Wishbone Trail – Rancocas Creek National Water Trail paddle – Mt. Holly to Hainsport, Burlington County, NJ
Distance – roughly 8 miles
Time – usually 3 to 4 hours (took us just over 3)
Type – down the North Branch of Rancocas Creek, then up the South branch!
Difficulty: 7 of 10 (for paddling against the current the last mile and a half)
Total score: 10 of 10
Website – Ranococas Creek National Water Trail (proposed)
Open – Sunrise to Sunset.
Terrain – the river passes through the middle of town, as well as through forests and swamps.
Mount Holly – Launch at 39°59’24.58″N, 74°46’46.55″W (end of Wollner Drive in Iron Works Park) OR just the other side of the dam at Iron Works Park at the footbridge at 39°59’31.00″N, 74°46’55.59″W. We chose the first put in, which required taking the canoe out to portage around the dam.
Take out – Hainsport at Walnut Ave and Spruce Ave – 39°59’5.79″N, 74°50’37.40″W
Parking – Parking located at the put ins and take outs. There is no way from the end to the beginning, so work out a shuttle ahead of time!
Markings – None (it’s a river)
Map – Can be found at http://www.rcnwt.com/wish-bone-water-trail
Description – One of the online places I like to hang out is the Jersey pine barrens facebook group, where a lot of folks post pictures that make me want to cut work and run out into the pine barrens to… well, the choices are endless.
One fellow on there keeps posting photos of his kayaking trips on Rancocas Creek at “the wishbone”, coming down the North Branch of that creek to the forks at Rancocas State Park, then paddling upstream on the South Branch to the landing in Hainsport. Finally, able to stand it no longer, I called up my buddy Ray. We grabbed the canoe and The Pres, and, on the weekend after Labor Day, went out to try this run for ourselves.
The set up, as usual, is the trickiest part. We placed a car at the end of the run at Hainsport (at Walnut and Spruce), then shuttled the crew and canoe to Iron Works Park in Mount Holly, where we opted to put in at the canoe launch above the dam (you can also put in below the dam at the same park, to avoid a portage).
With the set up done, time for the fun part! The first part of the paddle is a short run around the perimeter of Iron Works Park to where the dam is (we didn’t realize this before hand, but totally would have gone this way even if we had known).
To the left of the dam, there is a clear little path where its very clear where people beach their boats to portage around the dam. There’s then a short carry around. We opted to go down the first worn place that we saw, but once on the water, we realized it probably would have been easier to go back in at the pedestrian footbridge connecting the parks on either side of the river (although we didn’t scout this out on foot, so this may be an untrue statement). Regardless, we were back in the river without much trouble.
Back in Rancocas Creek, the next part of the paddle was an interesting bit though Mt. Holly itself. Because I’m so used to woodsy canoeing or paddling through people’s backyards, I find my rare trips through more built up town centers or urban areas to be really fascinating. For many of these towns, the river you’re on was the original highway for folks to travel on, and it lends an interesting perspective to look up at a town!
This stretch saw us go under many bridges and flat past many an old building.
Once out of town, the river switches between a very woodsie feel (although you are very close to civilization) and floating through folks backyards. This lasts for several miles until you reach the edge of Rancocas State Park, which the North Branch of Ranocacas Creek bisects. It was on this stretch that the three of us had a BALD EAGLE take off from a tree to our side, then cross in front of us. I know they are way more common than then once were, but it was such an amazing moment. I didn’t even try to take a picture, because camera phone.
And then there is coming into Rancocas State Park. As stated many times, this is one of our favorite parks to hike in anywhere in the wonderful world of South Jersey. Well, I can now report that its a darn good spot to canoe in as well.
Once you’re in the park, the park is on both sides of the river. To the right will be mostly swampy marsh grasses. To the left, you’ll sometimes have grasses, but also sometimes have more solid ground. When you see solid ground, look closely, because many of the spots are old homesteads from when this river was the highway through Burlington County. We pulled up in one spot near the final point of land before “the forks” to have a snack, and to admire the remaining timbers from a pier.
Our snack complete, it was back into the canoe to head down to the hardest stretch. We covered the last bit of distance to “the forks” where the North and South branches of Rancocas Creek meet without any difficulty, completing the 6 1/2 miles from Mt Holly. But we immediately made the turn and began to head UP the South Branch of Rancocas Creek. And that creek has some flow.
I won’t lie to you, this is the part of the trip where you are a complete idiot to be in a canoe. Paddling upstream in a kayak is hard enough, but in a canoe… well, the looks from the people motorboating past us said it all. Luckily, I’m not easily discouraged by hard canoeing, and my buddy Ray has good upper body strength, so we made very respectable steady progress up the South Branch of Rancocas Creek. Also luckily, while the downstream part of the run is 6 1/2 miles, the upstream part is only 1 1/2 miles.
A good spot for a warning – the South Branch of Rancocas Creek was filled with motorboaters… like, easily a half dozen of them. They were all really considerate, and slowed down (they had to be careful, there were boats stopped fishing, and a crew of tubers out there too), but there might be an idiot out there, so stay alert.
Back to our regularly scheduled adventure report – when we neared the edge of Rancocas State Park and the old whatever-it-was building, we needed to stop and rest our burning arms for a few minutes. Ray had never been in the park before, so we walked the twenty or thirty feet down the trail to take a peek up at it.
Back in the canoe, it was one last push to freedom. There was a large bend coming up (hooray for topo maps on the phone), but with a cut through to cut to corner. We decided to risk it (our arms hurt), and made it back to the main channel without so much as touching bottom. Yay!
We passed a group of tubers, then rounded the final corner to the boat ramp at our take out point. Hooray!
Forty-five minutes later, after getting the other car back from Mt Holly and some cold, cold, cold drinks from the convenience store, we put the canoe up and happily headed for home. Despite the final leg of the trip, great times were had by all!
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Beautiful stretches of river… and we saw a bald eagle! Winds through Rancocas State Park.
Paddling upstream is tough!