Mullica River: Atsion to Pleasant Mills
This 12-mile stretch is my favorite Pine Barren river run. Mainly because it is 4 distinct rivers. The put in is just off the northbound side of route 206 across from Atsion Lake. There's a sign. About 300 yards down from the put in is a narrow trestle for the abandoned Jersey Central RR. In high water this trestle can present a challenge to all paddlers.
The upper stretch, the first 2 miles or so is narrow (6 to 20 feet with overhanging bushes) and twistier than Chubby Checker in 1961. Now we're talking about a flat-water mild current river(except when the gauge is over 2.5 - more on the gauge later.) with lots of obstacles both below, on and above the river. Most have been sawed out (thank you Bill Bell and your kid Dave) but at present there are just a few bump over or get out and drag overs. But not on the first stretch.
The river opens as do the trees into an area called the "ponds". The Ponds stretch out over the next mile and a half and the Mullica wanders thru the grasses while a very pronounced channel will guide you through the lilies and grasses. A variety of colorful flowers grow in the grasses. You'll pass 7 beaver lodges and at least 2 beaver dams, depending on the route you take. In higher water you can wander bank to bank around the ponds, follow the beaver trails they know the best shortcuts. At the end of the ponds is the "old" Mullica camp, a favorite spot for many to stop for lunch or a swim. The ponds spill over 2 beaver dams and reform the river here followed by a gnarly stretch over the next quarter mile. A couple more beaver dams and many downed trees that while cut out for the most part one will generally require getting out onto the trunk and pulling your boat over or in very high water this slot closes and the best way is to get out on the left and take a short hike thru the woods.
The river then opens into it's 3rd phase. While you've been in a maple swamp for that first stretch below the old camp, after the gnarliness the maple swamp reveals itself and you will meander along a generally 20' wide river that twists from bank to bank till you get to the "new" Mullica Wilderness Camp. For many, if not most, paddlers this is the first day stopping point. I've camped around this country and this is one of the very best campgrounds. 2 Johns, a potable water pump and it runs along the river for a couple hundred yards. I'm a Sunday to Thursday camper so I haven't experienced the camp when full but I've paddled past and it never looks crowded even when all 100 permits are in use.
The Camp also marks the beginning of the 4th stretch of river. From the camp to the take out the last 5 miles is a consistent wide easy paddle. Bordered by tall stands of cedars and pines there is a meadow that tracks the right side of the river for about a mile. In high water the meadows turn into ponds that invite exploration. Soon you get into the edges of Batsto Village, the pig iron that they smelted into cannonballs for the American Revolution was mined along this stretch of river and ledges of the ore are visible. Stop by Batsto Village for a tour after your paddle, you won't be disappointed.
You'll pass under 3 bridges. The first, 3 miles down from the camp is Constable Bridge and is a favorite spot for the local kids who come out to swim and dive. The next, past the other beaches that dot both sides of the river is a foot bridge for one of the trails of Batsto Bridge. The 3rd bridge is your mark for the end of your trip, the takeout at Pleasant Mills is about 200 feet past the bridge on the left.
I mentioned the gage at the beginning of the report. There is a USGS gauge located about 7 miles down the river. Both an electronic gage with readings available at:
There is also a staff gage along the bank at the gage station. I'm more familiar with the height gage than with the flow gage. These are quiet (at best frisky) flat water rivers in the Pine Barrens so to me the level lets me know what the volume is going to be. No white water here and to me that's where I want to understand the flow more than the height.
So here is a guide:
- At .8 feet you won't deal with the rocks that, while sparse along this river, are none the less there and will rip at the bottom of the boat. I once did the river at .6 and don't recommend that level.
- From .8 to 1.5 you'll need to look out for the stumps and large branches or trunks that lay on the river bottom and can cause quite a bit of havoc.
- The river is at its best from 1.5 to 2.5 feet. At these levels you can get over or under most of the over-laying trees that haven't been cut out. The closer you get to 2.5 you can also find your way around many of these obstacles.
- At 2.5 feet (flood stage is 5 feet) or above, leave your novice paddler friends home as you will test all your skills. There is the trestle that is a short swift 3 foot wide slot just down from the put in. 9 miles down you have Constable Bridge that will just allow you under and then the foot bridge in the Park (Batsto) that is in the tidal push so at 2.5 and very high tides you might find yourself pulling out to carry around the bridge. The last bridge at Rte. 542 isn't an issue till flood stage.
- Above 2.5 you'll find all kinds of places to paddle. The meadow below the camp becomes a mile long lake. The beaver dams run flat across and you can paddle thru the woods to avoid all the obstacles.
I've been on this river twice during flood stage. I will say just this. It was too much fun and I'm too old for too much fun. I lost the river more times than I could count and found myself in some nasty swift water. Now if you see the gage at 3.5 or above and decide to do the Mullica don't if you've never the Mullica before. Go paddle the Batsto.
There is camping at Atsion Lake, the Mullica Wilderness Camp, and near Batsto.
If you want a room you can find one in Hammonton, NJ
Camp permits are $2 a night. That's right I said TWO DOLLARS!
Go to Google Maps and search Atsion Lake, Shamong, NJ.
Ed Gertlers' book "Paddling the Rivers of New Jersey" is good as it has maps.
- Trip Duration: 2-3 Day Trip
- Sport/Activity: Kayaking
- Skill Level: Intermediate
- Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)