Take a Ride Along the Delaware River

Pedal and picnic where mules once hauled barges.

delaware river

Cyclists on the D+R Canal trail pause to admire the expanse of the Delaware River at a spillway near Prallsville Mill. Photo by John Bessler

The unskilled laborers who felled the trees and moved the earth to carve out the Delaware and Raritan Canal between 1831 and 1834 had no idea that, one day, their ultimate legacy would be New Jersey’s finest cycling trail. Its builders conceived the canal as an artery to move coal and other essentials between Pennsylvania and New York. To do so, workers dug a feeder canal alongside the Delaware River from Frenchtown to Trenton. The feeder sent river water into the main canal from Trenton to New Brunswick, where it connected with the Raritan River. A towpath was cut along the length of both segments of the canal for mules to pull the canal boats and barges along the waterway.

Today, the D&R Canal is a linear state park. Use of the waterway is largely limited to turtles and kayakers. But the well-maintained, dirt-and-gravel towpath is a favorite of cyclists, joggers and walkers. Quaint towns and well-preserved historic sites can be found along the 65-mile towpath; at its midpoint, the path cuts through busy Trenton.

For the most part, the path is flat and free of vehicular traffic (there are road crossings) and suitable for all ages. Cyclists can opt for rides of almost any length. Our suggested routes: 22.5 miles from Washington’s Crossing to Frenchtown on the feeder canal along the Delaware River, or 17 miles along the main canal from Millstone Causeway to the Port Mercer Canal House.

For the feeder canal ride, you can use the ample parking lot at Washington’s Crossing. The path runs north through the western edges of Lambertville, Stockton and Frenchtown, but first passes through tiny Titusville, with its cluster of compact riverfront homes. Trees line much of the feeder canal, but for long stretches, the woods open up to terrific views across the Delaware.

In Stockton, a small café, Stockton Food Store (12 Bridge Street), has benches and outdoor tables adjacent to the path. It’s perfect for a snack. For more options, head for the nearby Stockton Market (19 Bridge Street). Just north of Stockton, you’ll pass the historic Prallsville Mill.

You’ve now gone about 10 miles. Ride another three miles to reach Bull’s Island, a park area with picnic benches, clean restrooms and a foot bridge over the river. Walk your bike to the middle of the bridge and sense the power of the mighty river rushing below.

After a break at Bull’s Island, it’s just under 10 miles to Frenchtown. Here, you can grab a bite at the Bridge Café (8 Bridge Street) or the Frenchtown Café (44 Bridge Street). From Frenchtown, you can either double back on the path or cross to the Pennsylvania side of the river and ride the parallel path south. (Warning: It’s generally not as well maintained as the Jersey side).

The ride along the main canal has a different feel. Most of the path tunnels through thick forest, with just the narrow Millstone River alongside. There are no towns along the way, so bring your own snacks and refreshments. Park in the designated area at Amwell Avenue (Route 514, east of 533) and ride southwest. Stop and check out the historic buildings at Blackstone Mills and Griggstown Lock.

At Kingston, the trail runs alongside and over Lake Carnegie, a large, man-made reservoir. At the south end of the lake, canoe and kayak rentals are available at Turning Brook Basin Park. (There are also rentals at Griggstown Lock.) Ride as far as the Port Mercer Canal House before turning back. (Beyond this point, the path runs close to busy Route 1 and is less enticing.)

Be aware that both towpaths have sections that are prone to flood damage. Check conditions with the park office (609-924-5705) before any ride.

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