How to Enjoy New Jersey’s Wild and Scenic Rivers

Protected by Congress, these three rivers offer "rare beauty"—and exceptional boating, birding, hiking, kayaking, canoeing, tubing and camping.

The Maurice River in New Jersey

The Maurice River is one of many beautiful places to visit in New Jersey. Photo: AEROJO Drone Productions

One day in 2006, while boating with his grandson on South Jersey’s Maurice River, Dave Scherer was struck by the realization that Millville, his hometown, was harboring a secret that cried out to be shared.

“It occurred to me that, because the river is unspoiled, offering rare beauty in our overdeveloped world, more people should get to enjoy it,” he recalls. “I asked myself what I could do to make that happen.”

Scherer was aware that, on December 1, 1993, Congress had officially designated 35.4 miles of the Maurice River and its tributaries, the Manumuskin River and Menantico and Muskee creeks, as wild and scenic. This designation is significant, forever keeping any river that receives it primitive, free-flowing, and protected from commercialism and overdevelopment.

The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System was created in 1968, ultimately protecting nearly 14,000 miles of 226 rivers in 41 states and Puerto Rico.

The Musconetcong River in New Jersey

The Musconetcong River is a tributary of the Delaware. Photo: AEROJO Drone Productions

The Garden State is home to three such rivers. Two of them, the Maurice and the Great Egg Harbor rivers, are nestled in the 1.1 million-acre New Jersey Pinelands, with its unique, protected ecosystem. The third is the Delaware. Sections of the Musconetcong River, a tributary of the Delaware in the Highlands region of North Jersey, are included as wild and scenic: the 3.5-mile segment from Saxton Falls to the Route 46 Bridge, the 20.7-mile segment from the King’s Highway Bridge to the railroad tunnels at Musconetcong Gorge, and the 4.3-mile segment from Hughesville Mill to the confluence with the Delaware River.

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So what became of Scherer’s dream of sharing the natural beauty of the Maurice River? He purchased a hurricane-damaged pontoon boat in Florida, had it transported to Millville, and rehabbed it with the help of his grandson David Enright. They added a canopy, 18 seats, a long table for onboard dining, and a tiny bathroom.

Great Egg Harbor River in New Jersey

The Great Egg Harbor River is located in the Pinelands. Photo: AEROJO Drone Productions

Scherer had earned his master captain’s license in 1996, so he was all set to start offering environmental rides on the river in a new business he christened Maurice River Cruises. As Captain Dave, he takes passengers on two-hour, 20-mile, round-trip rides launched from Millville.

The boat gets as close as a couple of hundred yards from wildlife. Bring binoculars or use a pair provided onboard for close-up views of turtles and the occasional otter, beaver, fox, muskrat or deer, plus numerous osprey, egrets, bald eagles and their nests in this primitive watershed.

Captain Dave, now 80 and a great-grandfather, guarantees eagle sightings, or passengers get a future ride for free. “The Maurice River area has the largest concentration of bald eagles in South Jersey,” he points out, adding that, of all the trips he’s captained in nearly two decades, only one was eagle-less.

Starting May 17 and running through October, Captain Dave is once again offering Friday and Saturday daytime cruises and Wednesday sunset cruises. Charters can also be arranged. He narrates each voyage, pointing out historic riverside structures and offering entertaining stories about colorful local residents and Millville’s vibrant glass-manufacturing history. Reservations can be made by calling 856-327-1530.

New Jersey Monthly's April 2024 cover

Buy our April 2024 issue here. Cover photo: Bryan Anselm

Nature and water lovers can enjoy all three wild and scenic rivers and their environs in a variety of ways besides boating. Birders and hikers can experience stunning vistas of the Maurice River at the Maurice River Estuary Trail (1 Strawberry Avenue, Port Norris), Maurice River Bluffs Trail (1200 Silver Run Road, Millville), and Harold N. Peek Preserve (1400 S. Second Street, Millville).

Want to get your feet wet? Kayaking, canoeing and tubing can’t be beat for tranquility, escape and contemplation. Two Mays Landing businesses rent equipment and arrange rides along the Great Egg Harbor River. Palace Restaurant & Outfitters (6924 E. Black Horse Pike; 609-625-8552) is open starting at 9 am, Tuesday-Sunday, from early May through late September, and also offers riverside dining. The last van carrying adventurers (age 5 and up) to the river entranceway leaves the Palace at 3 pm. Bring insect repellent.

Those wishing to stay overnight just feet from the Great Egg Harbor River can rent one of three pet-friendly cabins offered by Palace Outfitters. The Winding River Campground (6752 Weymouth Road), also pet friendly, offers campsites for RVs and tents, plus two cabins and amenities such as a pool. For kayaking, canoeing and tubing, it opens at 9 am daily (last launch leaving at 2 pm) from May 1 through October 15. Paddlers and tubers are driven to the historic Weymouth Furnace site and finish up at the campground’s backyard.

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Historic spots to be explored near the Musconetcong River are Waterloo Village, Stanhope, Asbury and Finesville. Those with canoes, kayaks and tubes can put in at numerous points along the wild and scenic sections of the Delaware. Recommendation for tubers: Bring a short paddle to help you escape impediments like fallen tree trunks.

One thing explorers of New Jersey’s wild and scenic rivers are sure to discover: They are quite a contrast to the Turnpike!

Barbara Leap enjoys reading a book while blissfully tubing on the wild and scenic Great Egg Harbor River.

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