Whitewater Boating at Lehigh Gorge State Park
Whitewater boating is a major attraction of Lehigh Gorge State Park. This popular section of the Lehigh River contains class II to III whitewater rapids. The river winds through a deep, steep-walled gorge with thick vegetation, rock outcroppings, and waterfalls.
This section of the Lehigh River is popular for rafting, kayaking, and canoeing. All boaters must put on and take off the Lehigh River at designated access areas. River flow is controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the Francis E. Walter Dam and by streams flowing into the river throughout the park.
For information on rules and regulations related to whitewater boating on the Lehigh River, see Whitewater Regulations and Safety below.
River trips are of three lengths:
- White Haven to Rockport -- 8.7 miles
- Rockport to Glen Onoko -- 12.2 miles
- White Haven to Glen Onoko -- 20.9 miles
The White Haven to Glen Onoko trip by raft may take from 10 to 12 hours at lower water levels. Be sure to allow enough time to complete your trip before dark.
- At flows below 250 cubic feet per second (cfs), the river is very low and many parts are not deep enough for boating.
- From 250 to 1,000 cfs, the river becomes better for boating.
- Above 1,000 cfs, the level of difficulty becomes progressively greater and higher levels of skill and better equipment are necessary.
- At levels above 5,000 cfs, only expert boaters, in kayaks, closed canoes, or very large rafts should attempt the river.
Flow rates from the dam and scheduled water release dates are available at the U.S. Geologic Survey website or by calling the Hickory Run State Park office at 570-443-0400.
Inexperienced boaters should not attempt the Lehigh River without qualified guides. Outfitted trips are available from concessionaires that provide rafts, guides, all necessary safety equipment, and transportation to and from the river.
To protect the natural resources and the unspoiled natural beauty of the river and its environment, DCNR's Bureau of State Parks has developed maximum commercial boating capacities on the Lehigh River and controls the number of boaters. Controls have been placed on the outfitters which provide commercial guided river trips. These controls are designed to cover:
The following is a list of licensed, commercial outfitters currently operating on the Lehigh River:
Whitewater Regulations and Safety
All whitewater boaters on the Lehigh River must learn to recognize natural dangers and understand that injury and death are a possibility when whitewater boating.
All boaters are required to wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved personal flotation device. Type I, III, or V vests designed for whitewater use are required.
Persons in canoes and kayaks should wear helmets. Wetsuits or drysuits are recommended for spring and fall trips.
Permitted watercraft of the Lehigh River must be designed by the manufacturer for whitewater use and shall have sufficient flotation to ensure they will float when completely full of water. Inflatable watercraft must be constructed of a tough laminate, commercial-grade material intended for whitewater use.
At flow rates less than 250 cubic feet per second (cfs), whitewater regulations do not apply.
At flow rates between 250 – 1,000 cfs, inflatable watercraft must be at least eight feet in length, have multiple air chambers, and have an outside tube diameter of at least 13 inches.
At flow rates between 1,000 – 5,000 cfs, inflatable watercraft must be at least 11 feet in length, have multiple air chambers, and have an outside tube diameter of at least 15 inches.
At flow rates above 5,000 cfs, inflatable watercraft must be at least 12.5 feet in length, have multiple air chambers, and have an outside tube diameter of at least 17 inches. At flows below 250 cubic feet per second (cfs), the river is very low and many parts are not deep enough for boating.
For useful safety information, visit the Safety Code of American Whitewater.
Complete information on boating rules and regulations in Pennsylvania is available from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.
Title 17, Chapter 11, Section 11.220, Whitewater Boating
General requirements. The following rules apply to persons using watercraft at Ohiopyle State Park, Lehigh Gorge State Park, or McConnells Mill State Park. These requirements do not apply at Lehigh Gorge State Park when the flow rate of the Lehigh River is less than 250 cubic feet per second.
Wear an appropriate-sized United States Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device, Type I, III, or V.
Inflatable watercraft that has multiple air chambers of a tough durable construction intended for whitewater use, consists of a tough laminated material, and is of commercial grade. The multiple air chambers shall be in the outside tube.
General prohibitions. The following are prohibited at Ohiopyle State Park, Lehigh Gorge State Park, and McConnells Mill State Park:
Using a nonwatercraft device, such as an inner tube, body board, surfboard, or air mattress. These devices may be used at Lehigh Gorge State Park when the flow rate of the Lehigh River is less than 250 cubic feet per second. Children 12 years of age and under shall wear a United States Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device when engaged in this activity.
Lehigh Gorge State Park. The following rules apply on the Lehigh River at Lehigh Gorge State Park. Flow rates are measured at the state park river gauges at the launch area designated by the Department at White Haven and the launch and take-out areas designated by the Department at Rockport and Glen Onoko.
At flow rates from 250 cubic feet per second through 1,000 cubic feet per second, inflatable watercraft shall be at least 8 feet long and have an outside tube diameter of at least 13 inches. This requirement does not apply to inflatable canoes and inflatable kayaks.
At flow rates above 1,000 cubic feet per second through 5,000 cubic feet per second, inflatable watercraft shall be at least 11 feet long and have an outside tube diameter of at least 15 inches. This requirement does not apply to inflatable canoes and inflatable kayaks.
At flow rates above 5,000 cubic feet per second, inflatable watercraft shall be at least 12-1/2 feet long and have an outside tube diameter of at least 17 inches. This requirement does not apply to inflatable canoes and inflatable kayaks.
Guided and unguided watercraft trips provided by commercial outfitters are not permitted between the White Haven launch area and the Rockport launch and take-out area during the opening weekend of annual trout season, as established by the Fish and Boat Commission, and the following weekend.
International Scale of River Difficulty
The classes below are the American version of the rating system used throughout the world. This system is not exact. Rivers do not always fit easily into one category and there may be regional interpretations. This information is from American Whitewater.
Class I: Easy -- Fast moving water with riffles and small waves. Few obstructions, all obvious and easily missed with little training. Self-rescue is easy.
Class II: Novice -- Straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels which are evident without scouting. Occasional maneuvering may be required, but rocks and medium-sized waves are easily missed by trained paddlers.
Class III: Intermediate -- Rapids with moderate, irregular waves which may be difficult to avoid and which can swamp an open canoe. Complex maneuvers in fast current and good boat control in tight passages or around ledges is often required. Strong eddies and powerful current effects can occur.
Class IV: Advanced -- Intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise boat handling in turbulent water. May be large, unavoidable waves and holes or constricted passages demanding fast maneuvers under pressure. Rapids require “must” moves above dangerous hazards. Self-rescue is difficult.