Musconetcong River (Continental Drive to Point Mountain Road) USGS: 2.75' gage height

by  njpaddles
  • Put in point at Continental Drive

    Put in point at Continental Drive

  • Random capture from the river for a sense of water height.

    Random capture from the river for a sense of water height.

A self-supported trip created by njpaddles

Trip Overview

Decided to get out on the high water after tropical storm Elsa came through NJ on Friday. The Musconetcong is often too low in the summer, and you wind up dragging in many parts where there are riffles. Be aware, when the gage height is 2.7', there was not a single point where I had to drag the boat, and the water flowed fast. River height was up to just below the trees on the banks in most places (sometimes higher). Grasses that have grown in on the shore over the spring and summer were submerged. Many parts included Class II rapids (Stephens State Park and Point Mountain Reservation deserve a shoutout), and a life vest was essential.

Smooth sailing from Continental Road to the dam at Waterloo Village. There was a small weir in between, but it was crumbled and easily runnable on the right side. Portage around the dam is short, perhaps 200'. Hit a decent-sized strainer (blow down) in between Waterloo and Lake Saxton that required unpinning myself from the tree (my mistake) and making my way through the flooded woods to the left of the tree. Probably wouldn't be possible to float it with water much lower. The rest of the run from here to Lake Saxton dam was pleasant and fast flat water.

Below Lake Saxton dam was one of the trickiest parts. From the dam, you have to portage through the historic site (restored Morris Canal lock), and all of the accesses involved lowering the boat down a steep incline. The river splits around a tiny island and takes a turn just past the dam, and a strainer (blow down) with quick moving water has formed on both sides. There's a gap that looks runnable on the farthest left, but once you're through the first blow down, there's another tree blocking the river afterward. I ended up dragging through the woods on the left (not recommended as it's dense brush) and putting in further down. Perhaps there's a better way than this. I scouted the whole right side of the bank at the historic sight, and it did not lead to a path that led past the strainer. Definitely one of the most treacherous portions of this route.

The run through Stephens State Park was beautiful. There are a number of small weirs composed of rocks lined up across the river. At this height, these came up suddenly and required running them, but there was little scratching, if any, involved in most of these. Just leaned back and took the tumbles as they came. The current was fast here as it's running through a decline, and it got weird in places. The current got the best of me and sent me too close to a rock wall at one point, which led to being dumped out of the boat. Many rapids fell into class II in terms of height and the need to avoid large rocks at the same time.

Past Stephens State Park, the river remained open and calmer until reaching just past Alumni Field in Hackettstown (might be a good take out point for some). Years ago the dam in Hackettstown was removed (I work from an older guide book), and the river was runnable under 46. A number of places going through the town made it difficult with trees jutting out in the only good path. One of these trees dumped me again, and because I'm sort of dumb and did this in a 10', sit-on-top fishing kayak with a detachable (though leashed!) chair, the chair took a beating and the frame snapped. After contemplating defeat and then jerry rigging it back together (thank you to my rope ratchets from my roof rack), I got back on the water.

One particular hazard in Hackettstown is the East Ave bridge. It is far too low to get under when the water is at this height (maybe ever?), and the river takes a bend right before it and the current rushing toward that low bridge is quite fast. I ended up portaging over the small concrete wall before the bridge, paddling over to the right side of bridge on the upriver side, and dragging my boat across East Ave and putting in on the other side. I probably made a strange sight, running my boat across the road in my life vest, but I had already repaired my chair (if only temporarily) and was on a mission

One cool point of note past the Kings Hwy bridge was a major set of strainers that blocked the river. At this height, it was flooding into the woods on the right side, and you could paddle through the trees in a slower flow before merging back with the main river.

For a while, the river was open with no obstructions. The water was still high and flowing strong, and rapids did appear in many points along with many weirs that needed to be run. One of these must have been near 3', and I half-expected to get dumped, but the reversal at the bottom was good and flow was strong enough that I just crashed through.

The final major hazard to look out for is a dam at Penwell Road. There's time to consider it before you're on it, but it spreads out across the river to the right, then there's a small island, another span of dam, another small island, and a chute that leads down to what used to be a paper mill but now seems to be an animal feed store. I portaged down on the small island between dam and chute.

After this dam, there were no obstructions until Point Mountain Road, but the biggest rapids of the whole trip occurred during the run through the forest here. It was beautiful and rugged to be crashing through 1-2' rolling white water that would completely cover my boat up to my chest while flying through a pine forest valley. It was an amazing end to the trip.

On the overall, I could've been much more prepared. Life vest was essential, and I had that. I found out my "watertight" hatches on my fishing kayak are not once I was sitting in a pool of water. I will forever onward have all the things that can't get wet in dry bags. In the future for this level of paddling, I will probably pack an extra paddle (once or twice I worried about breaking mine), potentially a helmet, a handsaw (would have been very useful when pinned against a tree toward the beginning), a pair of pliers or multitool (would have made making the chair repair easier), and a first aid kit. The Musconetcong gave me a beating and taught me some lessons.

It was a punishing, sometimes frightening, but incredible adventure in high water on a New Jersey river I underestimated the power of, but it was also one of the most exciting things I've ever done alone (which I will probably do again, but would bring a partner if possible).


TIME: 8:30 AM - 3:30 PM (much of which included scouting down river, repairs, occasional repacking and draining of the boat)

PHOTO NOTE: My phone got water logged, but photo is included to give a sense of river height at the trees on each side.

Safety Notes

Life vest (obviously)

Strainers presented a real danger at times and dumped me from the boat. If I had come at any of them too fast and without trying to maneuver correctly, the situation could have become serious.

Gear Notes

Vibe Yellowfin 100 (did great! (except for the chair) and comfortable)


High water. Class II rapids in a number of places.

Portage Notes

4 essential portages:

- Waterloo Village dam

- Lake Saxton dam

- East Ave bridge

- Penwell Ave dam

Various portages around strainers

Trip Details

  • Trip Dates: 7/11/2021
  • Sport/Activity: Kayaking
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Water Type: Flat/Sheltered Water, River/Creek (Up to Class II)
  • Number of Portages: 5

Trip Location