Hugh Force Park [Morris Canal]


Morris Canal at Hugh Force Park (photo by Jeremy Apgar)


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Park Overview:

Hike a section of the historic towpath along the original Morris Canal which operated from 1831 to 1924.

Trail Uses:Hiking
Trail Miles:1.5 miles
Park Acreage:
Buy Book:Hiking the Jersey Highlands - Illustrated Guide

Park Description:

Within Hugh Force Park is one of the best preserved sections of the Morris Canal, which appears much as it would have during its period of operation.  The park -- named after Hugh A. Force, a Wharton Borough municipal servant and humanitarian -- includes a towpath, places where the canal was cut into a rock ledge above the Rockaway River, and a fine stonework retaining wall supporting a railbed uphill from the path. Lock 2 East (also known as “Bird’s Lock,” named after the generations of the family that tended it) is near the end of the restored section of the towpath, as are the ruins of the locktender’s house.

The Morris Canal itself, completed in 1831, was built to transport coal from Pennsylvania and, it was hoped, revitalize the New Jersey iron industry. Its main line stretched more than a hundred miles from Phillipsburg on the Delaware River to Jersey City. An artful map traces out its course. The canal ceased operation in 1924, and since then much of it has been obliterated -- due in part to a conscious effort to fill it in, based on the belief that leaving the stagnant water posed a health hazard, and in part to the process of preparing building lots for suburban development. Click for other publicly accessible locations.  The Canal Society of New Jersey provides additional information about the Morris Canal.

Trails Overview:

A loop hike of roughly 1.5 miles starts beyond the Borough of Wharton’s Public Works facility. Proceed west along the long, narrow parking area, which is actually a filled-in section of the old Morris Canal, to where the restored section begins. The restored towpath is roughly 0.3 mile long, but it continues for another 0.2 mile along a section where the canal has been filled in.  At the end of the towpath, by a cinder slope, up the hill is the railbed of the abandoned High Bridge Branch of the Central Railroad of New Jersey, which can be used to return to the parking area.

Click for a detailed description of a hike in the park.  


Take I-80 West to Exit 34A (Wharton/NJ 15 South). Turn right at the first traffic light onto East Dewey Avenue and continue for 1.1 miles (beyond the next traffic light, the street name changes to West Dewey Avenue).

After crossing a bridge over the NJ Transit Morristown Line, make the first left turn onto West Central Avenue. Beyond the Borough of Wharton Public Works facility, bear right at the fork, then immediately turn right into Hugh Force Canal Park. Park just beyond the entrance (before you reach a private residence on the right).

Take I-80 East to Exit 34.  At the end of the ramp, turn left onto North Main Street.  In  0.2 mile, at a traffic signal, turn right onto West Dewey Avenue and follow the directions (indented) above.

Also see Location Tab, convert to a street view and enlarge map as necessary.


Contact Information:Borough of Wharton
Region:Morris County