The Clarion River offers a wonderful, relaxed 50+ mile trip from Ridgway to the Piney Dam and reservoir. One can paddle further on, or put in further upstream, but the water conditions may not allow, especially in late summer.
Although the Clarion River is not exactly a wilderness trip (roads and railroads are all easily accessible and visible from the river and there is some private property with homes), one feels very secluded, especially when passing through the Allegheny National Forest, Clear Creek Forest, and Cook Forest. This is absolute birder's heaven! We saw many bald eagles, herons, kingfishers, among others. Deer and river otters abounded. Black bears are common, although we didn't get to see any!
There are a few class I and II rapids along the way, and all are short, fun runs! We had a great time on the X-Y-Z rapids, which are great for beginners learning how to run them.
If you decide to paddle on the Piney Creek Reservoir, please be careful of the powerboaters. We chose not to run this section of the river, mainly because we wanted our experience to be one that included peace, wildlife, and river-running!
There are plenty of places to camp riverside. All campsites are primitive, but established and easily accessible from the river. Many of the outfitters say that canoeists can camp anywhere that is not posted. Camping is available throughout the Allegheny National Forest and in Clear Creek State Park. Campsites must be reserved in Cook Forest State Park, however.
Clear Creek State Park offers a well-marked area for overnight riverside camping by canoeists for no fee. The park also has running water, a bath house, and 27 miles of hiking trails for those wishing for a multi-sport adventure.
There are several outfitters in the area, but we brought our own equipment (Old Town Penobscot 16 Canoe). The kinds folks at Love's Canoes shuttled us from Cooksburg to Ridgway for a small fee, and allowed us to leave our cars parked in their lot for the week.
Ridgway is about 40 minutes north of route 80 in western PA. Cooksburg is about an hour and a quarter's drive downstream.
Love's Canoes in Ridgway also offers a great "drawn" river map with guides for running the class I and II rapids!!!