bulls island state park

Delaware River Trail to Bulls Island State Park Hike

In This Guide
  • Turn by Turn Hike Directions & Video
  • How to Get to the Delaware River Trail
  • Bulls Island State Park – Delaware River Trail Maps
Distance7.5 miles (12.1 km)
Hike Time3 Hours (Total)
DifficultyEasy
Total Ascent (?)20 feet (6m)
Highest Elevation90 feet (27m)
Fees & PermitsFree
Dog FriendlyOff Leash Okay
Park ContactBull's Island Recreation Area
Park Phone609-397-2949

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).

Delaware Canal Historic Railroad
This peaceful hike was once a busy thoroughfare, with trains and barges hauling coal and iron ore to factories in Northern New Jersey. This photo dates from 1912, and you can see that barges were still in use then. Photo Richard Burton.

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

American Wood Duck
There’s great wildlife spotting on this hike, including bald eagles and the elusive wood duck (above). If you have binoculars or a camera, bring them! Photo ANoodle

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*.

La Sportiva Spire

La Sportiva Spire GTX

Good for light and more hardcore hikes. Feels like a sneaker but protects like a hiking boot.

Women’s Reviews

Men’s Reviews

Rei Flash 22

REI Flash 22 Pack

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.

See Colors & Prices

Joby On Triee

Joby Smartphone Tripod

Make your photos stand out by using this lightweight, do-anything tripod. The Joby attaches your smartphone to trees, rocks, whatever you can find on the trail. Folds down compactly too.

See the Joby Options

Don’t waster your money on hiking gear that’s no good, I’ve done that for you already! Full HikingGuy Gear List

* 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.

Also → Big Sale at REI On Now:

REI SALE

Delaware River Trail Maps

Click To View Map

Delaware River Trail to Bulls Island State Park Hike Map Downloads

Download the Hike GPX File

View a Printable PDF Hike Map

Here’s what I use to navigate my hikes. I recommend a combination of paper and electronic options with backups.

Gaiagps

Gaia GPS

Gaia GPS is a planning and navigation tool that you can use on your phone, tablet, and the web. I use it on my phone when I need to interact with the map and know where my position is on it. I use it at home on the computer to plan routes. You can overlay maps such as public lands to find out free places to camp. It’s a powerful tool.

HikingGuy Discount on Gaia GPS

Fenix Nav

Garmin Fenix Watch

This thing does everything: maps, GPX tracks, compass, barometer, altitude, heart rate, blood oxygen, fitness tracking, sleep tracking, and the list goes on. I keep a GPX route on the watch so I can quickly glance down and make sure I’m in the right place.

Fenix Prices & Reviews

My In-Depth Review

Topo Map

Topo Maps & Guide Books

Don’t be caught out if your batteries die. Take a topo map with you on the trail. Some people also print my guides out for use on the hike.

I also highly recommend taking a map and compass navigation course. It’s a few hours, it’s fun, and it could save your life.

Map and Compass Navigation Basics Classes

Don’t just rely on a cell phone, especially if you are hiking in the backcountry.

Bulls Island State Park – Delaware River Trail 3d map
This hike does a loop on the PA and NJ sides of the Delaware River trail.

Delaware River Trail Hike Directions

Video Directions

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Turn By Turn Directions

Delaware River Trail parking
The trailhead is next to the Delaware River Trail in Stockton, NJ.  Once you park, walk north on the well marked trail.
Delaware River Trail
As you can see, the Delaware River Trail is wide and easy to follow. Make your way through the gate and cross the road, continuing to hike straight.
Delaware River Trail
The Delaware River Trail continues through the back of residential Stockton. Keep hiking straight.
Prallsville Mills
Shortly you’ll reach Prallsville Mills. Some of the buildings date back to 1720.

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.

Delaware River views
Across the trail from Prallsville Mill you get some great Delaware River views.
Delaware River Trail
After the mill, you continue straight on the well-defined Delaware River Trail, eventually reaching a bridge over a creek.
Delaware River Trail
If you want to explore the creek and river, there’s a side trail before the bridge that fisherman use.
bulls island state park sign
Shortly after the last bridge, your’ll reach Bulls Island State Park. Actually it’s a State Recreation area but most people call it a park.
bulls island state park
Turn left into the park and follow the road to the main parking area.
bulls island state park
The bridge crosses some swift water. You can see people here fishing for bass, trout, and perch.
bulls island state park
Continue through the main lot at Bulls Island. If the office is open, you can go in and check out the historical exhibition on the building of the canal.
trails at bulls island state park
Avoid any side trails to the left.
walking bridge at bulls island state park
Head across the parking lot and cross the walking bridge.
bulls island state park walking bridge
Crossing the walking bridge is a highlight of this hike. Soak in the views.

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.

flag on bulls island bridge
There’s often a huge flag flying from the bridge. A good spot for a selfie or photo.
bulls island bridge
After the bridge, you (counterintuitively) make the right.
River Road
Follow the side of River Road for a short stretch and watch out for traffic.
historic markers
Keep your eyes open for the historic markers along the road.
locks on delaware canal
When you reach the lock, cross over to the Delaware River Trail, and make the right to head back down the river, back toward Stockton.
locks on delaware canal
The lock is an interesting place to look around too.

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.

Delaware River Trail
After the lock, head back south on the Delaware River Trail. You’ll get unobstructed views of the bridge here.
Delaware River Trail
Similar to the NJ side, the PA Delaware River Trail is straight and easy to follow.
Virginia Forrest Recreation Area
Eventually you reach Virginia Forrest
Recreation Area, where there are bathrooms and water fountains.
stockton bridge
At around 7 miles you’ll see the Stockton Bridge coming back into view. Almost done.
stockton bridge
Climb the stairs under the bridge, head back to NJ, and finish the hike.

Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.