Great Escape: Hooks Creek Lake

This "little lake that could" is a hidden gem in the heart of Cheesequake State Park.

Photo by Marc Steiner/Agency New Jersey

Hooks Creek Lake
Old Bridge, Middlesex County
732-566-2161

Hooks Creek Lake is New Jersey’s little lake that could—thanks to its range of recreational choices. “Between swimming, camping, hiking, fishing, crabbing, or canoeing and kayaking, there’s no shortage of welcome escapes,” says park superintendent David Donnelly.

Located in the heart of Cheesequake State Park just west of the Garden State Parkway (Exit 120), Hooks Creek Lake lies between two of Jersey’s most disparate geological ecosystems: the Piedmont and the Atlantic Coastal plain.

“You can see two completely different habitats while standing on the dyke,” says Donnelly. “One side is a freshwater lake, and the other side is a saltwater estuary.”

Cheesequake Park is also home to freshwater marshes, the largest protected salt marsh on the Raritan Bayshore and one of the last cedar swamps in Central Jersey. “It’s an exceptional habitat,” says Donnelly.
At Hooks Creek Lake, visitors can crab from the ADA-accessible Crabbing Bridge; watch for marsh wren (a long-billed songbird) and 160 other species of birds; take an eco-kayaking tour; or hike five different trails. Visitors can also camp at Cheesequake’s more than 50 tent and trailer sites (open April 1 through October 31).

Fishing, however, is limited. Hooks Creek Lake, like the rest of Jersey, was hard hit by Hurricane Sandy. “The saltwater intrusion pushed the salinity up 18 times of what freshwater fish can survive in,” says Donnelly. “It will naturally work itself out, but it’s going to take awhile.”

Swimming is permitted from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, while lifeguards are on duty. Park admission year-round is $5 per car ($10 for non-New Jersey residents) on weekdays, and $10 per car ($20 for non-New Jersey residents) on weekends and holidays.

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