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Raystown Lake in Pennsylvania - Weekend Trip Report

by  Ness

A self-supported trip created by Ness

Trip Overview

The Raystown Rendevous canoe event, held at Raystown Lake in south central PA on the 2nd full weekend of October, is an event unlike any other I have ever attended.

I can't explain why exactly. Maybe because "Raystown" is a feeling, or a mindset. Perhaps it's because there are few distractions there besides paddling and the paddlers themselves. Or maybe it's being among so many like-minded paddling people. I'm not exactly sure why it's such a unique place to be every year in mid-October, but, as the song goes, I am always "happy to be here".

For statistics sake, 2008 was the 7th year this event was held. 68 people attended this year, including children, as well as 10 canine companions. The boat manufacturers represented were Hemlock Canoes, Placid Boatworks, Vermont Canoes, Swift Canoe and Kayak, as well as Dogpaddle Works. There was also a significant freestyle presence this year.

So, from my perspective, here is how Raystown 2008 unfolded.

Hopsing and I arrived on Wednesday mid-afternoon, and left Sunday at 1 pm. In between those times, so much happened, I'm glad I had my camera to help me remember everything.

We were joined soon after arrival by N.T., who was not feeling well due to a bad cold and cough. I think he earned the distinction of being the only person I did NOT hug at Raystown this year. Unfortunately, his cold turned much worse and he had to leave Friday.

Friends we only see once a year, and friends we know well, began to come by our campsite to say hello, and join us for food and conversation. Soon new friends joined us, too. It felt like coming home to a big family reunion.

My photos tell me that I spent almost every morning paddling in our sheltered part of the lake in the fog and rising mists. I paddled on glass-smooth water that never became wind-whipped and violently choppy, as in previous years.

There was never a lack of people to paddle with at Raystown. While on the water, even in the dense early morning, in the fog, I always met up with someone. The first morning out, I met Conk on the water, and we paddled around the island while I took pictures. When Conk paddled off, and after I stopped at the island to look for driftwood, Mintjulep paddled over and joined me.

I later joined Mike McCrea, Spyda, TDJ, and the JCamrys near the rock cliffs. As Mike deployed his colorful sail on the Sea Wimp, the lake winds mysteriously quieted, and the sailing never quite got underway.

Another morning, I watched Clarion and his daughter catch a fish in their "honkin' big" Mad River Lamoille, and took their pictures, all smiles, as the mists began to lift. And yet another day, I watched Openboater and Canucnu of Vermont Canoes paddle the Indy and the Tupper in fog so thick, it looked like they were paddling in heavenly clouds.

So it went. I would often set out alone, but soon someone paddled along, and we always shared both paddling and conversation. Those photos also tell me that I interacted with many people, old friends and new. Each person added a new dimension to the Raystown experience for me, each in his or her different way, some for specific reasons. It was all good. I feel very rich to know so many wonderful people.

Among these people, c2g generously fixed the hardware for rigging the spraydecks on my Swift Osprey (which was once his boat). I can now use the well-crafted handmade spraydecks c2g made for the boat. I didn't take the spraydecks off the boat all weekend, because they looked so darn good. And Pyker fixed a small gouge in the bottom of my boat with some epoxy he had, so that I could paddle it on the 12 mile lake group trip he led later that day.

Helpful folks were everywhere. I just had to ask! Ret603, DY, and CEWilson all helped me with my endless boat questions about issues with fiberglass and gunwales. Nightswimmer took a break from his campfire to join me on the water one evening when late night paddling partners were getting scarce. Bluemerle was always there to lend a helping hand, and he was especially efficient in blitzing the post-potluck site, and helping cart all the trash to the dumpsters.

And both kind, and funny folks were everywhere too. Hackyak listened patiently while I rambled endlessly at the potluck dinner. Kathleen brightened up our campsite with her laughs and smiles. Pyker had me in stitches with his antics and his wisecracks. And I can't forget Mike McCrea's modeling his many stylish Duckhead hats and caps so willingly for me.

First Chair Triangle supplied glowsticks for everyone on a night paddle, and crowned me "Queen of the Lake". (Blush. Well, Hopsing would agree with the part about being the "Queen", anyway!)

Horseldy handed me 2 adventure books, as she had read on the message boards that I was looking for new reading material.

Pyker and WesD paraded over to me like 2 giggly schoolboys with a gift for the teacher one morning, and handed me glitter nailpolish and "glitter art" paints they had found on an island on one of their paddles. They ended their presentation with this admonition: "And we'd better see some glitter nailpolish on your nails by the end of the day!"

Georgia Kayaker and Brazilbrasil returned from Walmart with not only paper products and trash bags for the potluck, but bacon, eggs, and pancake mix to replenish Hopsing's food stores, as well as a hot fudge sundae for the cook, and an air mattress for my bad back.

After a trip to Hackyak and Fat Elmo's mountain-goat-climb campsite at the top of Senoia Loop, to see the infamous pre-Festivus pole complete with blinking lights, Fat Elmo gave Hopsing and me 2 "Wha' Ho Pilgrims!" tee shirts.

And so it went. We were caught up in a stream of generosity that never seemed to end. Meanwhile, my Hopsing cooked, and cooked some more, and then cooked some more on top of that! He cooked eggs, bacon, sausage, and pancakes; Manhattan clam chowder; Italian sausages with peppers and onions; hotdogs, hamburgers; souvlaki chicken and lemon pepper chicken; corned beef "Reuben" sandwiches, and more. Hopsing made pancakes for Clarion's delighted kids, thanks to the pancake mix GK and Brazilbrasil had bought. When offered the hard-boiled eggs that their Dad usually makes for them on camp trips, Clarion's little daughter replied, "No thanks Dad; we're having PANCAKES!"

Hopsing made endless pots of fresh hot coffee at all hours, and offered whatever he had to whomever wandered by our campsite, whether they were hungry or not. Always something good to eat at Hopsing's!

Each day was spent talking about boats, paddling boats, renewing old friendships, meeting new friends, eating good food, walking the campground lane up and down and visiting others. Just a trip up to the restrooms meant stopping to talk to at least 4 or 5 people along the way. And in this manner, the time stretched out, but yet passed all too quickly.

Most evenings at Raystown, we had a small G-rated fire at our kid-friendly campsite that we shared with Clarion and his children. But the larger blazing warm fire supplied by Nightswimmer at his campsite was where the real action was. Even though time spent at the larger campfire was sometimes not for the faint of heart, the laughs were raucous and sidesplitting, and the libations were freely shared.

Almost every evening after dark, we night-paddled on the smooth flat lake. I was fortunate enough to share company with Spyda, Conk, Nightswimmer, JCamry and First Chair Triangle, Tonyf, Fat Elmo, Clarion, and others. We paddled together on black waters, under a partially full moon and scattered stars.

The night scenery was exquisitely beautiful on the water. At night, the mammoth houseboats docked at the marina were eerily still in their berths, despite strings of bright lights and a lit-up palm tree on one boat that seemed to indicate life. The reflection of each boat in the black night water was mirror-image crisp, and went deep into the water underneath, as if underwater gateways to another dimension existed for those who dared to enter.

One evening, as we paddled along in the dark, we answered a trivia question correctly while passing a houseboat party. "Who was the character played by Johnny Carson, who wore a turban, and answered questions like a psychic?" we were asked. "Carnac!" we all shouted in unison.

This year's Raystown also had the added dimension of freestyle demos by Mornstein, with assistance from Ray, Arkay, April, and Garrett. Two smiling women RV campers in the campsite later told me that they had greatly enjoyed watching the freestyle presentation by the beach. "We never saw anything like it, " one said, "That was fun to watch!"

On Saturday before the potluck, Sawyergeorge brought over a small denatured alcohol-fueled engine to show Clarion's kids (and us big kids too).

The culmination of the Raystown experience was the sumptuous, overflowing potluck on Saturday night. The "luck" this year was that we snagged an open waterside site right next to our campsite for the potluck, as the RVers there left early Saturday. As 6 pm neared, the site began to fill up with dishes such as pineapple casserole, sweet potatoes with hot peppers, crab chowder, pepper steak, hamburgers, marinated chicken, freshly made hummus with pita chips, rice and black beans, homemade carrot cake, cooked greens, scalloped potatoes, real paw paw fruits and homemade pawpaw bread beside it, green salad, rice salad, spaghetti, chili, pepperoni and cheeses, cookies, cheesecakes, chicken and biscuits, SPAM, and so much more.

There were many boats paddled, bought, and sold at Raystown, and gear too. But I can't report on all that, just what I saw.

Memorable paddling moments this year included Ret603, JCamry, and Georgia_Kayaker, who each paddled Andy's surfski, and not one one swam. Brazilbrasil, Pyker, and Mintjulep, all rolled kayaks in the bay. Booztalkin, John (with his dog Molly in the bow), and Canoeswithduckheads (with the infamous dog Moby rocking the boat), each poled up and down the campground shoreline. Fwalburg joked he wanted to take Fat Elmo's wood and canvas Prospector home with him, and I think he would have if possible. Clarion relaxed in Mike McCrea's Sea Wimp and marveled at all the amenities in the luxurious canoe. I barely squeezed into Brazilbrasil's skinny fold-up Folbot kayak for a morning paddle, though I almost couldn't get out of it.

Many folks tried out all the beautiful Hemlock, Placid, and Vermont canoes, and could be seen paddling back and forth along the shoreline and out in the lake all weekend long. I paddled the new Vermont "Indy" demo and absolutely fell in love with it. Oh, and Clarion's middle son "swam" out of the Indy when he nonchalantly stood in it. He was fine, of course, and I heard him, Dad Clarion, and siblings laughing and joking as they trouped the wet youngster back to our campsite for a change of clothing.

Happy Sawyergeorge went home with ANOTHER Sawyer canoe, a lightweight Shockwave. The rumor is that he collects Sawyer canoes like baseball cards. And Canoelac told me he will soon be picking up his new Eaglet canoe from Hemlock Canoes.

There was also a 12 mile lake trip with 13 paddlers on Friday. Doc lost his camera to the fishes, and some of the paddlers got sunburned on this hot and sunny day.

There was poling, and boat stacking, too, at Raystown. There were also 2 river trips at Raystown this year, on Thursday and Friday, and 3 trips if you count Booztalkin taking Eric poling on Saturday. I didn't go on the river trips, but Bluemerle tells me they were fine trips on the Juniata River. And I'm told Nightswimmer and Canoeswithduckheads each are in the running for the 2008 Upchucking Championships. But, I think Nightswimmer is leading that competition this year. ;-)

As Hopsing and I prepared to leave on Sunday, Arkay's vehicle drove towards us, and...KA-BOOM! His Mad River Guide fell off the roof of his vehicle, bounced off a timber, and rested in a ditch. Good thing it was Royalex.

On Sunday, we hated to leave, and my mood showed it. The goodbyes are always the hardest part. Some people had the right idea, and went off and paddled, or left early. It was almost depressing. We said our lengthy goodbyes, never hitting the road as early as we had originally half-heartedly intended. When it came time to say goodbye to our good friends and campsite mates Clarion and his kids, the last ones we say our goodbyes to every year, we knew that it was truly time to leave.

As we got in our truck and started to drive away, Mike McCrea asked us if we had ever gotten Duckhead stickers. No, we said sadly, we didn't. He then gave us the last 2 Duckhead stickers! He cautioned us that the stickers go on our canoes, not on our vehicles, since "a car may be sold, but a boat is something you will have much longer". Well, I think he said something like that. We were thrilled with the stickers; Duckheads at last!

Another wonderful, magical Raystown had ended...until next year�

More pictures available from the following links:


Senoia Campground on Raystown Lake. Army Corp of Engineers campground suited for RVs but will accommodate tents. Hard ground, gravel, parking area, small grassed area, picnic table, fire ring, electric.


Mainly high-end canoes, mainly solos. All types, owned by individuals and high-end canoe manufacturers such as Swift Cane & Kayak, Hemlock Canoes, Placid Boatwoks, Vermont Canoes & Dogpaddle Canoe. Some kayaks present also.


$23 a night in 2008, payable at Ranger Station at entrance to park.


Directions to Raystown Lake (taken from this website):

Pittsburgh: Route 22 east to Huntingdon, then Rt. 26 South to Raystown Lake. Watch for Lake Access signs (brown park signs) for specific lake areas.

Philadelphia: PA turnpike to Breezewood (exit 12), Rt. 30 West to Rt. 26 North to Raystown Lake. Watch for Lake Access signs (brown park signs) for specific lake areas.

State College: From I-80, Rt. 26 South, through State College, through Huntingdon, to Raystown Lake. Watch for Lake Access signs (brown park signs) for specific lake areas.

Harrisburg: Take Rt. 22/522 West to Huntingdon, Rt. 26 S. to Raystown Lake. Watch for Lake Access signs (brown park signs) for specific lake areas.

Washington DC: Rt. 270 North to Frederick, then Rt. 70 West to Breezewood. Rt. 30 West to Rt. 26 North to Raystown Lake. Watch for Lake Access signs (brown) for specific lake areas.

Baltimore, MD: Rt. 70 West to Breezewood. Rt. 30 West to Rt. 26 North to Raystown Lake. Watch for Lake Access signs (brown) for specific lake areas.

Trip Details

  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Water Type: Flat/Sheltered Water

Trip Location