Rancocas Creek Canoe Trail – North Branch Rancocas Creek – Birmingham (Pemberton) to Mt. Holly, Burlington County, NJ
Distance: 8 miles
Type: One way
Difficulty: 6 of 10 – blow downs along the first mile can be tricky, but should be way less of a problem in higher water.
Terrain – Shady section of river with heavy woods on either side, mixed with the backyards of homes along the creek
Put in –
Birmingham Road – 39°58’45.17″N, 74°42’35.59″W – Mile 6.0 on the Rancocas Creek Canoe Trail
Begin portage at Smithville/Take out – 39°59’8.43″N, 74°45’1.56″W (Mile 10 on the Rancocas Creek Canoe Trail)
Put in/end of portage at Smithville – 39°59’9.56″N, 74°45’7.64″W
Pull out –
Mt Holly – 39°59’24.70″N, 74°46’46.65″W (Mile 14 and the end of the Rancocas Creek Canoe trail)
Parking at put in (Birmingham):
Parking at take out (Mt. Holly – Ironworks Park):
For a longer paddle, you can continue from the pull-out here onto the tidal section of Rancocas Creek down to the confluence of the North and South Branches. It’s eight more miles to the takout at Hainsport (which requires going UPSTREAM on the South branch for a mile) and lot of fun, but make sure you are with a falling tide or it can be less fun.
So, when its in the upper 90s, people who are not so bright take 8 1/2 mile hikes through the pine barrens (whoops) (Okay, it was beautiful) (but such a bad idea) (but such a good idea).
So the NEXT day when it was supposed to be the same upper 90s hot, I went canoeing with Dan and The Pres. Much better choice. We grabbed Ol’ Tippecanoe and opted to try an 8 mile run on Rancocas Creek between Pemberton and Mt Holly that was new to us (from miles 6 to 14 on the Rancocas Creek Canoe Trail)
I’m glad we started at Birmingham Road, because, with weeks of pretty much no rain, the water levels were really, really low. If we had tried to start higher, it would have been a hike instead of a paddle (someone on our Facebook group stated this was the lowest they remember seeing the creek).
Even so, the first mile and half went really slowly due to a million trees we had to pull the canoe over. What I *think* made this tough was, with the water so low, every tree in the creek became a pull over, when many of these trees would usually just have the Rancocas flow right over the top of them.
By the time we reached that island house, the downed tree barriers were pretty much done. However, we started running into sporadic sand banks for a while that required hiking down the river. These would also peter out after a bit, only to reemerge the last mile of the run before the dam at Mt. Holly.
The next stretch saw us following an armada of geese down the river for a good stretch before paddling past the backs of some really interesting houses along what I think was West Mae Ave. We then passed under the bridge carrying Route 206 over the creek. I believe it was in this stretch that Dan also spotted a beaver swimming in the water, which is pretty awesome.
It was also in this stretch that we spotted the extremely rare and terrifying Rancocas Creek alligator. Since he was sitting high and dry (and still inflated) on a pile of sticks in the middle of the river, we captured him and made him our new mascot.
After passing under Route 206, we quickly reached the outskirts of Historic Smithville Park (which is one of our favorite places ever to hike). We stopped off at the Mile 9.5 marker to stretch and check out the picnic tables at this rest area (which is a rest area only, no access to get the canoe in or out).
Then it was back into the canoe for another half mile or so of paddling down to where we’d have to take out above the Smithville dam.
We hauled the canoe out of the water…
And walked up to some of the factory remains to stretch our legs, as Dan had never been here before. This reminded us how horribly hot it was.
Luckily, we now had to portage the canoe.
So it was a bit warm carrying it, but it made the creek all that much better when we made it back to water.
Then it was down the ramp to the creek. We made it!
Then it was back in the canoe for the last four miles or so of our run. We were warned of downed trees that had turned around a kayaker a few days before, but it wasn’t anything close to as bad as the beginning of the run, and we quickly went through the obstacles.
These three miles or so were winding, but cool in the shade with some backyards and some pretty green to look at. Overall, easy paddling.
Then we got down to our last mile where, somehow, the water levels dropped again to as bad as they’d been the first mile. There were few trees here, but we were out of the canoe quite a bit to push off of sandbars.
We finished by passing a patch of woods where we snuck up on a deer, then rounding a bend into a meadow area where we spotted more deer along the creek in a backyard. Then it was time to get out below the Mt. Holly Dam.
Then it was time to throw the canoe on the roof of the car and backtrack to our car. This was by far the worst part of the trip, as the cars were 100,000 degrees (celcius).
Heat + low water = still a pretty great day on the river.
Not lucky enough to own your own canoe or kayak? Clarks Canoe Rental is just a bit upstream from this run, but I’m not sure when it is open or how rentals work there as I’ve never rented from them.
Beautiful views, lots of birds and deer, historic Smithville, lots of shade.
Low water levels made for a lot of getting out to haul the canoe over obstacles in the first mile of river. It shouldn't be as bad in higher water.