Kayaking on the Mullica River

I kayaked a couple weeks ago for the first time since breaking my ankle and couldn’t have asked for better weather. While paddling the Mullica River from 1st Beach to Lock’s Bridge, my group encountered many basking turtles along the way. 

Red-bellied Turtle on the Mullica, September 2021 (photo by Beach and Barrens)

The 1st Beach launch is accessible via Quaker Bridge Road, a dirt road leading from Route 206 in Shamong, some of which is best accessed by four wheel drive vehicles. According to Ghost Towns and Other Quirky Places in the New Jersey Pine Barrens by Barbara Solem, the road takes its name from a bridge constructed in the 1700s. After a tragic drowning, a group of Quakers built it to provide a safer crossing.

Lock’s Bridge, another popular kayak launch and pick up, can be found by turning off Quaker Bridge Road onto a dirt road leading to the Mullica River and marked by the Mullica River Campsite sign. Just don’t look for an actual bridge there. It’s long gone.

I used Pinelands Adventures for a livery service as I frequently do. It was good to see old friends there. I also got to meet Allison Hartman, the new assistant director. 

Pinelands Adventures calls the 1st Beach to Lock’s Bridge trip the Shorty and recommends it for beginners. I took this trip several times with friends last year, some of whom had never been kayaking. One young friend expressed a love for the outdoors, a passion her family didn’t share. During the summer, I suggested this trip to her and she called it “super fun.”  In the fall, another friend and her husband accompanied me. Both love kayaking and have done the Outer Banks. Originally from Saugerties, New York, my friend didn’t realize so many kayaking opportunities existed in South Jersey, in spite of living here for years. She couldn’t wait to do a longer trip.

This year, I went solo but met fellow Philadelphians and Temple grads, Sal Sandone and Giselle, along the way. While we admired the American White Water Lily, Nymphaea odorata, Sal mentioned that the water lily (Lotus flower) is an important symbol in Asian culture and martial arts. Sal, a martial arts instructor at Zhang Sah dojo, told me about an art project he was working on involving Judo katas, patterns of martial arts movements. The project will create a visual representation of Nage-no-kata movements. Martial arts practitioners covered in paint partner together and perform all of the kata techniques and falls. Mapping out this pattern forms a lotus flower, symbolizing benevolence and Judo as a benevolent martial art. Sal hopes to use the symbol to promote Judo.

American White Water Lily on the Mullica River, September 2021 (photo by Beach and Barrens)

Atsion Lake to Lock’s Bridge: My first paddle on the Mullica

A longer, more challenging trip on the Mullica is Atsion Lake to Lock’s Bridge. Pinelands Adventures provides livery service for this as well but does not recommend it for beginner’s because it includes a more difficult mile at the start with more twists. 

This was actually the first river kayaking trip I took in 2019 as the Mullica 101 guided paddle with John Volpa, the retired education director of Pinelands Adventures. The trip begins at the Mullica River kayak launch on Route 206 near Quaker Bridge Road. Last year, as summer wound down, I paddled this way again with a friend I met through the Outdoor Club.

Beyond Lock’s Bridge: Future Mullica Kayaking Plans

Right before my injury, I had decided to take the plunge and buy a kayak. Obviously, that plan got postponed. Buying a kayak will be a goal for next year. I’m in no rush, and it’s easy and convenient to rent a kayak from any of the local livery services. I’d also like to try longer trips on the Mullica with paddling to Pleasant Mills as another goal. You can launch at Lock’s Bridge and paddle eight miles down the river to this spot. An even longer paddle is from Atsion Lake to Pleasant Mills, about 10 to 12 miles, a trek that some do overnight. Pinelands Adventures provides livery service for both trips but recommends them for the experienced paddlers. 

You can also paddle from Pleasant Mills to the famous Sweetwater Marina and Riverdeck, which has docks and a boat ramp. The river widens at this point after receiving the waters of the Batsto River.

Kayaking the Upper Mullica

The upper Mullica includes the portion of the river above Atsion Lake stretching into Camden County. Here it forms the north/northeast border of Waterford Township where I live, passing under Jackson Road near Atsion Road. The river’s source in Berlin, NJ is about five minutes from my house. 

Kayaking on this part of the river is more limited. It’s narrow and full of obstacles as this intrepid kayaker experienced. Some kayaking is done on and around Goshen Pond between Jackson Road and Atsion Lake. The pond is best accessed via a dirt road off Atsion Lake marked by a sign. There’s a kayak launch near the campsite. The Mullica then passes under a one lane bridge between Goshen Pond and Atsion Lake. 

Shortly after Goshen Pond, the Mullica feeds into Atsion Lake, which is a popular kayaking spot. Atsion Lake has a kayak launch. The Atsion Lake spillway funnels the river under Route 206. If you use the Goshen Pond or Atsion Lake camping facilities, you can rent kayaks or canoes from Pinelands Adventures.

Sweetwater Riverdeck and Marina

As an ex-sailor who proudly served aboard the USS Forrestal (CV-59), my dad loved nothing better than going out on the back bays of Brigantine in his little green aluminum dinghy, fishing for flounder, weakfish, and blues, a pastime he shared with me as a kid. Along those sheltered thoroughfares so familiar from my childhood, boaters can cruise from Brigantine, past the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, and into Great Bay. From there, they can continue up the Mullica River to the famous Sweetwater Riverdeck and Marina nestled along the river’s banks, deep in the Pine Barrens of Atlantic County. 

Sweetwater began in 1927 as a speakeasy during the Prohibition era known as Sweetwater Casino. Since then, it evolved into a favorite local restaurant and beloved landmark with a colorful history. Some highlights:

  • 1989 – A group of avid boat enthusiasts establish the Sweetwater Yacht Club with the marina as its home.
  • 2005 – Inspired by a book she found in the Sweetwater gift shop, Linda Stanton founded Lines on the Pines, an annual festival celebrating Pine Barrens arts and culture.
  • 2008 – A devastating fire destroyed the original Sweetwater Casino.
  • 2016 – Mike and Kim Iles purchased the property and renamed it the Sweetwater Riverdeck and Marina.
  • 2019 – The original bar was demolished and construction began on a new facility.
  • 2020 – Sweetwater reopened under restrictions put into place during the COVID-19 pandemic but remained as popular as ever.

I visited Sweetwater for the first time in 2020 with author Barbara Solem. She describes Sweetwater in her book Ghost Towns and Other Quirky Places in the New Jersey Pine Barrens:

“In season and on weekends, there is an outside deck bar, where guests can enjoy a drink, a meal, or a snack while listening to live entertainment.”

Solem, Barbara. Ghost Towns and Other Quirky Places in the New Jersey Pine Barrens . Plexus Publishing, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

I joined the Sweetwater Yacht Club in 2021. I don’t have a yacht or even a dinghy but fishing on the bay in Brigantine with my dad while growing up gave me an interest in boats.  The Yacht Club functions as a social club that supports boating activities as well as local charities. Their season begins with the Burgee Raising Party in May and ends with Fantail Weekend at the Frank S. Farley Marina at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City. Looking forward to a great season with them!

See more photos from the Sweetwater Yacht Club 2021 Burgee Raising in this Beach and Barrens Facebook album.