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You don't have to head far to get on the river this summer. Spend a few hours to a few days paddling through tree-canopied rivers, with a different view of New Jersey to the industrial wasteland stereotype. Starting from easy to more challenging, try these five canoe trips in New Jersey:
Rahway River in Cranford: If you're just getting started or want to take young kids, you may want to start with an easy trip on the Rahway River in Cranford. Bring your own boat or rent from the century-old Cranford Canoe Club. You can bring your pets for this up-and-back river paddling experience. Make an afternoon of it, as you make your way three miles upstream to the waterfall and then back again.
Rentals go for two hours which is enough time (sometimes more than enough time) to do the trip once. If you're lucky, you might see turtles, ducks, deer and birds. Initially you'll paddle through a residential area. Don't expect any rapids—this is a quiet, peaceful experience, though this was the river that flooded Cranford during Hurricane Irene. When you're done on the water, grab a snack at the Canoe Club or poke around in downtown Cranford, which has its own small town charm.
Princeton: There are a number of places to paddle around the Princeton area, not far from campus. The easiest is on the historic Delaware & Raritan (D&R) Canal. The trip is flat and serene, and the standard route is two hours there and back. Or with a short portage from the canal, you can get to Stony Brook and Carnegie Lake, taking as much time as you want.
Your rental option in this area is Princeton Canoe and Kayak Rental, if you don't have a boat already. They'll give you a map with a selection of routes marked. In the water, look for turtles, geese, ducks and other water fowl.
Delaware Water Gap: For those seeking something more challenging, head to the Delaware River, where you'll drift between New Jersey and Pennsylvania, since this river is the dividing line. The river is mostly wide open with a few small-time rapids. Many start the trip at Dingman's Ferry, heading south to Bushkill, a half day 11-mile route. For more adventure, bring your camping gear aboard (in dry bags, of course) and head to one of the National Park Service's paddle-up sites for the night.
They're first-come first-served, so don't start on the river too late if you want to camp legally. Arrange in advance for your pick-up spot, likely Delaware Water Gap— a 28 mile trip over two days. A number of outfitters can rent you canoes and ferry you to and from the river.
Oswego or Wading Rivers: These two scenic rivers in the Pine Barrens are great day trips. If you want to stay overnight, it's best to set up camp before you go at a nearby campground, then paddle each river for a day. You'll be in the Wharton State Forest, and you can choose routes that are two to eight hours long. You'll need to watch out for branches sticking into the river from the banks, and for logs you can't see under water.
The only time I ever flipped a canoe was in these waters—it was a technically challenging paddle. But never fear, Mick's Pine Barrens Canoe & Kayak Rental has the 411.
Mullica River: Still in the Pine Barrens, take this overnight canoe trip starting at Atsion or the old Mullica Camp. You'll end at Pleasant Mills. If the river isn't flowing high, you may have some short portages or logs to paddle over in the boat. Along the way look for turtles, birds and beavers, some of which make damns that can be... dare we say damning?
You'll find plenty of marshy and sandy banks for breaks, and you can camp at Mullica River Campground halfway, which is only accessible by boat, hiking or horseback. Pineland Adventures can set you up for the canoe trip. The historic Batso Village close to your take-out is a great place to explore, so make sure you'll arrive when they're open if you want to wander through any buildings. Founded in the late 1700s, this iron works complex later transitioned to glass production, housing workers and becoming its own village.
Deborah Abrams Kaplan writes adventure and family travel for the New York Daily News, Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, Shape, Family Fun, Continental and Bankrate.com. You can find her at Twitter @JerseyKids or Facebook