Whitewater Boating at Ohiopyle State Park
The Youghiogheny River has exciting whitewater boating for all experience levels. Only sturdily constructed rafts, kayaks, and closed-deck canoes intended for whitewater use may be used in the river. River levels can change the difficulty of rapids. Check at the launch area or contact the park office for current water levels.
The famous Lower Yough begins after the Ohiopyle Falls and flows seven miles downstream to the Bruner Run Take-out. This is the busiest section of whitewater east of the Mississippi River.
The numerous class III and IV rapids make for exciting rafting that should only be attempted by experienced whitewater boaters.
Inexperienced whitewater boaters should run this section of the river on a guided raft trip with an authorized concessionaire.
The natural river environment contains undercut rocks, ledges, and swift currents.
All whitewater boaters on the Youghiogheny must learn to recognize natural dangers and understand that injury and death are a possibility when boating the Lower Youghiogheny.
The Middle Yough begins at the Ramcat Put-in near Confluence and ends near the town of Ohiopyle. This section contains class I and II rapids and is ideal for beginning whitewater kayakers or experienced canoeists. Families often raft this section because it provides thrilling rapids at normal river levels.
An electronic river gauge has replaced the existing staff gauge at the launch area. Please be aware the new gauge reads in tenths and hundredths, instead of feet and inches:
Youghiogheny River Stage
Equipment rentals are available in the town of Ohiopyle through any of the licensed outfitters.
During the week, boaters must sign-in at the launch area. An access pass, available at the launch area, must be purchased on weekends and Holidays. No shuttle service will be provided on weekdays. Bruner gate will be open during the week (Monday-Friday).
Inexperienced boaters should not attempt the Youghiogheny River without qualified guides.
Guided trips are available from licensed commercial outfitters that provide rafts, guides, all necessary safety equipment and transportation to and from the river.
The following is a list of licensed, commercial outfitters currently operating on the Youghiogheny River:
All whitewater boaters on the Youghiogheny must learn to recognize natural dangers and understand that injury and death are a possibility when boating the Lower Youghiogheny. Safety information is available from the Safety Code of American Whitewater.
Non-powered boats launched in a state park must display one of the following:
Boat registrationoat registration
Launch permit or mooring permit from Pennsylvania state parks -- available at most state park offices
Launch permit from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission
Complete information about boating rules and regulations in Pennsylvania is available from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.
Rules and Regulations
Title 17, Chapter 11, Section 11.220, Whitewater Boating
General requirements. The following rules apply to persons using watercraft at Ohiopyle State Park:
Wear an appropriate-sized United States Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device, Type I, III, or V.
Noninflatable watercraft that is designed by the manufacturer for whitewater use. Noninflatable canoes and noninflatable kayaks shall have sufficient flotation to ensure that they will float when they are completely full of water.
Inflatable watercraft that has one or more air chambers of a high quality, durable material.
Other nonmotorized watercraft approved by DCNR.
General prohibitions. The following are prohibited at Ohiopyle State Park:
Using a nonwatercraft device, such as an inner tube, body board, surfboard, or air mattress.
Ohiopyle State Park. The following rules apply on the Youghiogheny River at Ohiopyle State Park: River levels are measured at the state park's river gauge at the Lower Youghiogheny River launch area.
Lower Youghiogheny River. The Lower Youghiogheny River is the section of the Youghiogheny River between the base of Ohiopyle Falls and the northern most point of the river that lies within the state park. The following rules apply to persons using watercraft on the Lower Youghiogheny River:
Guided tour or permit. They shall either be part of a guided tour provided by a state park-licensed concession or have a valid whitewater launch permit issued by DCNR. Permits may not be transferred, assigned, altered, or used to subvert their original intent. During periods when a launch area is not staffed, boaters shall sign the sign-on sheet at the contact station in lieu of obtaining a permit.
With permission of DCNR, a person may use watercraft that does not meet the requirements in subparagraph (iii) if DCNR deems it safe for use, taking into account durability, buoyancy, and maneuverability. This permission will not be given for watercraft rented from a boat rental business.
Middle Youghiogheny River. The Middle Youghiogheny River is the section of the Youghiogheny River between the Ramcat launch area and the Middle Youghiogheny take-out area upstream of Bike Trail Bridge in Ohiopyle Borough. The following rules apply to persons using watercraft on the Middle Youghiogheny River:
With permission of DCNR, a person may use watercraft that does not meet the requirements in subparagraph (ii) if DCNR deems it safe for use, taking into account durability, buoyancy, and maneuverability. This permission will not be given for watercraft rented from a boat rental business, including a state park-licensed concession business.
Over the Falls
Private Boater Falls Access Guidelines
- Prior to launching for each falls run, all boaters must register at the Lower Youghiogheny Launch Window on SR 381, unless otherwise posted. A launch permit, governed by the private boater quota reservation system, is required during applicable periods. Boaters may register for more than one run at a time.
- Water Level must be below 1.9 feet on the USGS Gage at the Lower Youghiogheny Launch in Ohiopyle. Although the gage can be read to the hundredths, for the purposes of falls access only the tenth’s column will be calculated. (1.89 would be considered as 1.8)
- Using the Lower Youghiogheny Launch to take-out is prohibited. The falls becomes the first rapid in the loop and boaters shall continue down river and take-out either at the Loop Take-Out on Ferncliff or Bruner Run Take-Out.
- Runs over the falls will be permitted: April 1st through the weekend before Thanksgiving with the last permit issued or sold prior to end of the posted office hours. Last run of the falls must be made so that boaters will be off the river prior to sunset.
- Access (put-in) will be from the river right shore only (Ferncliff side). Boaters access the river right put in via Ferncliff trail. The put-in is marked with a sign and is located downstream of the buoy line anchor points. Access will be prohibited from the Falls Day-Use Area (river left) except during Falls Running Events governed by Special Activities Agreements.
- Boaters are prohibited from running Ohiopyle Falls alone (solo boater/party of one). Minimum group size is three. 2nd or 3rd boaters do not have to run the falls and is/are included for the minimum group size for providing safety from shore (above or below) or boat (below) the falls. Shore safeties shall wear a PFD, helmet and have a throw bag to effectively execute a rescue.
- Only single and double occupancy kayaks and canoes designed and fully outfitted for whitewater use are permissible. Unguided Liveries/Rental Craft are prohibited. Rafts are prohibited.
- Boaters may scout the falls from beyond the warning signs during open hours but must wear PFD and helmet at all times.
Photographs of private boaters are taken on both the Lower and Middle Youghiogheny.
Pictures can be viewed and purchased online or in person at the Ohiopyle Adventure Photography store located next to the Lower Youghiogheny Launch.
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. There 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.