Delaware River Trail to Bulls Island State Park Hike
|In This Guide|
|Distance||7.5 miles (12.1 km)|
|Hike Time||3 Hours (Total)|
|Total Ascent (?)||20 feet (6m)|
|Highest Elevation||90 feet (27m)|
|Fees & Permits||Free|
|Park Website||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. It is longer, so bringing water and snacks is smart. Aside from the start/end in Stockton, there are no places to buy snacks.
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 binoculars can come in handy.
Here’s the gear that I personally use, have tested, and recommend for this hike.See All of My Best Gear Picks Here
Great for all hikes – short ones to 10+ miles Feels like a sneaker but protects like a hiking boot.
This is a super-light and comfortable backpack that can hold everything you need on a hike, including a hydration bladder. It also works great as a general backpack or carry-on.
Joby tripods attach to anything. The legs are adjustable and grippy, so you can put them on trees, packs, rocks, whatever. And they work like regular tripods too. Works with everything from smartphones to DSLRs.
No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an REI link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.
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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.
Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.
If you see trash on the trail, please pick it up and carry it out. Be a good egg and practice no trace principles.