Where can I kayak in the Delaware Valley under COVID-19?

Kayaking the Delaware Water Gap in late summer 2019. Several launch points remain open under COVID-19, but the recreation area has closed overnight campsites. [Photo: Kyle Bagenstose]

By Kyle Bagenstose

(Note: This article last updated 4/19/20. Readers should verify a waterway’s status before visiting.)

As spring temperatures rise, so too does the desire to canoe and kayak. But under the novel coronavirus, big paddles are off. The Schuylkill River Sojourn has been postponed, while the Delaware River Sojourn is in wait-and-see mode, pushing back its opening registration date to May 1.

Elsewhere, many parks, waterways, and launch points are closing, including in all state and county parks in New Jersey.

But for some in the Delaware Valley, there’s good news: state parks and their waterways remain open, and a few select counties also have accessible waterways. Paddling on the Schuykill and Delaware Rivers, as long as accessed through an open boat ramp, is also still allowed.

Please note that almost all Parks & Recreation agencies are calling for extreme caution, encouraging recreation be kept within 15 minutes of home and social distancing guidelines be observed. Also, several officials noted that there may be decreased vigilance as park offices are closed and staffing curtailed. In many places, paddling will be riskier than normal.

Check out our list below to see what remains open.

If conditions don’t match what’s in this article, or if there are specifics to know, please feel free to email me at Kyle@delvaloutdoors.com.

Delaware

Delaware State Parks (OPEN to in-state residents)

Nikki Lavoie, public affairs chief with the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, noted the state’s public amenities will face many restrictions through at least May 15; residents are currently unable to launch a seafaring kayak from a beach and the DNREC is restricting how may visitors can access state parks.

The state is further restricting access to only in-state residents, and says that “anyone who enters Delaware from another state must immediately self-quarantine for 14 days.” This includes those fishing, hunting, or intending to visit state parks and wildlife areas.

However, kayaking is still allowed on the state’s in-land waterways for residents.

“The state offers many other water adventures, to include scenic canals, creeks and ponds,” Lavoie said. “For example, Delawareans can still canoe or kayak at White Clay Creek, Killens Pond, Lums Pond or Trap Pond State Park. State parks are not offering equipment rentals or guided trips at this time.”

Beach Ramps/Boating (PARTIALLY OPEN)

Delaware beaches are closed, but public boat ramps remain open, according to the DNREC. There are limitations:

  • Public gathering limits also apply to boats. People should not anchor close together, and individuals may not leave their vessels and assemble closely in shallow water. Boats should not have more than 10 people on board. In addition, all boating safety and equipment rules still apply.
  • Sea kayaking from a beach launch is prohibited.

Pennsylvania

Valley Forge National Historic Park (CLOSED)

According to the park website, the park is closed, including all parking areas and open spaces. Thus, no launching.

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (OPEN, with restrictions)

According to the park’s website, trails and parking areas remain open, except for those closed for repairs. Parking areas at Kittatinny Point are also closed. As of April 9, the Water Gap closed its designated riverfront camping sites, so no overnights.

Launch points at at Smithfield, Bushkill, Milford Beach, and Poxono in New Jersey remain open.

Pennsylvania State Parks (OPEN)

Terry Brady, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, confirmed as of April 13 that state lakes and boat ramps remain open. However, all facilities are closed.

“Though our rangers are working, there are inherent dangers and shortcomings involved in such activities right now,” Brady added.

In other words, there may not be all the usual nearby help should something go wrong on the water.

Brady also emphasized the state is asking residents to stay home. The DCNR has advocated all outdoor recreation take place with 15 minutes of home.

Berks County Parks (OPEN)

According to the county website, parks, including Blue Marsh Lake, remain open. The public beaches at Blue Marsh are closed. Kathy Wegener, director for Berks Parks & Rec, added in an April 9 email that facilities will remain closed through May 31.

The department encourages social distancing.

Bucks County Parks (CLOSED)

Erin McPeak, Superintendent of Recreation for Bucks County, wrote in an April 13 email that all county lakes are closed to paddlers. The county later said it would re-open all county parks on Monday, April 20, but its website currently only notes “trails” will be re-opened. McPeak confirmed this week that while parking areas re-opened, “boating is still not permitted at this time.”

Chester County Parks (MIXED)

According to the county website, the following parks, including waterways, are closed: Exton Park, Hibernia, Black Rock Sanctuary, Nottingham, Springton Manor Farm, Warwick, and Wolf’s Hollow.

The following regional trails remain open but with no staff or amenities: Chester Valley Trail, Schuylkill River Trail, and Struble Trail.

Montgomery County Parks (UNCLEAR, LIKELY CLOSED)

According to the county website, county parks are closed except for trail use. It’s unclear what that means for paddling, and a county spokesperson did not respond to an email inquiry. However, there are reports that the launch at Green Lane Park is roped off.

Philadelphia (PARTIALLY OPEN)

Boat launches along the Schuylkill and Delaware remain open. According to the John Heinz Wildlife Refuge Facebook page, trails remain open, but the primary parking area is closed. As the launch is adjacent to the parking lot, this means convenient access is not available.

According to the Bartram’s Garden website, facilities are closed and programming is cancelled through April 30. The garden is also closing its driveway when it becomes too crowded.

New Jersey

State Parks (CLOSED)

According to multiple state and county spokespeople, all state and county parks are currently closed, which includes the use of waterways. The closure came April 7 on order of Gov. Phil Murphy. This includes the use of Wharton State Forest in the Pinelands.

Gov. Murphy stated that decisions to open or close municipal parks will be made at the local level, but asked New Jerseyans not to travel to a neighboring community if municipal parks had closed in their own.

Jersey Shore (MIXED)

PhillyVoice’s Pat Ralph has a rundown of the status of all beaches, town by town.

Burlington County Parks (CLOSED)

According to multiple state and county spokespeople, all state and county parks are currently closed, which includes the use of waterways. The closure came April 7 on order of Gov. Phil Murphy. This includes the use of Wharton State Forest in the Pinelands.

Camden County Parks (CLOSED)

According to multiple state and county spokespeople, all state and county parks are currently closed, which includes the use of waterways. The closure came April 7 on order of Gov. Phil Murphy. This includes the use of Wharton State Forest in the Pinelands.

Gloucester County Parks (CLOSED)

According to multiple state and county spokespeople, all state and county parks are currently closed, According to multiple state and county spokespeople, all state and county parks are currently closed, which includes the use of waterways. The closure came April 7 on order of Gov. Phil Murphy. This includes the use of Wharton State Forest in the Pinelands.

Hunterdon County Parks (CLOSED)

According to multiple state and county spokespeople, all state and county parks are currently closed, which includes the use of waterways. The closure came April 7 on order of Gov. Phil Murphy. This includes the use of Wharton State Forest in the Pinelands.

Mercer County Parks (CLOSED)

According to multiple state and cAccording to multiple state and county spokespeople, all state and county parks are currently closed, which includes the use of waterways. The closure came April 7 on order of Gov. Phil Murphy. This includes the use of Wharton State Forest in the Pinelands.

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