Kayaking & Canoeing on the Lower Raritan
Photo: Raritan Riverkeeper
Paddlers on the Lower Raritan get a surprisingly lush and peaceful view of Central Jersey that is more than worth the effort. In many places there is nothing to observe but vegetation, wildlife, rippling water and quiet. Even in the lower reaches, where industrial sites line the river, the experience can be unexpectedly serene.
The 25-mile Lower Raritan corridor has many public access points from which to launch a canoe or kayak. It is important to note, however, that the river segment between the North Branch/South Branch Confluence and Bound Brook, about 10 miles, includes three* dams or weirs that paddlers must portage (that is, exit the river and walk around):
- Headgates Dam in Duke Island Park, Bridgewater
- Manville Weir
- Island (Island Farm) Weir - NJ American Water diversion dam, Bridgewater just above Bound Brook
These low dams are not well marked, and all present a serious drowning hazard for kayakers/canoers who do not exit the river above them. Only experienced paddlers who are sure of the locations of these hazards should venture out onto the upper portions of the Lower Raritan without a guide. The Raritan, like most large rivers, is also subject to wide variations in flow…and flooding…after storms and during spring snowmelt. Caution and good judgment are always the first order when considering any boating activity.
Photo: Sustainable Raritan Initiative
The portion of the Raritan below Island Farm Weir is free of dams, and the segment in Bound Brook and Piscataway is the easiest to navigate. When one gets into the tidal portion of the Raritan, which starts around Piscataway/Franklin Township, prior planning is needed to avoid being “stranded” due to shallow water when the tide goes out. A one-way paddle during high tide is recommended — an excursion where paddlers arrange to be picked up at the eastern end of their trip, rather than attempting to make the return trip “upriver” by paddling when the tide is going out.
The Raritan Riverkeeper and a few kayak/fishing excursion companies, including Kayak East and Reel Therapy, offer limited opportunities to paddle the Lower Raritan with a group and guide during the warm months.
Recently, a new and improved access point was created at Canal Park in Raritan Borough, and Piscataway Township installed a small dock at Riverside Park. These new municipal amenities reflect a growing interest in the Lower Raritan as a recreational resource.
Caution: Always wear a life jacket when boating. Use caution, and study the hazards before venturing into river recreation of any kind.
*Under a natural resources damage settlement with the El Paso Corporation, the Calco Dam at Bridgewater/Bound Brook was removed in 2011, the Robert Street Dam (Bridgewater) was removed in 2012, and the Nevius Street Dam (Raritan Borough) was removed in 2013.
Nevius Street Dam Removal:
thewatershed.org/pdf/Science/Informational Flyer for NeviusSt Dam Removal - JohnW.Jengo, PG.pdf
Video of Nevius Street Dam Removal:
Robert Street Dam Removal:
NJN Article on Robert Street Dam/Recreation Safety:
Dam Removal Report:
Google map of the Lower Raritan Corridor:
You can view an interactive Google map of access points, recreational, ecological, and cultural resources on the Lower Raritan.