of the islands in the center of the lake.
Launch point: Park in the lot next to Wawayanda Boathouse Launch, Highland Lakes. Then you can get in your kayak/canoe from the dock or the shore.
Local rental: Rental facility near Wawayanda State Park’s beach and picnic areas.
As the state’s largest lake (nine miles long and has 2,500 acres of freshwater), this is undoubtedly a boater’s paradise, so expect motorboats to share your space. But still, it’s worth hopping in a canoe or kayak and exploring all the different parts of the lake, including a few lakeside restaurants where you can stop for a snack or lunch. Out of the water, there are other activities in Hopatcong State Park, such as going for a hike or letting your kids play on one of the playgrounds.
Launch points: Hopatcong State Park (on one end of the parking lot at 260 Lakeside Blvd, Landing) and Lee’s County Park Marina (east shore of Lake Hopatcong in Van Every Cove; 443 Howard Blvd, Mt Arlington) has 100 boat slips and three boat launch ramps.
Local rental: None in Hopatcong State Park, but many private marinas around the lake offer kayak and canoe rentals.
Get immersed in nature at this horseshoe-shaped reservoir surrounded by mountains. Go under the Route 511/Greenwood Lake Road bridge—while the area south of the bridge is the central part of the reservoir, if you take a trip to the area north of the bridge, you’ll find a submerged tree forest guaranteed to delight your kids.
Launch points: North launch (cement ramp): Monksville Reservoir, North Boat Launch, Ringwood; South launch (cement ramp): Monksville Reservoir, South Boat Launch, 1081 County Rd 511, Ringwood; and Beech Road launch (dock): North of the bridge, park in the large dirt lot off of Beech Road.
Local rental: Flatwater Paddle Co.
Kayaking and Canoeing in NJ – Central NJ
With over 27,000 acres, you’ll find plenty of areas for kayaking and canoeing at Sandy Hook. The Gateway National Recreation Area is a barrier beach, and for more than 200 years, the site has been a federal reserve. Don’t miss the 250-year-old Sandy Hook Lighthouse, one of our favorite 11 NJ Lighthouses to Visit With the Kids. You’ll need permits for several Sandy Hook activities, so check before you go.
Launch point: You can launch rentals and privately-owned boats at various sites throughout the park—ask for a Sandy Hook Unit map at the info station at the lighthouse.
Local rental: Sandy Hook Kayaks
Mercer Lake, also known as Lake Mercer, is a manmade lake in the middle of Mercer County Park. Try to spot any wildlife—blue herons, beavers, turtles, Canadian geese, and dragonflies are all known to hang around this lake. Kids will want to head to the playgrounds and gazebo before you leave. And if your fam is up for a long hike, you can explore a few lengthy trails.
Launch point: Toward the park’s center, near The Boathouse at Mercer Lake, 334 S Post Rd, West Windsor Township.
Local rental: Princeton Canoe and Kayak Rental
You’ll see University rowers on Princeton University’s 800-foot wide lake—it was the first in the nation explicitly built as a competitive rowing course, and luckily it’s open to the public. (Note: Crew team boats always have the right-of-way.) As you paddle along, look for hawks, owls, and local foxes. When you’ve finished exploring the lake, walk around downtown Princeton, or visit some historical places like the nearby Princeton Battlefield State Park.
Launch point: About two miles north of Princeton University, off Route 27, is the Carnegie Lake Public Boat Launch.
Local rental: Princeton Canoe and Kayak Rental
This river starts in Manville, where two streams of the Raritan River come together and flow into Lake Carnegie, just above the public boat launch. Keep an eye out for swans and other birds that populate the river.
Launch point: There’s a simple boat launch towards the northern end of the river, located on the southern part of Lincoln Avenue Park, 226 Boesel Ave, around the Wilhousky Street/Manville Causeway bridge. It’s pretty underdeveloped, so it can be hard to find.
Local rental: Griggstown Canoe and Rental
Spruce Run Reservoir
Another popular kayaking spot is this large, irregularly-shaped reservoir. It has various wildlife—try to spot the osprey and deer—and several coves to check out. And while the open areas can make for easy paddling with littles, take caution—it’s also easier to get blown around by the occasional strong wind.
Launch point: Ramp and dirt area off a large parking lot (Spruce Run Boat Launch, 12 Van Syckles Rd, Clinton, NJ 08809).
Local rental: Yellow Dog Paddle
This body of water is part of the Delaware and Raritan (D&R) Canal. Kids should have no trouble helping you paddle here—there’s almost no current, which makes it perfect for newbies and families. Look for turtles (there are usually a lot in the area), and if you get lucky, you can spot a Great Blue Heron.
Launch point: West side of the Blackwell Mills bridge (the one in between the Blackwells Mills Park Parking Lot (Somerset, NJ 08873) and the Blackwells Mills Canal House (598 Canal Rd, Somerset, NJ 08873). There’s no obvious dock or ramp—you just set your kayak or canoe in the water and get in.
Local rental: You won’t find a rental shop in the area, so this option might be best if you already have a kayak/canoe.
This 24-mile river includes two roads and five bridges to paddle under, with pretty foliage and native wildlife—the surrounding woods house almost 700 different kinds of plants and animals. Along the way, it’s not uncommon to see turtles, birds, and fish. Fun fact: The winding nature of Rahway River in Cranford is why the town’s nickname is the “Venice of New Jersey.”
Launch point: There are multiple places along the river to launch a kayak, but for a more clear-cut location, head to the popular stretch of the river bank about a block away from the Cranford Canoe Club (250 Springfield Ave, Cranford, NJ 07016).
Local rental: Cranford Canoe Club
Spend the day on this 770-acre Reservoir where you can kayak, canoe, fish, and boat and enjoy the view from the water. If you’re lucky, you’ll get the chance to see lots of wildlife, including birds, fish, turtles, frogs, and more. When you’re done on the water, there’s so much to do at the Reservoir, like picnic tables, hiking trails, an Environmental Center, and boat tours.
Launch point: Boat ramp located at the east ramp at the Visitor Center (311 Windeler Rd, Howell Township, NJ 07731).
Local rental: Rent kayaks at the Visitor Center
Kayaking and Canoeing in NJ – Southern NJ
Located in Scotland Run Park, this 80-acre waterway is suitable for young kids—the water is calm and wide open. Try to spot the hidden plant life under the water, as well as beaver dams and birds. Afterward, let your kids run around on the playground while you rest in the nearby picnic area or pavilion.
Launch point: Concrete boat ramp and dock next to a parking lot off Fries Mill Road (around the corner from the main parking lot (Scotland Run Parking Lot, Clayton, NJ 08312)).
Local rental: Free kayaks and canoes are available in the Scotland Run Park beach area on Saturdays and Sundays only from June 10- September 3.
Parvin State Park is home to Parvin Lake and abundant plants and animals—including the endangered swamp pink plants and the state-threatened barred owl. There’s also history here—it served as the base for Civilian Conservation Corps and a POW camp for German prisoners (both in the mid-1900s). After spending time on the lake, go for a hike on any of the 15 miles of trails.
Launch point: There are a couple of kayak launch ramps around the lake. Fisherman’s Landing off Parvin Mill Road has a public boat ramp and cartop ramp. Check with the park office (Parvin State Park Office, Pittsgrove, NJ 08318) to see where you can launch your kayak.
Local rental: Al and Sam’s Canoe & Kayak Rentals
What’s your favorite spot to go kayaking or canoeing in NJ?
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