I did my first canoe camping trip this weekend. Kelly, Kelly, Jon, and I drove down to Wharton State Forest with a couple of canoes, left a car at Pleasant Mills, and put in at Atsion Lake. According to the map, it was 4.7 miles to the Mullica River campsite. We loaded the canoes up like we were car camping: chairs, camper pie irons, coolers, firewood. The river for almost all of the first day was very narrow and twisty and bramble-y. I hadn’t canoed in years and I was having a hard time keeping us out of the brambles on the sides of the river. Once we were in them, we had to just duck and wait to drift out again. I’ve never been so scraped up in my life. There were also plenty of trees down in the river to avoid, or duck under, or climb over as the canoes went under. We only had to actually get out of the boats and pull them one time though. We dislodged one big log blocking the river only to have it drift down and block it again, but at its new location we were able to push it down and go over it.
There was one area where the river opened up and we were finally able to relax and mostly drift, which is what I had pictured the whole trip being like. We saw some ducks and geese, a turtle, and a heron. The river narrowed again and we were beginning to think we had somehow missed the campsite. I’d camped there before so I knew there was a big sign on the river that would make it hard to miss but it was taking so long, I was starting to think maybe we had gone down a channel farther off from the shore. The sign soon came into view and we were able to finally get out of the boats and stretch after almost four hours.
We quickly got a fire going, set up camp, and started in on the eating portion of the evening – hot dogs and pizza camper pies. There was a gorgeous sunset and more sitting around the campfire.
I was excited to go to bed and try out a hammock setup I had brought with me. The setup I have is way too heavy for backpacking, but not for canoe camping! It was a way for me to see if I could sleep in a hammock all night and would want to buy a lighter weight setup though. I used an ENO DoubleNest Hammock, Kelty 12′ Noah’s Tarp, and rigged up my MLD Spirit 38 Quilt as the underquilt. I slept very well, and only my feet were cold (the low was about 38°).
We had a leisurely breakfast this morning but didn’t hang around too long since we were afraid canoeing the 5.3 miles to the Pleasant Mills take out would take forever. The river really widened up below the campsite though and we made it in just over two hours. We only had to climb over a couple of trees and we almost never got brambled. We saw a beaver, a woodpecker, and a goldfinch (NJ state bird!). It was a gorgeous, relaxing paddle.