Great Egg Harbor River

The Great Egg Harbor River begins in suburban towns and meanders for 59 miles, draining 304 square miles of pristine wetlands in the heart of New Jersey's Pinelands Reserve (the famous "Pine Barrens") on its way to the Atlantic Ocean. Known locally as the "Great Egg," the river is close to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Trenton and Camden, New Jersey; and Wilmington, Delaware. The river's proximity to millions of people, together with it being the largest canoeing river in the Pine Barrens, makes the Great Egg an important recreation destination.

But wildlife likes it, too. The freshwater and tidal wetlands serve as resting, feeding, and breeding areas for waterfowl throughout the year amid undisturbed forests and swamp areas. Dissolved iron and tannin, a product of fallen leaves and cedar roots, produce the river's tea-colored "cedar water" along much of its length. Striped bass, herring and alewife, return from the ocean each year to spawn in grayer-bottomed rivers and streams. The river provides a habitat for several threatened and endangered plant and animal species, including the bald eagle, the peregrine falcon, and the Pine Barrens tree frog.

The best stretch for canoeing is the 22 miles between Penny Pot County Park and Atlantic County Park at Lake Lenape. Penny Pot is off of Route 561 along the Black Horse Pike, Route 322. You can cut the trip roughly in half by putting in at Weymouth County Park (Route 559 off of Black Horse Pike). Upriver from Penny Pot the river is painful going, twisty and so brushy, you practically need a chainsaw to paddle it.

More about Jersey Go to Maurice River & Its Tributaries.

The river is dammed at Lake Lenape, then turns into a tidal estuary. Access for paddling can be gained at Gaskill County Park, near Mays Landing and River Bend Park. Both parks are along County Road 559. While paddling the tidal part of the river, big boy boats are the biggest hazard. Remember, you're basically upriver from Atlantic City, and you're sharing the river with flashy recreational cabin cruisers and other motor boats, the operators of which can be oblivious to small craft if they aren't actually inebriated. Things can get mighty tight when the tide starts going out, and boats are racing to make it back to Great Bay before the river gets too narrow and shallow. You'll be riding some scary wakes.

Perhaps the best way to relate to the tidal portion of Great Egg is at the Lester G. McNamara Wildlife Management Area, a wetlands area near the river's mouth. Access is available at Tuckahoe.

The watershed has been occupied since prehistoric times, lived upon traditionally by the Lenape Indians before occupations by Europeans in the early 1700's. The lands contained all the necessary materials for shipbuilding, and in the Revolutionary War its "bog iron" made cannon balls while its hidden coves sheltered privateers. Blast furnaces, sawmills, glass factories, and brick and tile works followed until the Industrial Revolution drew its people away.

For thousands of years, people living in the New Jersey Pine Barrens have depended on the Great Egg Harbor River. European settlers came to harvest the river's abundant cedar forests and established a vital shipbuilding industry during the Revolutionary War. Farming, bog ore mining, and iron-, paper-, and glass-making shaped the river towns of Mays Landing, Weymouth, and Tuckahoe. The naturalist John James Audubon noted the abundant fish and wildlife along the Great Egg Harbor in his book "Delineations of American Scenery and Character."

New Jersey's other National Wild and Scenic River, the Maurice River, is further south and well worth a visit.

National Park Service
Northeast Field Area
U.S. Custom House, Rm. 260
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 25 Aug 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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