Relentless Explorers

Kayaking (Upstream) in the Pine Barrens


Exploring the Tulpehocken Creek

By Ken Relentless

20 June  2017

The Tulpehocken Creek is one of many streams that feeds into the Wading River, one of the most paddled rivers in the entire country. It is also one of the easiest and best for novices new to canoeing and kayaking. In fact, most people who put in at Hawkins Bridge do not even realize they are taking the last .17 miles of the Tulpehocken to reach the West Branch of the Wading River.



Rarely does anyone ever launch from Hawkins Bridge and take the upstream route (to the left on the map above). The upstream route is interesting. Parts of it are a challenge, especially in times of low water. In high water it is a different story and progress can be quite fast. We have made it from the bridge to the cedar swamp (Map #4) in 45 minutes where in normal water levels it can take 1.5 hours.


Click on the red location pointers to view the photo pages.


Map #1: A fork in the river

Map #2: Passing by Friendship Bogs

Map #3: A cedar lined river

Map #4: Three routes through swamp, but only one good one

The red box is a cedar swamp. On our very first trip in 2016 we arrived at this area and found all three routes through the swamp impassible with fallen trees and low water. After evaluating the first and third routes, we chose the middle one. Work began on clearing the fallen trees on the April 29 trip. More was accomplished on the May 14 trip, enabling us to reach the furthest point where the Tulpehocken Creek and the unnamed branch came together (Map #6).


Map #5: An upstream battle

Map #6: Going opposite the flow

Make no mistake, going against the flow on any stream with a kayak is hard work. In higher than normal water levels it can be even harder, as the Tulpehocken makes that clear in a few places. A rule of thumb is that it generally takes twice as long going up as it does coming back. Stream clearing activities can easily double and triple the upstream paddle.



The Tulpehocken Creek, like numerous other streams in the Pine Barrens, is part of a giant watershed. There are plenty of other feeder streams and sand roads around it to explore.


Map #7: Exploring an unnamed branch

Rather than plow through a second cedar swamp with numerous fallen trees blocking the creek, we took the unnamed branch on the May 27, 2017 trip. I based this decision on a thread published on njpinebarrens.com: Exploring a Tributary. We think no one has gone through this area since 2010 judging by the number of dead trees blocking all three branches through the cedar swamp. There were no clear routes through the cedar swamp even in high water.


Map #8: A walk on Hawkins Lowland Road

On the April 29, 2017 trip I spotted a clearing just beyond the creek that looked like a possible sand road. Curious and wanting to see just how close this road came, i decided to take a walk. I took my Ford F150 on a trip to Hawkins Bridge, turning at Hawkins Turnpike. I had expected the road to be in good shape, but up to the green dot below the road was a complete nightmare. It was badly moguled from off-road motorcycles. One spot in particular threatened to bog down my truck in thick sugar sand. The last thing I needed was to get stuck out in this isolated area. The walk I embarked on turned out to be a lot longer than I had anticipated. I did not even know the exact distance until it was plotted on onthegomap.com. The walk turned out to be 1.48 miles between the points. Click on the red markers to see the photos.


Others have explored this area on foot as you can read here:

Sunday hike near Hawkins Lowland Rd

The west side of Tulpehocken at Friendship



Our Goals

By Don Relentless

09 Sep  2017

Our goal is to reach the Featherbed Branch where it exits Friendship Bogs. The Holy Grail would be to get to (or near) Carranza Rd on one of these creeks, which is highly unlikely.


Water levels: Since the Tulpehocken flows into the Wading River the water level is checked at the gauging station by Godfrey's Bridge near Jenkins. The water should be 12 feet or higher. We have gone up the Tuplehocken at 11.5 feet but it was a chore with dragging bottom in the wide grassy areas and hitting submerged stumps and logs. The Wading River was around 13 feet in May 2017 when we took pictures.


Elevation Change on the Tulpehocken Creek

By Ken Relentless

09 Jun  2018

Having done only one kayak trip since mid April, I needed to get back out on the rivers. This was a solo trip from Hawkins Bridge up to the cedar swamp. Two goals were in mind. One was to record the downstream run on my Vivitar 765HD DVR camera. That failed miserably because the camera froze and is a known failure that resulted in the 35 minute movie being lost. The second goal was to plot the downstream run on my Android phone using UltraGPS Logger. I was quite surpised when the GPS data was loaded into Google Earth Desktop. The water surface is seven feet higher than at Hawkins Bridge, which is quite a drop over the 1.36 mile run. The elevation change is hardly noticable until you reach the area we call The Rapids. It is very hard to paddle against the current in this area, first because it is not real deep. It is littered with grass and numerous tree stumps. Secondly the current is quite strong in this area. On most upstream runs we ford around the strongest area and walk the remainder of the rapids, or we take the bypass if the water level is high enough. On this trip I took the bypass and had to fight through shallow water choked with grasses.


With the sky darkening with approaching rain, I started the GPS logger at the entrance to the cedar swamp. This is where the Tuplehocken splits into multiple narrow streams, most impassable by kayak. The only one that is passable is the middle route that Don Relentless and I cleared in 2017. At the second 34 foot marker the Tuplehocken begins a sharper descent. The Rapids begin above the 32 foot marker and you notice the land drop. As you pass through the rapids the creek descends around a curve and down toward Hawkins Bridge.



Low Water in the Tulpehocken Swamp

By Ken Relentless

26 Aug  2018

It was another hot day in New Jersey, but Don Relentless and I were free for a kayak run. After some discussion and knowing his time was limited, we decided to go back and tackle the Batsto River. On our last visit in back in April we were forced to stop when we encountered large deadfall. This was at a place not quite halfway to our furtherest point in 2017. Armed with razor saws, lopping shears, a metal rake and a chainsaw we were ready for anything. Well, as the first five photos show we were ready for everything except LOW WATER. At the launch point off Glossy Spung Road we were surprised that the low water level had totally exposed large portions of the old sluice gates. Never had we seen these wooden constructions completely above water. There would be no Batsto River work on this day.


Our secondary choice and my personal favorite was Tulpehocken Creek. Although it is a fairly strenuous paddle in low water, we were determined to clear some of the larger fallen trees in the narrow passage of the cedar swamp. Don's chainsaw would make quick work of fallen cedar trees so we could proceed faster to other areas above the swamp. Due to the two nor'easters in March 2018 that brought down many trees and produced wide spread power outages, we had yet to get back out on the rivers and push further into unexplored territory. In fact, we will probably not reach any of these points on the Tulpehocken, Batsto or Oswego Rivers in 2018. There is just too much work and our time has been very limited this year for a number of reasons.


Trip photos and videos

The downstream run...
Photo: Ken Relentless. This is one of the sluice boxes and gates. We are standing on the other one.
Photo: Ken Relentless. There are five polls that formed the wall of a dam to hold back the water during the cranberry growing season. The sluice gates were opened to flood the bogs for harvest.
Photo: Ken Relentless. Normally there is at least six inches or more of water covering these wooden spillways.
Photo: Ken Relentless. We are standing on the other spillway, now used like a dock. You can see the remains of the vertical boards that channeled the water away from the dam in to the Batsto.
Photo: Don Relentless. Ken Relentless is analyzing and trying to understand just how this thing worked.
Photo: Don Relentless. Ken Relentless is ready to go at Hawkins Bridge.
Photo: Don Relentless. Heading for what we call the rapids.
Photo: Don Relentless. We are at the rapids. His boat is actually stuck on a sandy shelf. The water is shallow here.
Photo: Don Relentless. It is hard to paddle against the current here in shallow water. You end up getting stuck on the hard packed sand. We usually dismount the boats and walk them up beyond the rapids.
Photo: Don Relentless. This is the large savannah area where we spotted the red-flowered pitcher plants in April 2017. With low water in this area you would paddle through black muck, grass and lilly pads.
Photo: Don Relentless. We are above the cedar swamp. That log needs to go.
Photo: Don Relentless. We stopped at this large beaver dam on our other recent trip. The water level is about 8 to 10 inches higher beyond.
Photo: Don Relentless. Rotten beavers...
Google Earth map and elevation change from GPS data.

Exploring the Tulpehocken Creek by Foot

By Ken Relentless

12 Jan  2019

There is a trail that runs close to the Tulpehocken Creek that is easily accessed from two points along Carranza Road, though it is far from obvious where they are. I have walked along the Sandy Ridge trail that leads from the sand pit area just off Carranza Road and runs all the way to Friendship Bogs. This is a pleasant walk along sandy high ground that tapers off quickly into swampy areas that border the Tulpehocken. There is a short area where tantalizing views are visible. Last year I found a second trail that takes off from the sand pit area, but I had never before did a GPS plot of that walk. It comes much closer to the creek and is quickly accessed through thick undergrowth. The first map below shows the walk I took. My goal was to see just how close this trail came and where it ended. Like the Sandy Ridge trail it starts out as an old vehicle road where the trail sharp turn south, but soon becomes more grown in and eventually just a narrow foot path.


Map #1: The 01/12/2019 walk along the Tulpehocken Creek

Careful observation on this walk yielded a few surprises, things I had missed on previous walks. I enjoy the discovery of new things in the Pine Barrens. The most interesting thing was a small ditch with standing water that came right up to the trail. I soon discovered a narrow side trail that turned onto what look like a very old berm. The small ditch was part of pond. Heavy undergrowth and cat briars prevented me from going in much further.


Map #2: The 01/12/2019 walk and 11/11/2018 walk along Sandy Ridge

I was surprised to see the length of the Sandy Ridge walk from the sand pit to the edge of Friendship Bogs was more than twice as the walk to the end of the trail along Tulpehocken Creek. It also became apparent that these two trails do not come anywhere near each other.



Chainsaw Operations on the Tulpehocken Creek

By Ken Relentless

13 Apr  2019

We set out on this trip with the goal of at least reaching the furthest point from 2017, an old beaver dam with several fallen cedar trees lying across it. With a chainsaw, razor saws, loppers and a metal rake, we were well equipped to deal with any and every obstacle.


Paddling upstream on the Tulpehocken Creek is fairly strenuous in times of low water or near low water conditions. It takes about 1 hour to reach the edge of the cedar swamp, which is where the stream splits into multiple branches. Having done no trips in 2018 beyond the entrance to the cedar swamp, we knew that some clearing would be necessary before we could explore new areas.


Map #1: Trip overview and elevation plot

Trip length: 6.5 hours out and back. Distance covered: 2.4 miles one way. Elevation change: 11 feet.


Map #2: The upper end and next exploration

From the end point it is approximately 320 feet on the left fork to reach the open water and another 600 feet beyond to the stream leading to Friendship Bogs.


Map #3: Trip photos and videos

Aside from slicing up fallen trees blocking the route, the sightings of Canadian geese, a water snake, a turtle and a beaver made it interesting.



New Territory on the Tulpehocken Creek

By Ken Relentless

20 Apr  2019

Another weekend, another trip. Heavy rains the day before practically guaranteed the water levels would be high enough to make the first mile quite a bit easier. Often in that first mile we find it difficult to get through the rapids and the wider parts of the creek where the water is barely six inches in places. We were not disappointed. It even made crossing some of the beaver dams easier.


Trip report 2


Map #1: Trip overview


Map #2: New area of exploration and looking ahead to the Featherbed Branch

Map comments.


Trip photos and videos

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600 Feet More on the Tulpehocken Creek

By Ken Relentless

03 May  2020

The spring weather has been downright 2020 and rainy this year, making our planned April trips impossible. The weather was decent enough on May 3 to make this trip and to see just how far we could push our previous limits from last October's trip. Due to partial loss of GPS tracking on the return trip, I can only estimate that we pushed a further 600 feet or so from that point, leaving us around 3.6 miles from Hawkins Bridge. We are well into unexplored territory on the far side of Friendship Bogs that only a few hunters have seen, judging from the footbridges we encountered.

It was tough going on this upstream paddle with water levels at the 10.5 foot mark on the Wading River gauging station. Water levels this low expose more logs and stumps. The area from Hawkins Bridge to the cedar swamp has many shallow spots even when the water levels are up.


Map #1: Trip overview


Trip photos and videos

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