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Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania

Trip Overview

My son (15) and I (44) decided to do a 10 day adventure, departing from Shawville, PA in Centre County (45 minutes northwest of State College, or about 5 miles north of I-80) on the West Branch of the Susquehanna, finishing at City Island on the Main Stem of the Susquehanna River. Both sections have very good Water Trail Maps (though the West Branch map is the standard by which water trail maps should be judged!)

We departed at 1130 on a Rainy Thursday (May 25th). We made good time in the fast current (the water level was at 2.8 at Karthaus that morning, and it climbed steadily to 3 feet the next 3 days). We started looking for camp at 1530 and found a small spot RL about 20 miles downriver. The next morning we saw that a bit more patience would have given us more choices of wider, flatter, drier spots not much farther downriver.

We hit Moshannon Falls at about 1030 (We were usually on the water at 730 each morning). The guide said the railroad tunnel RL would be a good landmark, but the leaves blocked any view. I figured out about halfway through the rapid that we were in the falls.

The run is straight forward if you begin RL and then make your way the center. We hit the haystacks just a bit off center and avoided any of the hidden rocks. The bow of the Spirit II is high enough and buoyant enough to ride over decent-sized haystacks.

We then followed the long set of riffles towards Karthaus. There we saw some scouts and a few others putting in. They asked us why we were paddling. We laughed them off, and continued downriver, through Buttermilk Falls (more challenging, due to the rockgarden with many subsurface rocks eager to grab and broach a canoe).

There are many riffles and class 1 rapids not mentioned in the guide, while some that are mentioned are barely noticeable. This seems to be due to heavy reliance on the Rafting Points from the lumber days. If a riffle or rapid was given a name in the 1850s, then it will show up on the map. But there are very few lumber rafts heading downriver these days. My only suggestion for the guide publishers is to place hatch marks on any portions of the river with riffles or class 1-2 rapids. This will help with navigation as well.

We found a nice camp site for night 2, after putting 30 miles under our hull. It rained all night, but in the morning after the fog lifted the blue skies took control. We spotted a black bear swimming across the river in front of us and at least 2 bald eagles.

We stopped in Renovo for lunch after 20 miles and met some kayakers headed downriver. The stretch from Renovo to Lock haven is pretty and easy -- the current is strong, and the riffles simple enough to make this the perfect novice run.

We camped at a large island mid-river with a well used clearing. We swam in the river that night to wash off and enjoyed having company nearby.

We set off at 730 the next morning and headed for Lock Haven. There the river is backed up into a 4 mile pool behind a dam. The day grew progressively hotter, and the boat traffic on the lake made for challenging conditions. We portaged on the rough trail around the dam and finished up after 30 miles at a riverside camp site near Avis, PA.

The next day was going to be even hotter (it hit 94 in Williamsport). We paddled the 12 mile lake infested with far too many powerboats leaving huge wakes (canoes be damned was the order of the day). When we finally reached the Hepburn Street dam, we found no obvious portage route. We scouted RR and it was worse. We finally decided to line the canoe as close to the dam as we could and then haul everything up and around the Rip-Rap wall (large rocks each the size of small cars). It was a brutal, though short, portage. The Guide suggested there was a portage but we were there and found none.

We ate lunch at the Wegmans store one block away, then headed downriver. We found some pleasant rapids downstream near racetrack and King Islands. We finally found a campsite after 8 PM RL.

The next day we paddled past Muncy and several small (some attractive) river towns. We ended up at West Branch River Mile 3 at River's Edge RV campground.

Not long after we set up camp, a huge Thunderstorm rolled in and drove us into the camp restroom for safety. After years as a Boy Scout, Army officer (21 years and then retirement), backpacker, and fisherman, this was the worst storm I have ever encountered. The strikes were frequent and very close. I was glad we were in a campground with shelter nearby.

We finally got to sleep at midnight.

The next day we paddled flatwater to the junction, then portaged the Fabridam (the guide said the dam is impassable but it is a fairly easy portage IF you line the canoe down along the dam wall).

Nathaniel fished for a while and caught several feisty fish just below the dam.

We put in and then slowly scouted the next dam only 2 miles from Fabridam at the power plant. There was no obvious portage there, but as we got closer we decided to run it. We passed over the low dam with inches to spare.

We put in another 30 miles and finished that day at Ferryboat Campgrounds across from Millersburg, PA. There were T-storms in the area and I didn't want to chance a night on an island camp.

The next day we set out to complete the last 28 miles. It was oppressively humid and the placid manner of the Susquehanna was all too evident. Though there is a current (try a forward ferry across the mile-wide river and you'll notice it!), the river is so big the scenery changes at a glacial pace.

We ran the few rapids through the haps (Daupin narrows being the most technical), ate lunch in the small town of Marysville RR (Cursed with a sewer-stench "subway" that allows pedestrians to cross busy route 15), then put back in and crossed back to RL to run the weir breach after the Rockville Bridge.

We made our way to our take out at City Island, arriving at 330 PM.

Overall, this trip was a good adventure, though we won't do the main Susquehanna again. It's just too slow to be an enjoyable multi-day canoe trip. The West Branch is a different story; we already have plans to return once the water is up.


Wenonah Spirit II


PA fish and Boat Commission boat permit for using PFBC facilities.


We started in Shawville, PA (45 minutes northwest of State College, or about 5 miles north of I-80.

We finished at City Island on the Main Stem of the Susqeuhanna


West Branch Susquehanna Water Trail Guide, Middle Susquehanna Water Trail Map

  • Duration: Extended Trip
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)
  • Group Rates: No

Locations on this Trip