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12 Top-Rated White Water Rafting & Kayaking Destinations in Pennsylvania

Nov 28, 2017

The abundance of natural waterways in Pennsylvania makes it an attractive destination for all levels of water lovers. From white water rafting on one of the many raging river sections of the Lehigh River to kayaking The Loop on the quieter section of the Youghiogheny, it's easy for both beginner and advanced outdoor paddlers to find suitable outings in Pennsylvania. Many outfitters along most waterways offer guiding services, whether you want a guide in the boat with you or a guide that just shows you where to go on the water.

Kayaking, both in calm water and white water rapids, is popular across the state due to the vast number of natural streams and rivers running through hundreds of national and state parks in Pennsylvania. Keep in mind that non-powered boats launched within in a state park must have proper permits from the Pennsylvania State Parks Department. You can find out what you need and obtain permits from most state park offices.

1 Youghiogheny River

Youghiogheny River
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The Youghiogheny River flows through one of Pennsylvania's largest state parks, Ohiopyle, in the Laurel Highlands region in southwestern Pennsylvania. Locals call it the Yough (pronounced "yawk"). The river is popular for white water rafting and kayaking, especially in "The Loop," which is a mile-and-a-half section of the Lower Yough. The loop is perfect for kayakers since they do not need a transport vehicle. The river offers the best in white water rafting because each section caters to a different kind of experience. The Lower Yough is 7.5 miles of class III and IV rapids. It is ideal for beginners to intermediate rafters. If you aren't familiar with the river, you may want to sign up for a Lower Yough Escorted White Water Rafting Tour. The Middle Yough is a nine-mile family-friendly stretch, perfect for first-timers or for those who prefer light rafting. The Upper Yough is reserved for adrenaline junkies who are looking for aggressive class IV and V rapids. There are four experienced outfitters on the river: Wilderness Voyageurs, White Water Adventurers, Laurel Highlands River Tours, and Ohiopyle Trading Post.

2 Lehigh River

Lehigh River
Lehigh River Lehigh Valley, PA / photo modified
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The Lehigh River in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania is one of the best places to tackle rafting on the state's white water. The river flows between the Poconos and the Appalachian Mountains, with Class I, II, and III rapids pushing through the valleys. These calm to mild rapids mean you can take a family-friendly float trip or test your paddle skills on intermediate waters. If you are looking for a little extra adventure, tackle the rapids on dam release days that enhance the currents and water swells. The Lehigh River is appealing to kayakers because of waters that flow through the designated Pennsylvania Scenic River section. It is a preserved wilderness area. The section of White Haven is a popular area to start this 32-mile section of calmer water.

3 Three Rivers Water Trail

Three Rivers Water Trail
Three Rivers Water Trail | Photo Copyright: Anietra Hamper
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The Three Rivers Water Trail in Point State Park in Pittsburgh is an urban waterway popular with kayakers. Convenient launch sites and parking lots are available. The Three Rivers Water Trail runs for 75 miles and takes boaters through the Allegheny, Monongahela, Youghiogheny, and Ohio Rivers. It is considered a National Recreation Trail, with 90 riverfront towns and access points. The trail is adequately marked, so that even kayakers new to the area know where to find launch and exit points and other amenities like food and lodging. You do not need permits to launch from the access points.

4 Schuylkill River

Schuylkill River
Schuylkill River Montgomery County Planning Commission / photo modified
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The Schuylkill River is a scenic trip and offers something different for kayakers. The 128-mile river is a State and National Heritage Area, so you can experience a diversity of sights along the way that range from historical and cultural landmarks to wildlife. Kayaking past old river towns along the Schuylkill River Trail is a unique way to take in some of the most significant history of the United States. Guided kayak tours are available along the river if you want to combine sightseeing with outdoor recreation. Avid kayakers may want to visit during one of the Pennsylvania Sojourn events in the spring where you can join dozens of other boaters for water treks that promote outdoor recreation and conservation along the waterway. The entire trip is 115 miles that many kayakers do over several days, but plenty of participants just join for a day.

5 Allegheny River Water Trail

Allegheny River Water Trail
Allegheny River Water Trail | Photo Copyright: Anietra Hamper
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Crowned as Pennsylvania's 2017 River of the Year, the Allegheny River Water Trail is a favorite for both white water rafting and kayaking. The trail is 85-miles long, but you will want to target a section based on your interest and skill level. Those who are after some of Pennsylvania's rushing white water rapids should target the area near Oil City. Not only are there intense rapids, but you will appreciate some primitive natural scenery. Water outside of the Oil City section is ideal for kayakers. The river is designated as a National Wild and Scenic Recreation River, so a slow paddle in the kayak will get you up close to some of Pennsylvania's most impressive wildlife, including bald eagles.

6 Delaware River

Delaware River
Delaware River Jim Pennucci / photo modified
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The Delaware River in the Pocono Mountains is a great river to target for all skill levels for rafting and kayaking, including first-timers. Five reservoirs release water into the river, meaning there are consistent rapids throughout the year, and the water conditions are somewhat more predictable than other rivers. The scenery along the Delaware River ranges from cliffs to clear water. Since there is not extreme white water in this river, it is a great option for those who enjoy taking in the surroundings. Kayakers enjoy the Delaware River Gap, where they can opt for calm water or light rapids. Guided kayak trips offered by outfitters are easy to find if you are not ready to tackle the river on your own.

7 Slippery Rock Creek Gorge

Slippery Rock Creek Gorge
Slippery Rock Creek Gorge Doug Kerr / photo modified
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Avid rafters will mention Slippery Rock Creek Gorge in their list of favorite places to go because it can offer an intense white water experience. The gorge, located in McConnells Mill State Park in northwest Pennsylvania, was carved out many years ago as glacial lakes drained through the area. The gorge has unforgettable steep cliffs and large boulders throughout the valley that are now part of the white water excitement. The rapids range from Class II to IV, depending on the time of year and water conditions. Due to the landscape of the gorge, this waterway is not recommended for kayakers. After your day on the water, make a stop at the Old Mill, located inside the park, that was built in the 1800s.

8 Lake Nockamixon

Kayaker in white water
Kayaker in white water
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Lake Nockamixon is known for its white water releases from the dam in the spring and fall, creating a thrill ride for rafting enthusiasts on the three waterways that feed into it. The prized run is on Tohickon Creek that takes you to the Delaware River on Class II to IV rapids. There are six aggressive rapids during a 3.9-mile stretch that are enhanced in March and November during the dam water releases. Tohickon Creek, while prime for white water rafting, has many obstacles and drop-offs, so it can be quite dangerous for kayaking. The other two waterways that feed into the Nockamixon, Three Mile Run and Haycock Run, are more suitable for kayaking.

9 Swatara Creek

Swatara Creek
Swatara Creek
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The Swatara Creek in Swatara State Park is a calm waterway suitable for kayaking and tubing. The eight-mile creek is mostly Class I and II rapids, allowing for a relaxing float and giving you time to appreciate the natural surroundings. Access points are located at the north and south ends with designated launch sites. Launch permits are required. The best times to kayak Swatara Creek are in the spring and fall. Water conditions for summer paddling are sometimes too low.

10 Loyalsock Creek

Loyalsock Creek
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With a creek located in a place called the Worlds End State Park, you know an exciting journey awaits. Loyalsock Creek is in the valley of the park giving you a winding 13-mile trip surrounded by a scenic forest. White water rapids range from Class I to IV. Some Class V rapids occur during high water. Large boulders and steep drop-offs make this white water experience epic, but it can be dangerous and best for experienced paddlers. Loyalsock can have swift changes in water conditions, so kayakers should review them before taking to the water.

11 Pine Creek

Pine Creek
Pine Creek
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Pine Creek is located in Pennsylvania's Grand Canyon, with stunning scenery as you float through the rapids. Most of the rapids are Class II and III, meaning a more relaxed ride on the 17-mile trip. Plan a full day to navigate Pine Creek. Most trips on this waterway are offered March through May, as water levels are too low in the summer for rafting trips. Kayakers prefer the Class I and II rapids on the Upper Pine. Guided kayak trips are easy to find. The scenery in the canyon is memorable and one of the reasons people enjoy rafting Pine Creek.

12 Stonycreek Whitewater Park

The Stonycreek Whitewater Park is a man-made white water experience designed specifically for paddlers. The park offers manufactured rapids on the Stonycreek River along a section near Greenhouse Park. This is an excellent place to learn the basic mechanics of white water rafting and practice your techniques. Most rapids are Class II, which gives you just enough of a challenge to learn how to take on more aggressive natural rapids. Scheduled releases of rushing water from Stonycreek Canyon enable you to plan your outing around the water conditions. The water park is great for kayakers as well.

More Ways to Explore Pennsylvania's Outdoors

The scenic vistas, valleys, and waterways located throughout Pennsylvania make outdoor adventure accessible no matter where you stay in the state. You can base yourself out of a main city like Pittsburgh or Philadelphia and be just a short distance from hiking trails and state and national parks. Rail-trails throughout the state are another popular way to get outdoors. They connect small historical towns and larger cities, like the capitol of Harrisburg, with regular entrance and exit points.

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