New Jersey boasts 1.1 million acres of pinelands to explore. Pineland Adventures, a tour company located in Shamong, aims to make those explorations as easy and accessible as possible. An initiative of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, Pineland Adventures offers all the equipment and support kayakers and canoers need to enjoy the rivers of the Pine Barrens.
With a lineup of bookable paddling trips available with or without a guide, and at varying lengths, there are adventures fit for all skill levels.
For the independent paddler, there are five self-guided tours of varying difficulties. Four take you down the Mullica River. These range from 90 minutes to an ambitious eight-hour paddle. The fifth option is a four-hour paddle on the nearby Batsto River.
We chose the shortest of the five—the appropriately nicknamed Shorty—which we were assured is best for beginners. The trip starts in a narrow and winding portion of the Mullica River, surrounded by dense stands of trees of the Wharton State Forest. This section requires a sharp focus to navigate the tight turns and logs jutting from the water. Thankfully, the current is slow and forgiving, and we succeeded in avoiding nature’s obstacles.
More leisurely paddling awaits when the river opens into a beaver pond, with wide views of marshland and potential wildlife sightings (we counted more than 20 turtles). This route has multiple pull-offs along the way, allowing for refreshment stops and relaxation on the riverbank.
Pineland Adventures simplifies the logistics. On the day of our excursion, we arrived at the company’s office to check in, along with others who had booked the same time slot. We each received a well-fitted life jacket and our choice of single kayaks (tandems and aluminum canoes are also available), which were loaded onto a trailer hooked to the back of a bus. Next, an employee handed out maps and described our route, including landmarks to guide us down the river.
We then boarded the bus and set off to the river, the trailer rattling behind. Even with self-guided trips, multiple groups are transported simultaneously to the starting point, so be sure to arrive the suggested 15 minutes early out of courtesy to fellow paddlers. The driver narrated the short ride over a crackling PA system, explaining some of the history and ecology of the area.
At the river, we unloaded the boats into the distinctive molasses-brown water, colored by high iron content and tannins in the vegetation. Groups pushed off one at a time to begin their adventure. Even the one-person kayaks have enough room for a small bag of food or extra clothing, but be prepared for everything to get splashed.
While each route has an estimated time, paddlers are encouraged to go at their chosen pace to enjoy everything the river has to offer. With plenty of stops, we made the trip down the river in three hours. As instructed, we texted Pinelands Adventures when we reached a landmark noted on the map to alert them that we were nearing the pickup point.
On the bus ride back, we had the driver to ourselves and peppered her with questions about the region. Back at the office, we rinsed the sand off our feet, changed into dry clothes in dressing rooms available near the parking lot, and headed home—tired but gratified.
Self-guided tours cost $50 for a single kayak, $85 for a tandem, and $75 for a canoe. You can also BYO and pay for the shuttle service. The guided tours Pineland Adventures offers—cancelled last season due to Covid-19, but expected to resume this year—are led by naturalists who teach about the Pine Barrens history, habitat and wildlife during the trip.
Pineland Adventures also offers guided hikes. Visit pinelandsadventures.org to book your excursion.
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