Pennsylvania is home to many great hiking trails, but the opportunities for day trips and long-distance treks don’t stop at the waters edge.
Kayaks are an extremely popular way to get around on the water, they can often be seen strapped to the tops of cars heading for the lake or river.
However, there’s still plenty of room on the water for its more antiquated counterpart, the canoe.
Some would even say canoes are easier to handle, in the water and out.
Others are drawn to the carrying capacity, better stability, or even better fishing opportunities! Whatever the reason, for some paddlers there’s no school like the old school.
Benefits of Canoeing
There are many benefits to canoeing, which can make paddling waters a totally different experience.
Hold More Gear
Water trails are a great way to plan a camping trip on the water. The long distances and many put-in/take-out spots let you plan a flexible and enjoyable trip.
There’s normally a lot more gear involved in a camping trip, and it may seem impossible to move it all on the water.
Canoes are a great vehicle for this because they can carry much more weight than a kayak and can fit longer and bulkier equipment.
Kayaks are used primarily for day tripping where minimal gear is needed. They are very light, portable, and maneuverable; and some say perfect for a day’s recreation.
Some paddlers find kayaks uncomfortable and hard to enter and exit. Modern recreational kayaks seem best suited to those younger or more flexible.
Canoes, on the other hand, tend to be much bigger and are often 16 feet or longer. In a canoe, one can carefully stand and stretch if necessary.
Canoes also can carry two or three adults, plus all of their gear. Even when fully loaded, they slip through the water quite easily.
For some, the ability to carry anything you need is the biggest draw.
“Properly packed, a well-made canoe can haul several weeks provisions…a grand adventure’s worth,” said Jim Hyland, a forester with DCNR’s Bureau of Forestry.
He added, “Remote backcountry Canada, the wild rivers of New England, or the spooky swamps of the Southeast can all be quietly explored from the comfortable seat of a canoe.”
A canoe offers other differences from a kayak that often affect the paddling experience. In a canoe you sit higher up from the water, meaning you can actually see fish better. This might be counterintuitive, but to see fish, you need to look more at a downward angle.
This has other advantages as well. Sitting higher in a canoe means you can see birds better -- egrets and herons wading, and birds up in the trees come into view.
The improved sight also helps to identify hazards in the water up ahead, giving the paddler a little more time to change course.
Kayaks are known for better maneuverability over canoes, which may seem a bit a more cumbersome to handle, “but it is not impossible,” said Ryan Reed with DCNR’s Bureau of Forestry. “I watched a veteran canoeist paddle a series of difficult rapids without bumping a rock on the Codorus Creek a few years ago.”
There also are some things you can do in a canoe that just can’t be done in a kayak. DCNR’s Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn is an avid paddler, and very fond of canoes. Each year, she does some specialty trips where a canoe comes in handy.
“My husband and I annually do a ’chicken float,’ where we buy a bucket of fried chicken and eat it as we paddle down the Conodoguinet.” Dunn said it would be a lot harder to share a meal in a kayak.
Great Pennsylvania Water Trails for Canoeing
Pennsylvania has more than 2,000 miles for paddling; however, here’s a few that make great, extended canoeing trips.
Pine Creek Water Trail
Pine Creek (PDF) is one of Pennsylvania’s most scenic and historic water trails; and is a great place for a canoe trip.
Many paddlers begin at Ansonia, paddle through the canyon, and then take out 17 miles downstream in Blackwell.
This section takes about six hours to complete, depending on the water level, paddling speed, stopping to fish, etc.
There are state forest and private camping facilities in the area where paddlers can spend the night along the creek, and then paddle on to points downstream for one, two, three, or more days, depending on the distance you want to travel and the amount of exploring, fishing, or sightseeing you’d like to do.
Tiadaghton State Forests for camping information.
Susquehanna River Water Trails
All along the Susquehanna River and its North and West branches are designated water trails.
Middle Susquehanna River Water Trail, the river islands provide a perfect opportunity to go canoe camping.
This section extends 24 miles from Halifax to Harrisburg. It incorporates four access sites and 10 river islands designated for day use and primitive camping.
The trail is managed by a partnership involving the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, DCNR, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the City of Harrisburg, and the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.
Volunteer groups have already adopted islands and access sites. These volunteers serve as trail stewards for maintenance, monitoring resource impacts, and tracking public use.
Middle Allegheny River Water Trail
The size of the
Allegheny River Water Trail and the constant release of water from Kinzua Dam make the river canoeable all year long.
This is a good trail for novice and family canoers; and provides a variety of fishing opportunities.
Inexperienced and novice canoeists should avoid the Oil City Rapids by portaging around them. Only experienced canoeists should attempt to canoe through the rapids.
Camping is permitted on any National Forest lands (island or shoreline); Cranberry Township lands; Venango County islands; and the Allegheny River Tract of Clear Creek State Forest.
Before Hitting the Water
Safety should always be the number one priority during any outdoor activity. There are significantly more hazards to be encountered on a river or creek than a calmer lake setting.
Having lots of fun on a paddling trip is not hard if you keep in mind some important safety tips:
- Wear your life jacket
- Expect to get wet
- Be prepared to swim -- if the water looks too hazardous to swim in, don’t go paddling
- Scout ahead whenever possible -- know the river to avoid surprises
- Be prepared for the weather
- Never boat alone -- boating safety increases with numbers
- File a float plan with a reliable person, indicating where you are going and when you will return -- remember to contact the person when you have returned safely
For more boating safety information and rules and regulations, visit the
Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s website. To learn more about canoeing opportunities in state parks and forests, visit