Budd Lake to Clinton

Following The Raritan South Branch Through the Countryside

At Raritan Bay, just south of Staten Island at Perth Amboy, the river has finishedits journey to the Atlantic Ocean. Banked by smokestacks and tank farms, the river's mouth is traversed by the New Jersey Turnpike, Garden State Parkway and Interstate 287. Obscure at this apex of New Jersey's sometimes infamous legacy in transportation and industry, there is no hint of the Raritan's pristine origins and little to suggest the intricacies of its arrival here. The waterway's broad shoulders at this end are the consequence of flows from its north and south branches, which in turn have been fed by scores of smaller streams originating in the New Jersey Highlands, finally joining at Bridgewater to form the Raritan's main stem.

Viewed from a hot-air balloon, the South Branch flows by the Red Mill in Clinton.
Photo courtesy of In Flight Balloon Adventures

Although the South Branch of the Raritan approaches Bridgewater from the direction for which it is named, it actually begins 51 miles (as the water flows) north and west when it emerges humbly from Budd Lake, the state's largest natural lake, a few hundred feet from busy Route 46 in Mt. Olive in Morris County. From there the watercourse resembles an arm embracing northwest New Jersey as it runs southwest through communities it has nourished for hundreds of years, valleys dripping with serenity, and wooded vistas perfumed with the fragrance of a mountain stream. Below Califon, the South Branch attains its most notable expression of wild water at Ken Lockwood Gorge. Then, at the river's most famous depiction, flowing over the falls by the Red Mill in Clinton, the South Branch changes its tune. The Hunterdon County reservoirs at Spruce Run and Round Valley near Clinton mark the river's "elbow" as it turns to head southeast. Tracing the landscape's transition from the New Jersey Highlands to the Piedmont, the river is tranquilized, but no less beautiful. For those in search of the latest in nature's seasonal fashions, glances of living local heritage, or the tug of a Jersey trout, following the South Branch from Mt. Olive to Duke Farms in Hillsborough yields a memorable ramble. Check your Google Map, grab your GoPro, maybe hitch your Raleigh or Old Town to the car top, and get started.

The South Branch begins at Budd Lake.

The fledgling river flows south from Budd Lake, under Route 46 where you can follow its general path by turning left on Wolff Rd, right on Flanders-Drakestown, and left again on River Road through heavily wooded residential areas marked here and there by occasional ancient homesteads and antique mills refurbished for family habitation. When River Road meets Flanders Bartley Road, turn right and follow the river as it makes its way, having picked up some steam, into Washington Valley.

You will pass through a section known since 1793 as Naughright, after the family whose homestead was long known as a hospitable half-way point between High Bridge and Dover. Turn right on Coleman's Road, cross the bridge and ride to Fairview Avenue. Turn left and you will soon pass Welsh Farms, now a principal dairy supplier throughout the state, whose founder began business as a farmer, harness dealer and mill feed operator in Long Valley at the turn of the century and eventually rose to significant stature in state politics.

Old Union Church, Long Valley.

The road winds down into the center of the old village, marked prominently on the right by the remains of the Old Union Church. Although the church was not dedicated until 1774, the surrounding graveyard contains headstones dating to 1765. Next to this most proud historical site sits a two-story stone schoolhouse erected in 1830, now home to the Washington Township Historical Society.

One block further and you again greet the South Branch where it meets two well-seasoned and now, very busy, roads. Just east of this intersection stands the restored LaTourette Mill.

Following the South Branch takes you west through the historic district once known as German Valley, now home to good restaurants and quaint shops. Drive through Middle Valley into Hunterdon County and look for Route 512 on your left.

Less than a mile and you're in Califon, where the architecture is a continuum from the American Revolution through the Victorian era to the present day. Many contemporary businesses are housed in the older buildings. The borough was named "California" in 1850 to honor Jacob Neighbor who struck it rich in the gold rush. When the railroad arrived in 1870 the name was shortened; folklore claims it was to fit on the sign at the station.

Califon straddles the South Branch, and it is here that the river begins to widen and strut just a little, suggesting the beauty that lies ahead. If you've brought your bike or your walking shoes, you can access the Columbia Trail at the Califon Station and begin a delightful expedition into a most notable exponent of tranquillity in the Skylands, Ken Lockwood Gorge. The Gorge is also accessible by car from Route 513, across the river at Hoffmans Crossing and right on River Road. But, if you can, walk or bike in. Once you're in there, you'll want to shed all vestiges of tires and engines.

ken lockwood gorge
Ken Lockwood Gorge

If you speak to fishermen who know the Gorge, you can almost feel the ache in their voices, like they're handing over a family treasure to a stranger. Its not an unwillingness to share, but sincere concern, that generates stewardship among fisherman and many others about this 1.2 mile stretch of river. As rough as it looks, the Gorge is very delicate. It's a rare piece of wild water.

The river is fine for fishing all the way from Long Valley through Califon, but the feeder streams that contribute through the gorge keep this portion of the water a little colder. And the gorge nurtures all kinds of insect life including mayflies, caddis, stone flies, crane flies as well as scud (freshwater shrimp). These factors, combined with bountiful big boulders and deep holes, make the gorge prime real estate for rainbows, browns and brookies. For fly fishermen, its paradise. To keep the gorge healthy, most frequent fishers at Ken Lockwood adhere strictly to a catch and release policy. Whether you visit this oasis to fish or to simply breathe it in, please carry out everything you carry in. Although Trout Unlimited has placed refuse barrels throughout the Wildlife Management Area, they fill quickly and piles of refuse can soon find their way to the ground.

Leaving Ken Lockwood Gorge you'll be a few minutes from Vorhees State Park, home to the Paul H. Robinson Observatory, facility for the NJ Astronomical Association. Call ahead (908-638-8500) to see if you'll be lucky enough to schedule a look through the telescope. Besides a vantage point for looking at the stars, the hill provides a panorama especially spectacular in the fall, and one which affords a view of Spruce Run Reservoir, our river's next destination on this leg of her trip through the Skylands.

The next stop on your trip along the South Branch might be in High Bridge, the scene of bustling businesses renovating the old buildings along its quaint Main Street, a new coat of paint on the railroad trestle and Victorian-style street lamps. Or at Clinton and the South Branch's most famous depiction as it flows over the falls by the Red Mill.


Nearby accommodations and attractions

  • Riamede Farm
  • Pick your own apples and pumpkins at our 250 year old farm. Simple, authentic and without the carnival. Thirty varieties of apples, traditional, heirloom and your modern favorites. Free hay rides on weekends through the scenic old orchards out to the pumpkin patch. Cider, donuts, jams, local honey & more. School harvest trips.

    122 Oakdale Rd, Chester 07930, 908/879-5353

  • Hutcheson Memorial Forest
  • , Franklin Twp. ,

  • Pyramid Mountain
  • The story of one of the Northwestern New Jersey´┐Żs largest and more improbable natural treasures, a fist shaped swath of land designated in 1987 as the Pyramid Mountain Natural Historic Area, nearly 1,500 acres of wooded terrain dotted with brooks, swamps, glacial deposits, rock outcroppings glens and vistas.

    , ,

  • Lamington River
  • Morris County Tourism Bureau
  • Provides information about what's happening in the county, including events, historical sites, museums, hotels, restaurants. Open Mon-Fri, 10am-4pm; Saturdays in summer. Historic Morristown walking tours available as well as group tours and packages.

    6 Court St, Morristown 07960, 973-631-5151


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Old Guy from NJ
08 Sep 2014, 17:31
Trestle in High Bridge mentioned in the text has since been dismantled. Swimming is prohibited for most of the river's length.
Rob S.
24 Jun 2014, 23:02
Looking for someone to fly fish with. I have alot to learn. Ive only been at it a couple months.
23 May 2014, 10:13
is this spot good to fish at?
18 Jan 2014, 10:45
Why in the world would you want to fish for carp in a great Trout stream like the South Branch of the Raritan River, it is the best Trout Fishing in the Great State of New Jersey.
Ed Beurer
26 Jul 2010, 11:11
Mike B,\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nThanks for you help..this is great..\r\nHave a nice day
06 Jul 2010, 15:07
is the river good for swimming ?
Mike B
04 Jul 2010, 19:56
Ed B; I bike the region, here is a great map with detail. Lockwood gorge is in the High Bridge sector, you can trace your way from there.\r\n\r\nwww.njbikemap.com/njmap/mapimage/map_links.html
Ed Beurer
19 Apr 2010, 23:12
I would just love to a map of South Branch and how it runs through the New Jersey country side. \r\nI fished this river back in the 60's and I am coming back for a vacation.\r\nI would love the map so I could see if I could find the spots I wetted a line.I have maps, but need a detailed map showing the roads and towns close to the South Branch.\r\nany help is appreiciated and thanks in advance.
Ronald Pfeifer
13 Dec 2009, 07:40
Iloved fishing the south branch in LongValley.its been a long time. Could you please send me a map Edison N.J.to Long valley. THANK YOU R.A.P.
Troop 53
30 Aug 2009, 04:30
Looking for a place to canoe with troop locally other than an open lake. We take a 30-mile trip in the spring with class3 rapids. Looking for something a little calmer but more realistic to our trip for the new kids.
Lou T
05 Jul 2009, 21:29
I loved this river from Long Valley to Clinton for many years. Now that I don't live in NJ, I appreciate and miss the beauty and charm even more.
eric bulger
10 May 2009, 18:41
The Hopewell water shed just received a grant to remove dams on the Millstone river,so that spawning fish can swim up the river.Carnegie lake OWNED BY ( PRINCETON UNIVERSITY)IS CONTAMINATED POSTED SIGNS flows into the Millstone Princeton,Montgomery,Hillsboro and Manville dump sewage into the river.If the fish could live through that their babies will surely be deformed!
Clean Up the Raritan
05 Feb 2009, 08:23
I wouldn't eat any fish out of the Raritan River. It is so contaminated from multiple sites with leeching seeps. Several Superfund sites with known contaminants lie along the riverfront. There is already a fish/shellfish advisory from the NJDEP stating the levels of mercury in the fish are elevated. Please, only catch and release!

03 Sep 2008, 22:39
state record carp was caught in the south branch
28 Jul 2008, 15:00
any good place at raritan for carp fishing ?
26 Jul 2008, 19:36
13 Apr 2008, 14:42
this place is ok
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