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Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park


The "D&R" Canal State Park is a continuous 35-mile greenway that extends from Trenton to New Brunswick. Bicyclists and pedestrians can travel from Port Mercer to New Brunswick along the canal towpath, and canoes can navigate the entire length of the park with a minimum of portages. The feeder canal towpath is negotiable by wheelchair when dry, as is the towpath from Turning Basin Park to New Brunswick.

The Princeton segment is 6.33 miles long, and the towpath is overgrown and difficult to use in the southern reaches of the Township. Closer to Alexander Road, the towpath is open, and from Alexander Road to the Millstone Aqueduct, there are paths on both sides of the canal. The proximity of the Charles Rogers Wildlife Refuge and Institute for Advanced Study Woods results in a much more diverse bird population along this stretch of the canal than might be expected, particularly during the spring and fall months.

Turning Basin Park, a natural area that includes picnic facilities, a canoe launch, and a playground, is located of Alexander Road. It was built upon the site of what once was a thriving commercial area which included two turning basins in which canal boats could turn around as well as unload. The basin east of Alexander Road can still be seen; the basin on the west side of Alexander Road has been filled in.

Carnegie Lake is a prominent and attractive feature of this section of the D & R Canal Park as well. Owned by Princeton University, the Lake was built with funds donated by Andrew Carnegie to provide a rowing course for University crews.

Small parking areas are located off Washington and Alexander Roads where they cross the canal. Access and parking are also available on the eastern side of the canal from Lake Road.


The D&R Canal was built between 1830 and 1834 by Irish immigrants using pickaxes, shovels, and wheelbarrows. The main canal extended from Bordentown to New Brunswick, with a "feeder" canal from Raven Rock in Hunterton County to Trenton. The canal was a major transportation route, especially for transporting coal from Pennsylvania to New York. It was less used after the turn of the century because of the competing railroad, which provided a faster means of transportation.

In 1932 the canal operations were closed and the Canal Company and Pennsylvania Railroad ceded the land to the state. The canal remained an important water conduit, and the state park was established in 1974. Today, the canal serves as water supply, recreational, historical, and natural resource as well.

Geology and Topography

The Princeton portion of the Canal Park lies within the physiographic province of the Inner Coastal Plain. Soils are varied, composed of clays, silts, sands, and gravels, and are generally fertile. As the canal was built, the land on either side was leveled for the towpath construction. Where the Stony Brook flows near the canal, the park traverses flood plain and marsh areas.


At the southern end of the canal in Princeton, vegetation runs to hedgerow and thickets of spicebush, Japanese honeysuckle, greenbrier, and Virginia creeper. Understory trees include black cherry, hawthorn, river birch, slippery elm, and red maple. The tree canopy species, often exceeding 50 feet in height, include pin oak, silver and red maple, white ash, sweetgum, and shagbark hickory.

In the flood plain wetlands near the Rogers wildlife Refuge, species are similar to those found in the hedgerow thicket, but the canopy is denser and the understory thinner. Special features in this section of the park are two specimen shagbark hickories and a copse of beech trees near the path in any other area of the Canal Park. Bank vegetation includes smartweed, jewelweed, and cardinal flower.

At the northern end of the Princeton section, the towpath was cleared in 1985 and vegetation significantly disturbed. There is a magnificent stand of river birches between the towpath and Lake Carnegie north of Harrison St. which was untouched, however.

Occasional communities of aquatic plants, such as water lily, arrowhead, arrow-arum, and duckweed are found in the canal. A marshy area near the canal's junction with the Millstone River (north of Harrison Street) is dominated by cattail and purple loosestrife.


The canal waters emanate from the Delaware River and host species such as bluegill and pumpkinseed sunfish, largemouth bass, chain pickerel, brown bullhead and yellow perch. In addition to these indigenous species, the canal is stocked with two species unable to breed in the canal, trout and tiger muskellunge, a cross between the northern pike and the muskellunge.

As noted, the Princeton segment of the Canal Park is popular for bird watching because of its proximity to the Institute for Advanced Study Woods and Charles Rogers Wildlife Refuge. Songbirds that breed in North America and winter in the tropics visit these areas in large numbers during their spring and fall migrations. The riparian habitat of the Canal Park supports birds such as warbling vireos and orioles, both of whom use sycamore trees for their nesting material and location. The belted kingfisher uses the canal banks for burrows, and the eastern phoebe and barn swallow attach their nests to the underside of the canal bridges. In the marshy areas abutting the canal you may spot blue and green heron, too.

Mammals found in the Canal Park include white-tailed deer, muskrat, raccoon, opossum, skunk, woodchuck, red fox, cottontail rabbit, white-footed mouse, and several species of moles and shrews. No formal survey of the amphibians and reptiles has ever been conducted, but a good number of green frogs, bullfrogs, leopard frogs, water snakes, garden snakes, and several species of turtles and salamanders are frequently observed.

More Information

The New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry owns and maintains this greenway. Contact the D&R Canal at the Canal State Park office at 908-873-3050.

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