Shamong (Burlington County)
It’s a sunny summer afternoon, and Wharton State Forest superintendent Rob Auermuller is surveying the scene at Atsion Lake. Swimmers frolic in the faintly reddish water, sunbathers bask nearby on towels and beach chairs, and moms and dads trundle back from the concession booth balancing towers of burgers, hot dogs and cheese fries.
“What’s so special about Atsion is the unique setting and resources,” says Auermuller. “The pristine cedar water. The picturesque backdrop of pine and cedar trees. It’s really quite beautiful.”
Atsion Lake (pronounced “at-sign”) is nestled in the heart of New Jersey’s nearly 125,000-acre Wharton State Forest, itself a vast tract of the Pinelands National Reserve. It’s the perfect spot for those seeking a leisurely, semi-secluded lake experience. The recreation area is open to the public from April 1 through October 31; swimming is allowed from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, when lifeguards are on duty from 10 am to 6 pm. Atsion and its surrounding grassy fields and dense forest flutter with activity—including picnicking, hiking, horseshoes, soccer and Frisbee.
The lake’s 100 aquatic acres can be explored by canoe, kayak or small sailboat. You can drop a line for a variety of fish, including pickerel, sunfish, catfish and largemouth bass. Canoe and kayak rentals are available at Adams Canoe Rental (1005 Atsion Road, Shamong).
Daily admission to the recreation area is $5 per car ($10 for out-of-state guests) and the facility has showers, changing rooms and a well-stocked concession stand. For a longer stay, Atsion’s shores are dotted with nine state-owned log cabins and 50 campsites, available for $20 per night ($25 for non-New Jerseyans).
Cabins accommodate up to eight people and start at $55 per night. During the summer, rentals must be booked for a minimum of seven nights and often fill up a year in advance. —Nick DiUlio
Princeton (Mercer County)
in 1886, Princeton’s crew team disbanded rather than keep fighting ships and barges for space on the narrow Delaware & Raritan Canal. Sixteen years later, one of its members, who had painted Andrew Carnegie’s portrait, convinced the steel titan to donate $118,000 to construct a dam in the heart of Princeton. It produced a 3-½-mile-long body of water that the crew, since 1906, has called home. Today, 800-foot-wide Lake Carnegie is owned by the university, but is open to all for canoeing, kayaking, sailing, fishing and, this past winter for the first time since 2009, ice skating. —Drew Anne Scarantino
(Morris and Sussex counties)
The 45-mile shoreline of the state’s largest lake was once peppered with amusement parks, waterfront hotels and dance halls. These days, the lake is mainly residential and rocks to the buzz of motorboats and jet skis and the chatter of waterfront diners.
If you’re not a resident, you can enjoy the lake by visiting Hopatcong State Park, which provides beach access, picnic areas, concessions, restrooms, boat launch and playground. Daily admission from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day is $6 on weekdays, $10 on weekends.
Boats can be rented at private marinas around the lake (try Barnes Brothers Marine, Mt. Arlington, 973-398-0251; or Beebe Marina, Lake Hopatcong, 973-663-4111). If you work up an appetite, you can dock at several popular restaurants (Check out our Waterfront Dining Guide). —Christina Colizza
Hospitality Creek Campground & Swim Club
117 Coles Mill Road
Williamstown (Gloucester County)
Since 1961, Hospitality Creek has provided a multifaceted experience for South Jersey families, boasting a 30-acre lake, a wide, sandy beach, an Olympic-sized pool, boat rentals and concession stands. Visitors can reserve one of Hospitality’s campsites for $55 a night ($330 for the week), or opt for a seasonal club membership (May 25 through September 2), which costs $200 per person for weekday access and $300 per person for seven-day access. —ND