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Guided Whitewater Rafting at PA State Parks—A Scenic and Stimulating Adventure!

June 27, 2018 03:00 PM

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​Have you ever wanted to try whitewater rafting but didn’t know where to start?

Pennsylvania is home to some of the best beginner and intermediate whitewater in the Mid-Atlantic. There are many opportunities for guided whitewater rafting in Pennsylvania state parks. The real question is: “Where to go first?”

Here are a couple of the best areas for guided whitewater rafting in state parks.

Where to Go in Southwestern PA

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Located among the southern reaches of the Allegheny Mountains, Ohiopyle State Park encompasses approximately 20,500 acres of rugged natural beauty while serving as the gateway to the Laurel Highlands.

Close to major metropolitan areas and offering vast recreational opportunities, Ohiopyle is the largest state park in Pennsylvania, attracting millions of visitors every year, mostly for its whitewater.

What to Expect on the Yough

Ohiopyle derives from a Delaware Indian word translating to “white frothy water.” Flowing through the very heart of the park is the 132-mile Youghiogheny River -- or Yough for short. It’s one of the most actively run sections of whitewater east of the Mississippi. “Youghiogheny” means, “a stream flowing in a contrary direction,” due to it being one of the few rivers in the country to flow from south to north.

This world-renowned stretch of whitewater has defining characteristics that set it apart from the rest. It’s very different from the wide-open Susquehanna River or slightly rippled Delaware River. With massive, predominantly sandstone boulders scattered throughout, a rafting line looks seemingly unsurpassable. It may look as if someone just dropped a cluster of boulders in the middle of the river!

This landscape calls for quick maneuvers and tight squeezes through its gushing labyrinths. But don’t let this description deter you, as it is one of the most scenic rivers in the continental U.S. Just beckoning to be experienced, licensed outfitters in Ohiopyle State Park offer rafting trips lead by trained guides, whom are always keen on showing a rookie down their first Yough run!

Just below the renowned 15-foot Ohiopyle Falls begins one of the most popular intermediate sections of whitewater in the east. The Lower Section features 7.5 miles of class III-IV rapids. It is considered a drop and pool river with rapids separated by calm deep pools, allowing you to catch your breath and enjoy the scenery.

The Middle Yough is a scenic, 11-mile beginner section of class I-II whitewater. It is best suited for families with young ones and includes opportunities to paddle, splash, and even swim. This section offers opportunities to experience the Yough escorted by raft or inflatable kayak alongside trained guides.

Guided Trips on the Yough

Guided trips are available from licensed commercial outfitters that provide rafts, guides, and all necessary safety equipment and transportation to and from the river.

Guided trips are offered on the Yough during the spring, summer, and fall. Trips are available daily throughout the summer. Plan to go between April and October.

For more detailed information and a list of licensed, commercial outfitters currently operating on the Lower and Middle Youghiogheny River, visit the Ohiopyle State Park whitewater boating web page.

Where to go in Northeastern PA

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Photo provided by Rachel Hess.

Located in northeastern Pennsylvania, and winding through the mossy valleys and ridges of the Pocono Mountains, lies the Lehigh River. With 30 miles of park-protected mountains, Lehigh Gorge State Park features picturesque waterfalls, diverse plant species, and class II-III whitewater. Lehigh also means, “where there are forks” in Delaware Indian, due to its many islands.

What to Expect on the Lehigh River

On this river, you can experience beginner-to-intermediate guided whitewater rafting surrounded by a lush forested gorge, edged by boulders, wildflowers, and tumbling waters.

The Upper Lehigh has 15 thrilling rapids along its 9-mile section. For a longer day on a more secluded section, try the Lower, squeezing in 18 rapids within 12 miles. These are the most exhilarating sections and require intermediate rafting skills. Featuring spirited class I-II rapids and swimming opportunities, Section III is the family float trip for beginners and small children.

Guided Trips on the Lehigh River

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.

Guided trips are offered on the Lehigh River during the spring, summer, and fall. Trips are available daily throughout the summer. Plan to go between May and October.

For more detailed information and a list of licensed, commercial outfitters currently operating on the Lehigh River, please visit the Lehigh Gorge State Park whitewater boating web page.

What to Consider When Planning a Trip

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It’s important to plan ahead, and this includes understanding the international scale of river difficulty. Class I is categorized as easy, while Class IV is advanced. It’s important to understand that this system is not exact. Rivers do not always fit easily into one category and there may be regional interpretations or weather-related impacts.

Weather and water temperatures will dictate what you should wear on the river. It is always best to call before your trip and ask what the recommended attire will be.

Commercial outfitters may provide wetsuits and splash jackets for a small fee. In warmer conditions, it is best to wear a swimsuit, synthetic shirt (not cotton), hat for sun protection, and sturdy footwear (no slip-on shoes).

You should plan to bring:

  • Plenty of water
  • Sunglasses with a retainer strap
  • Sunscreen
  • Carabiners
  • A waterproof camera (if you want some fun photography)
  • Lunch (if not provided by the outfitter)
  • A towel and extra set of dry clothes for after the trip

Learn More

Interested in learning more about paddling and water sports? Check the DCNR calendar of events for outdoor programs on the water at state parks and forests. Some are beginner education events, while some are for more those more experienced on the water.

You can learn more about Pennsylvania waterways and their classes of difficulty from American Whitewater.

To learn what recreation opportunities Pennsylvania state parks and forests offer, explore DCNR’s What To Do web page.

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