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​Scenic Rivers

Pennsylvania has six federally-designated and 13 state-designated scenic rivers.

Federal and state legislation allows waterway segments to be designated as part of the Scenic Rivers System. This designation is intended to protect the natural, aesthetic, and recreational values of a waterway.

The protection efforts are largely carried out through a partnership between DCNR and other state agencies, whereby construction projects in the vicinity of a designated Scenic River are required to undergo a more rigorous permitting process, and may be required to adjust the project design and/or construction practices to ensure that the natural and aesthetic values of the waterway are maintained.

Pennsylvania Scenic River Classification Criteria

Waterways included in the Pennsylvania Scenic Rivers System are classified as:

  • Wild
  • Scenic
  • Pastoral
  • Recreational
  • Modified Recreational

A designated river may have more than one classification. These classifications help land managers, policy makers, developers, and other stakeholders understand the characteristics that make these waterways special, and provide a guide to determine the most appropriate best management practices for each waterway segment.

Wild and Scenic River Designations

Wild or Scenic river designations preserve the primitive qualities and natural and aesthetic values of a river and its adjacent land environment.

Wild rivers are free-flowing and support native fish and wildlife. The adjacent environment is of pristine character, with access restricted to foot and/or nonpowered watercraft.

Scenic rivers are free-flowing and capable of supporting water-based recreation, fish, and aquatic life. The view from the river or its banks is predominantly wild, but may include some pastoral countryside. The segment may be intermittently accessible by road.

Pastoral River Designations

A pastoral river designation is intended to recognize the capability and productivity of agricultural activities. Pastoral rivers are free-flowing, excepting historic or restored mill dams, and are capable of supporting water-based recreation, fish, and aquatic life. The view from the river or its banks is predominantly pastoral or farming countryside. The segment may be intermittently accessible by roads.

Recreational and Modified Recreational River Designations

Recreational and Modified Recreational river designations are intended to maintain the use of the river and its adjacent land environment for recreation (if it can be supported without degrading the resource).

Recreational rivers may combine free-flowing and relatively short stretches of impounded water that can sustain appropriate water-based recreation, fish, and aquatic life. The shorelines may exhibit considerable man-made modification, if such modification is compatible with the aesthetics of the river environment. The river shall be readily accessible.