Where does all the water go when the tide comes up the Delaware River and can't get past Scudders Falls? To the Hamilton/Trenton/Bordentown Marsh and the creeks that flow through it: Crosswicks and Watson. The difference between high and low tides is amazing: at low, it's all mud flats and slimy, exposed tree skeletons. You search for the channel to avoid grounding on a sand bar. At high tide, all is flooded, the trees are magically gone, and beauty is everywhere. The difference is typically 6-8 feet of water level. The water flows upstream when the tide is coming in, and it is worthwhile to time your adventure to follow the tide and turn when it does.
We three headed upstream from Bordentown Beach past the yachts and under the Riverline bridge a little before low tide. The train went by overhead. Wide vistas and arrowhead-shaped aquatic plants (Arrow-arum or pickerelweed?) predominate. Hardwood uplands appear in the distance and close in as you travel upriver. Houses and docks number in single figures. We stopped for a break and a swim on a muddy slope after about a mile where a largish trib comes in on the left (river-right).
Another mile upstream and a smaller trib, Watson's Creek, also enters on the left. This is the entry into the marsh itself. A small beige sign on a tree is almost overgrown by vines. There was no water in the trib at low tide so, staying on the larger Crosswicks Creek, we saved it for the way back.
We went under the 3-part bridge of Rt 206 about 3 miles in. The woods are increasingly close now as you slalom through a low-tide graveyard of ancient tree skeletons. Where one tree trunk stretched all the way across with a major branch head-high, my buddy attempted to pull himself across. With his keel on dry wood, though, he tipped to one side and in he went. He waited on the trunk while we attempted a T-rescue in moving current. We couldn't do it without a man in the water. So we moved the operation to shore and I carried the deadfall since I was now out of my boat anyway. We were able to float almost everything else.
We found a small beach that was more pebbly than muddy for lunch, but it disappeared under the rising water as we ate.
As we went under a graffiti-clad railroad span and Rt 130, the motion of the tide abated and the Crosswicks turned into a typical woods stream. Groveville was just upstream--and it may or may not have a put-in--but we turned around in order to take advantage of high tide in the marsh.
Downstream now and the tree skeletons had virtually disappeared. We found the turn-off for Watsons and headed up a particularly beautiful stretch, although PSE&G smokestacks loom on the horizon.
Much of the 295/195/29 cloverleaf is built directly on the marsh and you can paddle along right under it. In and out amongst the concrete pillars, traffic buzzing overhead with unknowing drivers, makes for a surreal paddle. Thin trails exist amongst the arrow-weed. You travel under two main branches: southbound 295, then westward-pointing Rt 29. In between, the train's gravel embankment appears hard against the water on your left (river-right). The D&R Canal is on the other side of the tracks but I got out to peek and couldn't see it. The train zipped by at 60 mph or so and scared the heck out of me.
After 29, you pop out into the marsh proper. A nice rest area with port-a-potties and picnic tables is immediately passed. Maps call the area Rowan Lake but it is mostly channels running through a sea of arrow-weed. It is hemmed in by the PSE&G plant, the hardwood forest of Watson's Woods, and the berms of Spring Lake, along the top of which are walking trails. (We did not get out to see Spring Lake.) But we explored Rowan by boat in detail before heading out and back down to our cars. The lower stretches of the Crosswicks were almost unrecognizable, so wide and water-filled. Stay left to get out.
The whole paddle took us 7 & 1/2 hours and we were exhausted. We could have done a better job timing the tides but it all made for a great day out in Central Jersey.
Bordentown Beach is a large, municipal boat launch and parking area. There is an attendant. Route maps and tide charts are posted there.
NJTP Exit 8 or I-295 Exit 57. Proceed onto Farnsworth Ave through town of Bordentown. Left on Park St to "Bordentown Beach" and boat launch.
"Garden State Canoeing" by Edward Gertler