Delaware River Trail to Bulls Island State Park Hike
|In This Guide|
|Distance||7.5 miles (12.1 km)|
|Time||3 Hours (Total Time)|
|Total Climbing||175 feet (53m)|
|Dog Friendly||Off Leash Okay|
|Park Name||Bull's Island Recreation Area|
This hike from Stockton, NJ to Bulls Island State Park takes you on a loop through NJ and PA along the Delaware River Trail, following a historic rail line and offering great river and wildlife views. Don’t let the length put you off, it’s very flat and a great hike for beginners. And you can do it on a bike too if you prefer.
The Delaware River Trail is not only great because of it’s scenic properties, but it’s also noteworthy historically. The New Jersey side was home to the Belvedere Delaware Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and you’ll see relics of the railroad along the hike. Keep your eyes open for old rail bridges and mile markers, which could date back to the railroad’s start in 1851. The railroad connected this area with New York and Philadelphia (via the end of the line in Trenton).
Before the railroad you had the canals, which the Delaware River Trail goes along. The canal on the New Jersey side is the Delaware and Raritan Canal, which connected the industrial areas of Phillipsburg and Easton to New York (by going down the Delaware to Trenton, and then down the Raritan River to the ocean). The canal was built in 1834, eventually going out of use in 1932.
If you want to learn about the history of the area, you’ll have an opportunity at Bull’s Island State Recreation Area, a 79 acre portion of the larger Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park. There’s an office open during business hours that has a nice historic display on the building of the canal. Bull’s Island also offers picnic grounds, fishing, and a boat launch.
Getting to Delaware River Trail Hike
The hike starts in scenic Stockton, NJ, where there are a few options to grab some food before or after the hike. From Stockton the hike goes up the Delaware River Trail to Bulls Island State Park, then across the river on the walking bridge, and then back down on the PA side.
Use this address for the trailhead: 2 North Railroad Avenue, Stockton, NJ, 08559, USA.
There are free spots along the trailhead, and there’s free street parking in Stockton. The big lot across from the trailhead is private, so heads up.
If you want to use the bathroom, you’ll have to find somewhere like a restaurant in Stockton, or use a porta-pottie at Bulls Island, which has limited facilities.
People used to be able to camp at Bulls Island State Park, but they shut it down after a branch fell and killed a camper a few years ago. It sounds a bit extreme, but the problem is that the Delaware River often floods in the winter, depositing lots of debris and weakening branches. Having to inspect every tree every year is just too much work given their funding. So the campground will be restored to native habitat.
Gear for the Hike
This isn’t a technical hike, and you can do it in fitness or street clothes, but fitness clothes will work better. Here’s what I would bring.
- Sneakers or trail runners
- Comfortable fitness clothes
- Water in a daypack
- Binoculars if you have them
- If you do this hike in the warmer months, I recommend taking bug spray. There can be gnats and mosquitos.
The Delaware River Trail offers tons of wildlife viewing, mainly birds. In addition to many types of duck, keep your eyes open for red-tailed hawks, kingfishers, cliff swallows, and in the winter, bald eagles. This is where the binoculars can come in handy.
My Top Gear Picks
Do you have the right hiking gear? Will it stand up to the test? I waste lots of money testing hiking gear every year so that you don’t have to. My gear picks are solid choices that will serve you well on the trail. I don’t do sponsored or paid reviews, I just the share actual gear that I use all the time that’s made the cut. Here are my top picks:
- Garmin InReach Mini Emergency Beacon – Hiking out of cell phone range? Make sure you have one of these two-way satellite texting devices in case your hike doesn’t go as planned. You can read my full review here.
- Injinji Sock Liners With Darn Tough Hiking Socks – This combo is a great way to avoid blisters out on the trail. I have some insider-hiking tips for avoiding blisters here. Pair them with modern, high-tech hiking boots (for women and men) and your feet with thank you.
- Garmin Fenix 5x Plus – It’s a little pricey, but man do I love this thing. Not only does it have all the topo maps and navigation tools on my wrist, but it also acts as a long battery life, rugged, outdoors version of an Apple Watch. Track your workouts, sleep, heart rate, all that stuff.
I have lots of other great, sponsor-free, trail tested gear picks on my “best gear” page.
See My Full Gear List
Delaware River Trail Maps
I highly recommend bringing a good paper map with you, and then using it in conjunction with a GPS device. You can see the navigation gear that I use here (I’m currently using the Fenix 5x Plus and love it). Just download the GPX file below and load it onto your GPS.
Many people also print out this web page for the turn-by-turn images. And if you really want to get tricky, YouTube Premium lets you download videos for offline use, so you can download the hike video and save it.
Download the Hike GPX File
View a Printable PDF Hike Map
Delaware River Trail Hike Directions
Subscribe to HikingGuy on YouTube
Turn By Turn Directions
I’d recommend checking out the Prallsville Mills website to see if there are any tours or events happening when you pass through. The website also has a ton of interesting information on the history of the mill.
The Bulls Island walking bridge was originally built in 1856 and was a covered bridge. The Delaware River often floods in winter and spring, and parts of the bridge were destroyed in 1903. In 1947 the bridge was rebuilt as the pedestrian bridge you see now. The stone pillars supporting the bridge still date back to 1855.
This part of the hike goes down through Delaware Canal State Park. The Delaware Canal runs from Easton down to Bristol (across from Trenton), and was first opened in 1832. The locks you see allowed the canal to handle changes in elevation.
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