Mullica River Paddle – Atsion to Pleasant Mills – Burlington County, NJ- Overnight or all in one go!
Distance: Best guess – 10 miles. Heard everything from 8 (seems short) to 15 (seems long). The official number is 10, but ever that didn’t seem right.
Type: One way
Difficulty: 7 of 10, mostly for length
Total score: 10 of 10.
Terrain – Narrow, winding river with lots and lots of sharp curves. Later on, broad marsh lands.
Put ins – Atsion – 39° 44.397’N, 74° 43.473’W. This is located across from the old Cotton Mill, a short distance off of Rt 206, directly across from Atsion Lake (but NOT Quaker Bridge Road… if you see a church, you are on the wrong road!)
Take outs – Pleasant Mills – 39° 38.388’N, 74° 39.541’W. For pickups, if headed toward Batsto, this is the road to the RIGHT just after the intersection of Rt 542 (Nesco Road) and 643 (Pleasant Mills Road), just past the Pleasant Mills-Batsto Cemetery. You’ll notice yourself driving on a bridge across the river, the turn is right after this. You can also leave cars at Batsto and have a nice little walk of a mile or two.
You can also go another few hours and come out at Crowley’s Landing just past Batsto – 39° 37.583’N, 74° 37.156’W
If you are superhuman, you can also paddle UP the Batsto River and make it into Batsto Lake.
Standouts – Cedar swamps, pinelands, swimming (when it’s warm), marshes, beaver dams, camping, and wildlife.
Description: Last Spring (oh, how long ago it seems), the Scouts and I headed out to do this run, camping out at the Mullica River Wilderness Camp along the way. I’d never done an overnight canoe trip or canoed the Mullica, so everything on this trip was new to me.
We camped out Friday night at Goshen Pond, which is only a mile or two down the road from the canoe put in.
Now I’ve done a lot of canoeing in the pine barrens, but it’s been entirely confined to the Wading River and a few lakes. The Mullica and the Wading are both beautiful, winding rivers surrounded by pines and cedars in the South Jersey wilderness, but they have completely different temperaments. The Wading is generally very fast. Most of the time (and especially after rain), it’s like riding in a demolition derby, except the trees and river banks aren’t going to break. Hitting an obstacle in the river always carries a huge risk of flipping, getting impaled by branches, someone getting knocked out of the canoe, the canoe leaning enough for water to rush in. It’s seriously awesome. And I’d canoed it only three weeks before, so it was fresh in my brain.
I was not prepared for the Mullica. The Mullica was slow and meandering. There are many, many more tight snags (especially at the beginning) than the Wading, which take time and patience to work through, not quick reflexes or brute arm strength to avoid tipping. In the beginning, parts of the Mullica River are not even a canoe length wide. We had two different canoes get wedged sideways between the banks, something I’ve never seen before (note: teenagers aren’t always patient, especially when attempting to race other teenagers). It was early in the season, so there were a few really bad snags that hadn’t been cleared by anyone yet that took careful maneuvering to get through, one canoe at a time. In parts, there were a lot of bushes lined up right against the banks of the river, making it seem like a tunnel at times. The biggest difference was the speed. The official distance between the put in and camp is 4.8 miles. On the Wading, I’ve done that in 1 1/2 hours when the water was high. It took about 5 hours to go that same distance on the Mullica.
Overall, it was a more relaxed, more mental day than a physical one. The tunnels of bushes gradually turn into more typical pine barrens terrain with sandy banks. There are several large swamps that the river meanders through, creating a maze of open space. Just follow the current, and you’ll be fine.
Over all, it was a slow, but enjoyable, paddle through the pines. I do suggest that, if in a group, stick close together to help each other through the snags. There was another Scout troop on the river this day that decided it was every man for themselves, and our boys had to help several of their canoes when they got themselves in trouble on snags. If by yourself, just leave plenty of time, and take your time.
Also, keep your eyes open, we spotted a nice amount of wildlife on this one.
After 4.8 miles (or 6 miles, or 106 miles… who knows?) you’ll hit the Mullica River Campground. The is supposed to be reserved as wilderness camping only, you must hike in (on the Mullica River Trail – a future adventure!) or canoe in. You must reserve through Reserve America now (grrr… I hate fees), but the camping is more organized than it used to be. Overall, it’s a nice little campground. On a weekend in May, there was only one other group there, so it was a very pleasant stay. There are primitive outhouses and a water pump, so that covers your basic needs there. I’ve heard it gets crazier in July and August, so plan accordingly.
That night, it rained. That morning, it also rained, so no pictures from Day 2. The official distance from the campground to Pleasant Mills is 5.2 miles. The river is much wider, with fewer snags, after the campground. We made much, much better time the second day. You’ll see high-banks in the sand, pass under Constable Bridge and a nice little hiking bridge that the previously reviewed Tom’s Pond Trail passes on. The pullout can be seen just ahead of you on the left when you pass under the 542 Bridge.
Not lucky enough to own your own canoe or kayak?
Adams Canoe Rental in Atsion, NJ will rent for day or overnight runs adamscanoerental.com.
Adams Canoe Rental is no more, but the brand new Pinelands Adventures is supposed to supply canoes for that run. This is located at the old Adams site, and is run by the Pinelands Preservation Alliance.
Overall recommendation: I love the idea of canoeing, camping, then canoeing again. It was a little hard to navigate the snags at times, but also a ton of fun. You should definitely give it a try.
As for me, I’d love to do this run again, or maybe the Mullica below Pleasant Mills toward the shore.