Home Best of Guides Where to Go Kayaking in New Jersey

Where to Go Kayaking in New Jersey

by Cristina Lombardi
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There’s no denying that hot summer days are best spent on the water.  Although we tend to think of the ocean, New Jersey is home to a ton of lakes and rivers to visit anytime.  For those looking for a new and fun water adventure,  kayaking is the sport to try.  Pro or novice, it’s a great way to get out and explore our beautiful state and the perfect summer water activity. Whether opting for calm water or more intermediate and challenging rip currents, there are many spots throughout NJ to take advantage of on the water – with rentals available.  Ready to paddle? Read on for a brief history of this water sport and some of the best places to go kayaking in North Jersey this summer. 

kayaking new jersey

History of Kayaking

The word ‘kayak’ actually means ‘hunter’s boat’ and the first kayaks were built approximately 5,000 years ago by the Inuit and Aleut tribes, also known as ‘Eskimos.’  Located in North America, these tribes made kayaks out of animal skins, whalebones, wood, and any other material they could find.  Although a great means of transportation, these first kayaks were not very durable.  In the mid-1800s, kayaks were introduced in Europe as vessels for skimming across cold waters. The Germans and French were the first to use them for recreation. Kayak racing was added to the Berlin Olympic Games in 1936. Today’s kayaks are made from heavy-duty polyethylene plastics that can last up to 15 years. They come in an array of colors, styles, and lengths to choose from.

Kayaking Locations with Rentals Available

Lake Hopatcong

Lake Hopatcong is not only the largest lake in our state but is known as one of the top places to kayak in the summer.  Lake Hopatcong has beautiful scenery, lakefront houses to admire, and is full of coves and islands to explore. Although the water itself tends to be less intense than rip currents found in rivers, a windy day can create some great waves for a more intermediate level. It does get a bit crowded on the weekends, so we suggest a day trip during the week if possible. There are plenty of rentals available, making this a great location for a day trip.

Rental Equipment Available: Yes

Hackensack River Water Trail, Laurel Hill County Park, Secaucus

Conveniently located alongside the Saw Mill Creek Marsh, this county park is one of the most protected habitats in the Meadowlands region. Visitors will have the opportunity to rent and launch kayaks and canoes at Laurel Hill County Park and paddle along the creek to watch birds feeding, fishing, and searching for food. Access to the river is free and available to boaters with boats up to 24 feet in length.  In addition to kayaking, fishing, boating, bird watching and hiking are popular activities at this water trail to make a full day out of.  

Rental Equipment Available: Yes

The Hudson River in Hoboken, Maxwell Park

Located at the intersection of Frank Sinatra Drive and Maxwell Place on the Hoboken waterfront, the Hoboken Cove Boathouse offers free kayaking activities from late May – September. With mainly calm waters and the beautiful Manhattan skyline, it’s hard to think of a cooler, more picturesque place to learn. Kayaks, paddles, and life jackets are supplied to the public, and kids under 16 can paddle with a parent or an adult over 18. 

Rental Equipment Available: Yes

Read More: Hoboken Has Free Kayaking, Thanks to This Local Non-Profit

Delaware and Raritan Canal

Located in the northwest corner of New Jersey, this park runs along 40 miles of the Delaware River and is a perfect location for kayak enthusiasts. For those seeking to learn the proper techniques, Kayak East Tours offers tours for the novice up to experts, along the Delaware River, Statue of Liberty, Graveyard of Ships, Splitrock Reservoir, Meadowlands, and more. Boats, paddles, life jackets, and instructions are provided.

Rental Equipment Available: Yes

White Lake Natural Resource Area, 120 Stillwater Rd, Hardwick

 The White Lake Natural Resource Area has even been officially designated as a National Geographic Geotourism Destination, making it a must-visit! This lake is a great spot for beginners to easily paddle along the crystal clear blue water. The park has a limited number of free kayaks by reservation only

Rental Equipment Available: Yes

Overpeck Park Kayak Center, 40 Fort Lee Road, Leonia

Overpeck Creek is one of the best places to learn how to kayak because it’s protected and calm. Spanning more than 805 acres, this county park is a top destination for recreation in Bergen County. Aside from a canoe/kayak launch area, the park has picnic and fishing areas, a playground,  a grass amphitheater, 5 miles of trails, and more. Canoe and kayak rentals are available to the public as well.   

Rental Equipment Available: Yes

Mercer Park Marina & Boathouse, 334 S Post Road, West Windsor Township

Mercer Park Marina is a great lake for beginners and families trying out kayaking for the first time. Kayaks are available for rent from Memorial Day through Labor Day- with occasional kayak tours offered as well. The marina boat ramp is open for public use seven days a week sunrise to sunset weather permitting.  Surrounding the marina is a recreational area with plenty of activities to have lunch or spend the day after the kayaking adventures. 

Rental Equipment Available: Yes

Wawayanda Lake, 885 Warwick Turnpike, Hewitt

With a boat rental facility on premises, visitors can choose to rowboat, canoe, paddleboat, kayak or bring their own privately owned watercraft. Kayakers can paddle through a unique, glacially formed lake in an Atlantic white cedar swamp, alongside a mixed oak-hardwood forest.  It is also home to many animals including deer, beaver, black bear, and river otter, great for sightseeing while out on the water.

Rental Equipment Available: Yes

Navesink River, Oceanic Marina, 8 Washington Street. Rumson

This shallow tidal river is best known for the picturesque homes of the rich and famous – but also makes for a great location to kayak.  There is a free, public-access Kayak launch area located at Maple Cove at the end of Maple Avenue on the Navesink River.  Kayak and paddleboard rentals are available which give access to Sandy Hook Bay. The Marina is also a close walk to the center of town with shopping, restaurants, tennis courts, and more. 

Rental Equipment Available: Yes

Kayaking Locations without Rentals

Passaic River, Two Bridges Road, Lincoln Park

Located next to the Great Piece Meadows, this part of the river offers great kayaking opportunities in a more isolated, less-crowded environment. Kayakers will have the opportunity to see plenty of wildlife such as hawks, herons, foxes, and deer while out on the water. In addition, there are Waterfalls that add to the picturesque ambiance.

Rental Equipment Available: No

Splitrock Rock Reservoir, Split Road, Boonton

At the Split Rock reservoir, kayakers will be surrounded by hills and rock cliffs, and several islands on a scenic route through nature. While they don’t offer rentals, the reservoir is beautiful and open to the public for kayaking. The public access parking area is located near the dam.

Rental Equipment Available: No

Swartswood Lake, Newton

At Swartswood Lake, Kayakers will have the opportunity to glide the perimeter of this glacially-formed lake for 5-6 miles. They will get to see two small islands, an old grist mill, a few homes, and perhaps a Bald Eagle. This remote area may be off the beaten path, but it is certainly worth visiting for its serene ambiance and calm shores.

Rental Equipment Available: No

Cranberry Lake, Sussex County

Kayakers can paddle the three-mile water trail on the Musconetcong River within Allamuchy State Park.  The route offers a remote and pristine exploration of coves and inlets, and mountains. The trail is between Waterloo Road at Route 80 and the Saxton Falls Dam.  A public boat launch is available at Cranberry Lake. 

Rental Equipment Available: No

South Branch of the Raritan River, Ken Lockwood Gorge

The Gorge is a beautiful 2.5-mile section of the South Branch with a large population of trout that are preserved year-round and sure to be seen while out on the water.  The Ken Lockwood Gorge is one of the State’s most picturesque wildlife areas with a river that has areas for both beginners and more experienced kayakers.  The more experienced route consists of about 3 miles of rapids.  There are no boats available for rent on the South Branch. 

Rental Equipment Available: No

See More: All About the Hackensack Riverkeeper Eco-Cruises

Merrill Creek Reservoir, 34 Merrill Creek Road, Washington

At Merrill Creek Reservoir, Kayakers can paddle alongside the red pine and cedar-lined shore forests. This reservoir is great for spotting different wildlife like mergansers, king fishers, pileated woodpeckers, bald eagles, white-tailed deer, muskrats, hawks, and herons. Kayaks must be launched from the boat ramp on the east side of the reservoir. 

Rental Equipment Available: No

Manasquan River Reservoir, Howell, NJ

Known as the most visited site in Monmouth County, visitors can spend the day fishing, boating, or exploring the trails.  This preserved open space reservoir provides river access for all types of kayakers. This river is surrounded by marsh grass and cedar trees, and kayakers can paddle down towards the ocean through a serene and larger river lined with marinas and waterfront homes. 

Rental Equipment Available: No

Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge, Vernon

This wildlife refuge manages over 6,000 acres of land in Sussex County, making it the perfect place to get out on the water and see some wildlife. The refuge puts special emphasis on preserving and protecting the land, the birds, wintering raptors, and any endangered species.  Kayakers can paddle through beautiful floodplain forests, wet meadows, and tall rock cliffs. Access points are where Rt. 642 crosses the Wallkill River in Wantage, Rt. 565, about one-half mile north of the Rt. 23/Rt. 565 intersection.

Rental Equipment Available: No

Meadowlands Commission’s River Barge Park and Marina, 260 Outwater Lane, Carlstadt

This 5-acre recreational area provides public access to the river’s western banks in Bergen County. This marina provides visitors with a boat ramp, docks, paddling and rowing launch points, a large marina, a scenic area with picnic tables, and plenty of trails. Not only is there plenty of opportunity for bird watching and animal sighting, but a launch point for boats, kayaks, and canoes alike.

Rental Equipment Available: No

Monksville Reservoir, Ringwood

Located near Ringwood State Park, this lake creates a peaceful location for beginners and paddlers looking for calm shores to explore. This horseshoe-shaped reservoir has steep forested banks that provide serenity and calmness.  Kayakers will paddle alongside this reservoir enjoying the beautiful nature all around. Kayak tours are available through Kayak East

Rental Equipment Available: No

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