Cutting a swath from eastern Pennsylvania to the banks of the Hudson River, the Morris Canal -- less famous than the famed Erie Canal across New York State but no less important -- was an engine of economic growth in 19th-century New Jersey. People worked and lived along the banks of the canal, and homes, shops, schools, and transport once thrived there ... until the railroads arrived.
Today the Morris Canal Greenway, a partnership between local communities and the Canal Society of New Jersey, is working with historians, environmentalists, and devoted individuals to preserve the existing buildings and the ribbon of parks and trails in order to connect the endpoints of the original canal with a 111-mile pedestrian walkway and bicycle path called the Morris Canal Greenway.
History Of The Canal
At its height in the mid-19th century, the Morris Canal consisted of 23 lift locks and the first water-driven inclined planes used in the United States; these locks and planes were used to lift and lower the water levels as the boats moved along the path through the hills of northern New Jersey.
But mules hitched to tow ropes were no competition for the mighty railroads, which could carry raw materials faster (mules averaged about three or four miles per hour) and in any weather. By the mid-1870s, it was clear that the canal could no longer compete with the railroad. The Morris Canal fell into disrepair; people moved on.
The Morris Canal Greenway
While the pandemic has put some of the development of new areas on hold, towns across the six-county Morris Greenway are continuing to move toward their goal of creating a swathe of parks and trails across the state.
Bread Lock Park
627 Rt. 57, Stewartsville
Museums and historic homes at Bread Lock Park are not open to the public yet, but visitors are welcome at Bread Lock Park where easy hiking trails are walkable from dawn till dusk.
Located at Lock 7 West of the old Morris Canal, Bread Lock park was named for its bread and pie store, which was popular with boatmen passing through town on the canal’s waterways. Today, a short section of the canal has been cleared and offers a lovely walk along the towpath traveled by mules that pulled the boats. The grounds include a full-size replica of a Morris Canal boat.
Pro Tip: Download audio information and historic photos by going to the Explore the Morris Canal site and scanning the QR code on signs at the site. If you are an armchair traveler, you can take a virtual trip to Plane 9 and Plane 10 along the canal.
525 Waterloo Road, Stanhope
Waterloo Village, located at about the halfway point of the Morris Canal, was a thriving 19th-century canal town and is now home of the Canal Society’s museum. Besides walking paths along the Morris Canal Greenway towpath (and remnants of an incline plane), there is a general store, blacksmith shop, a grist mill, and a 17th-century Lenape Indian village. Waterloo Village is open for walks from dawn to dusk.
Pro Tip: The Morris Canal towpath between Waterloo Village and Allamuchy is a four-mile recreational trail. Free parking is available at Waterloo Village, which is at Exit 25 on route I-80.
The Lake Hopatcong State Park is open from sunrise to sunset between Labor Day and Memorial Day weekend and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Memorial Day Weekend to Labor Day.
Lake Hopatcong was originally created as part of the Morris Canal and was the canal’s major source of water. The lake was the canal’s high point; water would flow down the canal to the Delaware River at Phillipsburg and down in the opposite direction to the eastern part of the canal toward the Hudson River.
The first phase of the Lake Hopatcong Trail stretches about 11 miles, beginning on the Morris Canal Towpath across from Hopatcong State Park in Landing (see trail map -- opens as PDF).
Pro Tips: Fees are charged for parking at the state park; check to make sure that the lake is free of algae bloom before swimming by calling (973) 398-7010.
Macculloch Hall Historical Museum
45 Macculloch Avenue, Morristown
George Macculloch first imagined the Morris Canal while fishing on Lake Hopatcong; the entrepreneur surveyed the area in 1820 and decided that the lake could be the prime water source for the canal. His home is now the Macculloch Hall Historical Museum, an 1810 house with period rooms, exhibit galleries, and historic gardens.
Pro Tips: Macculloch Hall Historical Museum is available for tours of fewer than five people at a time; reservations must be made at least 48 hours in advance at (973) 538-2404.
Hugh Force Canal Park
West Central Avenue, Wharton
Hike the towpath at Hugh Force Canal Park in Wharton, which has one of the best-preserved sections of the original Morris Canal. Beside the path, the walk passes places where the canal was cut into a rock ledge above the Rockaway River. Lock 2 East is near the end of the restored section of the towpath as are the ruins of the lock tender’s house, which will be replaced by a replica of his original home in the future.
Bloomfield Morris Canal Hike
The Bloomfield Morris Canal area is located on Pierson and Oak Tree Lane off of Broughton Avenue in Bloomfield. This surviving section of the historic Morris Canal features a five-mile walk, a part of which served as a mule towpath and canal bed. Visitors can stroll along the route that coal boats traveled through Bloomfield on the journey across the state.
The Morris Canal Waterfront Walkway
If you take public transportation, both the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail and the Exchange Place PATH station are within walking distance of the Morris Canal walkway. Visitors with cars can park at Liberty State Park, which abuts the canal.
Things To Do On And Near The Morris Canal Walkway:
Explore Liberty State Park
Liberty State Park is a beautiful 1,212-acre park that opened in 1976 and has remained a vibrant center for the Jersey City community and visitors from all over the world. Places to visit in the park include:
Liberty Science Center (LSC)
LSC is a 300,000-square-foot learning center with 12 museum exhibition halls, a live animal collection, a 3D theater, and the Western Hemisphere's biggest planetarium.
The Empty Sky 9/11 Memorial
This beautifully simple memorial has two walls lining a path aimed at the site of Ground Zero in New York City. Each wall is equal in length to one side of the former World Trade Center towers, and the walls are engraved with the names of the 749 victims of 9/11 from New Jersey.
This moving sculpture of an American soldier carrying a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp was designed and executed in bronze by Nathan Rapoport; it was dedicated in 1985.
Walk, Run, Or Bike The Park
Liberty State Park is 5.36 miles long. The Waterfront Walkway, a flat boardwalk that forms a crescent shape on banks of the Hudson River, is about 1.5 miles long. It extends from the railway terminal along the waterfront to the back of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty and then to the South Lawn (great for the picnic area, where barbecues abound on weekends). There are great views of New York City all along the walkway and from the bike paths throughout the park.
Take To The Water On A Kayak
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection offers Kayak Eco Tours from Liberty State Park.
- The Morris Canal was part of the Underground Railroad during the years after the American Civil War. In the latter part of the 19th century, many African Americans worked on the canal, and a number of them were boat captains. There is a statue that includes images of a slave family escaping via the canal in Jersey City, at the corner of Essex and Hudson Streets.
- See black and white photographs of the Morris Canal in its heyday on the Library of Congress’s website.
- Planning a New Jersey vacation? Consider these seven quaint coastal visits on the Jersey Shore, 11 quaint New Jersey towns you must visit, and why Cape May is New Jersey’s best-kept secret.