The tea-colored Great Egg Harbor River is a great way to access the wilderness known as the Pine Barrens. It flows pretty much as it always has — a rest stop for migrating waterfowl, a breeding ground for striped bass and alewife herring returning from the ocean to spawn in the river’s gravel-bottomed tributaries.
The Great Egg Harbor River — known as the Great Egg — is the largest canoeing river in the Pine Barrens and easily accessible by the millions who live nearby in Philadelphia, Pa., Trenton and Camden, N.J., and Wilmington, Del.
This unit of the National Park system is a bit unusual in that the National Park Service manages in cooperation with the state of New Jersey, four counties, and 12 municipalities.
Great Egg Harbor River and its tributaries were designated into the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System in October 1992. The river and its tributaries drain 304 square miles of New Jersey's Pinelands National Reserve, created as the nation’s first National Reserve by Congress under the National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978. Pinelands National Reserve spreads across 1.1 million acres covering portions of seven counties and all or parts of 56 municipalities.
Things to do
More than 40 miles of the river is considered navigable, but the best stretch for canoeing is the 22 miles between Penny Pot County Park and Atlantic County Park at Lake Lenape.
Why you’ll want to come back
The patchwork of public lands that comprise Pinelands National Reserve include numerous state and county parks with a myriad of hiking, biking, birding and boating opportunities.
Flora and fauna
The Great Egg Harbor River flows through cedar and hardwood swamps. It is dissolved iron and tannin from fallen leaves and cedar roots that give the water its dark color.
The mix of bogs, swamps, forests and fields contribute to the biodiversity of the Pinelands National Reserve, home to 850 species of plants, including a variety of native wild orchids. The reserve is home to more than 12,000 acres of "pygmy forest" — a stand of mature pine and oak less than 11 feet tall.
The varied habitat of the Pinelands National Reserve gives refuge to 39 species of mammals, 299 species of birds, 59 reptile and amphibian species, and 91 fish species.
Traveling the river, you may see beaver, muskrat, nutria, river otter and mink. Bears, bobcats and whitetail deer also live in Pinelands National Reserve.
Among the birds classified as threatened or endangered by the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife are Northern goshawk, upland sandpiper, bald eagle, black-crowned heron, yellow-crowned heron and osprey (at right).
By the numbers:
- Website: Great Egg Harbor National Wild & Scenic River
- Park size: 129 river miles
- Funky fact: The Great Egg Harbor River has 17 tributaries.