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Paddling Upper Musconetcong River in Hackettstown North Jersey
About the Musconetcong River
A tributary of the Delaware River in northwestern New Jersey that is 45.7 miles long. It flows out of Lake Hopatcong and into the Delaware. Learn more about the Musconetcong River on Wikipedia.
Paddle down to Saxton Falls and up to Kinney Road Bridge and back to the launch.
Coordinates for the launch on Waterloo Road -40.8968410, -74.7909310
Where to Park
I parked at the launch parking lot which is right off Waterloo Road in Hackettstown. You cannot miss the large white building that sits at the left end of the lot. It was the site of the Lock Keepers house from the days when the Morris Canal was active. It was also the site of Elsie’s Bar which was active until the early 90’s.
The Musconetcong River is an amazing river with many faces. It is a slow-moving body of water with a few areas to be aware of but for the most part this is an excellent river to paddle for all skill levels. There is plenty to explore and see with lots of history and wildlife.
My trip started off under sun and blue skies, but it quickly changed to grey clouds and a stiff breeze. The river was running very high and quicker than usual after the heavy rain we recently received but was still easy to paddle.
From the launch I paddled to Saxton Falls which is about a mile downstream and takes approximately a half hour round trip if you wanted to do a short paddle.
I hugged the tree lined bank of the swollen river as I slowly paddled downstream. I was watching the shoreline for any debris or trash that was kicked lose from the heavy rains. Unfortunately, there was plenty to pick. I pulled an old gallon jug of wine that was floating in the current. It had a little left in it, but I was not tempted to take a swig. It went into the crate I had strapped to the stern deck of my kayak with the other plastic bottles and other debris I had picked up.
Pick It Up & Pak It Out
Pick It Up & Pak It Out has been a mantra of mine for the last 10 years of paddling the waters here in north western NJ. From an early age I was always taught to leave it cleaner than when I found it. This pertained to my early camping canoe trips as a kid. We could not leave our campsite until it was cleaner than when we found it. My paddling mentor would do a final inspection of our campsite and if he found a bottle cap, we all had to scour the site until it was spotless. We learned early on to make sure we left it cleaner than when we found it. When out paddling and enjoying the outdoors it’s all about the experience. Part of that experience is visiting a clean and pristine location. We are there to escape our hectic day to day lives and reconnect to our natural world. When we come across a piece of trash or any sign of someone else being there it degrades our experience. It is also above all else detrimental to our environment. I’ve found old fishing lures snagged in trees with bats and birds dangling dead from the hook. It doesn’t take much to pack out what you pack in so remember to pack it in pack it out and if you do come across any trash PICK IT UP & PACK IT OUT!
Old Canal Boulder
One of the landmarks on this stretch of river is the old canal boulder.
A friend who spent his summers on the river remembered being told that this ring was put in as a “tie-up” for canal boats that came in too late to lock through. They’d need to wait until morning to lock through. The Morris Canal had set hours and didn’t operate 24 hours a day. This section of the Musconetcong River provided what’s called “slack water navigation” for canal boaters. That means that instead of digging a canal trench (A.K.A a prism), a canal company would divert canal boats onto an impounded section (dammed) of river to allow navigation.
There is quite a bit of history with the Morris Canal along this stretch of river. You can even paddle part of the old canal.
The river is quite wide with tree-lined banks all the way downstream to the Dam. There are a few downed trees that stick out into the water but can easily be seen. The water is a bit deeper through this stretch of river. In spots it can be 5 to 6 feet deep.
Saxton Falls Dam
I make the turn at the dam and start paddling back upstream toward the launch. Staying close to the riverbank, I continue to collect plastic bottles and old beer cans along the way. I pull snagged fishing line and their hooks out of the downed tree branches. I’ve found dead bats and birds hooked on these lines in the past. If you do get a snag, please do your best to remove any line or hooks before you leave.
Great Blue Heron
I hadn’t seen a Great Blue Heron on the river for several weeks. They tend to become scarcer during the late fall and winter months although I have seen them on the river in January and February. I just happened to be scanning the tree’s, as I often do, when I spotted the silhouette perched high on a branch in a tree about 20 yards up the bank. It was a small Great Blue Heron sitting in the grayness of early December.
Paddling Past the Launch
Paddling past the launch the river depth gets shallow all the way upstream to Saxton Lake where the average depth is a few feet. Where the rivers width really opens upstream from the launch it widens dramatically as you pass Saxton Lake.
Saxton Lake is a wide inlet that is separated from the river by a long floating island on one side and on the other is the Saxton Falls Gravel company property. I’ve heard stories of how this was quite the vacation spot back in the day with the shores lined with tiny bungalows and the river was busy with water-skiers, swimmers, and folks fishing. Continuing upstream I passed the first of 3 homes on the river and enter what I like to call the Flats. This is my favorite stretch of the river. The sky opens as the river widens flanked on either side by floating islands. Allamuchy mountain is the backdrop for the river.
It is very dramatic as the river meanders along. In warmer months I often see Redwing Blackbirds flying back and forth between the floating islands. At certain times of the day when the traffic of Waterloo Road slows, I can almost imagine what the Musconetcong River might have been like 200 years ago…and then a plane will fly over and break the silence. I’ve learned you have to catch your moments where you can.
Leaving the Flats
Leaving the flats, the river transitions to narrower banks with an island dead ahead. At the island the river turns to the left and transitions once again to a long straightaway with Allamuchy Mountain dead ahead.
The Musconetcong river transitions again narrowing and winding along the Morris Canal Trail. There is fallen tree that blocks the right upstream side of the river. The tree has been trimmed leaving the left upstream side pretty clear but can be a little tricky if you are not paying attention.
After passing the downed tree the river turns sharply and once again, straightens and widens. The depth is shallow all the way up to Kinney road bridge with no obstacles to contend with. Waterloo concert field is on the left upstream bank.
Kinney Road Bridge
Kinney Road Bridge is another landmark on the river. This is a popular fishing spot and is the road to access Tilcon Lake.
This is also the turning point for me on this particular trip. I make the turn and head back downstream collecting more trash. I managed to pick up close to 30 drink containers, several fishing lines, bait containers, old pieces of Styrofoam, a glass wine jug with a little bit of wine left in it (I did not finish it), and several coffee cups from various gas stations. I couldn’t hold any more trash in my boat. My feeling is that if we all just did our little part picking it up & packing it out whether it was a few pieces of trash that we come across or pulling a ton of trash collectively together we can all make a difference in the amount of debris that finds its way into our waterways.