Kayaking In Pennsylvania – ULTIMATE Guide To Paddling PA

Pennsylvania is known for its rich history and famous landmarks, including the Liberty Bell. And as you’ll already know, it’s also the Chocolate Capital of the USA, being the home of the Hershey brand. 

The Keystone State is also home to some beautiful scenery, with rolling hills, forests, and gorges that can be best seen from a kayak.

Grab your paddle and your PFD and take to the water to experience the natural beauty of this state.

Here is a list of some of the top spots to go kayaking in Pennsylvania so you can check them out for yourself.

The Delaware River flows calmly through the dense forestPin

15 Best Places To Kayak In PA

1: Allegheny River, PA

A couple is paddling in a sunny November morningPin

The Allegheny River is a designated National Wild and Scenic River. It offers plenty of river miles if you’re looking to paddle for several days, as well as options for day trips. The river flows through picturesque landscapes, offering a relaxing experience whether you’re new to kayaking or not.

The designated water trail begins just below the Kinzua Dam and ends near Emlenton, covering almost 87 miles, with several public islands that can make for good rest stops. The trail flows through the Allegheny National Forest, which is home to more than 300 different species of mammals, as well as many birds.

Kayak rentals are available in the town of Warren, where there is also an alternative launch.

Our Kayaking in Pittsburgh article has more info.

Class of Rapids Rating:
Class I/II - easy, generally slow-moving water with places to stop

Where to Launch & How to get there:
Powerhouse Drive, Warren, PA 16365

2: Delaware River, PA

Canoeing the Delaware Water GapPin

The Delaware River is steeped in history and can be an excellent place to paddle. It features calm, gentle stretches of water as well as some mild rapids for a little more excitement.

The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area can be a good place to launch, with several access points as well as campgrounds for multi-day river trips. The river is wide and generally calm in this area, which can make it ideal for all skill levels.

You can rent kayaks near the launch at Dingmans Ferry. You can also access the Delaware River in Philadelphia if you want some great views of the city skyline.

Class of Rapids Rating:
Class I/II - easy, mostly slow-moving river

Where to Launch & How to get there:
SR-739, Dingmans Ferry, PA 18328

3: Susquehanna River, PA

Boat races on the Susquehanna RiverPin
Courtesy: PStirk on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Susquehanna River flows for almost 450 miles and features a 181-mile water trail that winds through Pennsylvania before entering Maryland and emptying into the Chesapeake Bay. This is a mostly flat river that can be easily paddled by beginners and families. It can be a good place to spot wildlife, particularly birds.

There are several sections you can paddle. You can launch at Shady Nook and paddle five miles to Hoovers Island, passing the river town of Selinsgrove. There are several other access points if you’d prefer to continue for a longer trip, with camping available at various locations along the trail.

Kayaks are available for rent in Marysville, north of Harrisburg.

Class of Rapids Rating:
Class I - easy, slow-moving water

Where to Launch & How to get there:
Shady Nook, Selinsgrove, PA 17870

4: Lake Erie

Lake Erie has no shortage of space to paddle. But you don’t always need to have sea kayaking experience to get out and enjoy this Great Lake. Presque Isle State Park can be a good place to launch, where you can paddle around several sheltered bays and lagoons, so it can be ideal for all paddlers, including complete beginners.

The state park covers the entire peninsula of Presque Isle and features many beautiful sandy beaches, which can be a welcome rest and perfect for picnic stops. It can also be a great place to view migratory birds. You can rent kayaks in the state park near Misery Bay.

Class of Rapids Rating:
Class I/Flatwater - easy, flatwater close to shore

Where to Launch & How to get there:
W Fisher Drive, Millcreek Township, PA 16507

5: Schuylkill River

Colorful rental ready kayaks on a river bankPin

The Schuylkill River is within easy reach of a large percentage of Pennsylvania’s population. In fact, a quarter of the population of the US lives within a five-hour drive of the river’s watershed.

The 147-mile water trail can offer seasoned paddlers a relaxing multi-day trip. There are plenty of access points for shorter trips, with most that are ideal for beginners.  Pottstown can be a good place to launch, with kayak rentals on the riverbank.

You can even launch and paddle through Philadelphia if you want cityscape views, launching at Walnut Street Dock. Kayak rentals and tours are also available at this city launch.

Class of Rapids Rating:
Class I/II - easy, generally slow-moving river

Where to Launch & How to get there:
College Drive, Pottstown, PA, 19464

6: Raystown Lake

A kayak excursion through Sheep Rock ShelterPin

Raystown Lake is a scenic flatwater lake that’s formed from the damming of the Raystown Branch of the Juanita River. This beautiful long lake is surrounded by forests and wilderness areas, providing a picturesque backdrop for a relaxing trip. There are eight launches and you’ll also find several campgrounds, including boat-only ones.

This can be a fantastic place to kayak for all levels, including beginners. You can rent kayaks near the Tatman Run launch.

Class of Rapids Rating:
Class I/Flatwater - easy, calm flatwater lake

Where to Launch & How to get there:
Tatman Run Boat Ramp, James Creek, PA 16657

7: Clarion River

The Clarion River is a National Wild and Scenic River that flows through the Allegheny National Forest. It can be a great location for wildlife viewing and enjoying nature. There are lots of put-ins and take-outs along the river trail, making it easy to plan short and long trips.

This Class I river can be ideal for beginners and seasoned paddlers, with gently flowing water with occasional riffles that can be easily navigated. You can launch and rent kayaks at Cook Forest State Park, where you’ll also find hiking trails, restrooms, and a visitor center.

Class of Rapids Rating:
Class I - easy, gentle river with small riffles that should be easily paddled by beginners

Where to Launch & How to get there:
T309, Clarington, PA 15828

8: Youghiogheny River

The Youghiogheny River can offer plenty of excitement if whitewater kayaking is your thing. But you’ll also find calmer sections if you’d rather avoid the rapids. Between Connellsville and McKeesport is flatwater, forming part of the water trail.

If you want to hit the rapids, you can launch at Ohiopyle State Park, which is a pretty major hub for outdoor enthusiasts, with hiking and biking trails in addition to being home to several raft and kayak outfitters.

You’ll also find eateries in this area within the park. Rafting and kayaking tours are available that can be good for beginners who are new to whitewater.

Class of Rapids Rating:
Class II/III up to Class V - moderate to difficult, strong rapids, not suitable for beginners without a guide

Where to Launch & How to get there:
Ohiopyle, PA 15470 (next to the visitor center)

9: Marsh Creek Lake

Marsh Creek Lake is a small, picturesque lake within Marsh Creek State Park. It can be an ideal place to learn paddling techniques thanks to the calm water and sheltered coves. The lake is surrounded by rolling hills and trees, offering a peaceful natural backdrop despite being less than an hour’s drive from Philadelphia.

The lake can also be a good place to fish, with largemouth bass, crappie, and Channel catfish to be found. Kayak rentals are available at the launch.

Class of Rapids Rating:
Class I/Flatwater - easy, flatwater lake

Where to Launch & How to get there:
675 Park Road, Downingtown, PA 19335

10: French Creek

French Creek is a beautiful river lined with trees and nature that can be a great place to spot bald eagles. There’s a 78-mile water trail with good access points, making it ideal for beginners and experienced paddlers, with various trip lengths available.

Class of Rapids Rating:
Class I/II - easy, gentle stream

Where to Launch & How to get there:
Shaw’s Landing, Cochranton, PA 16314

11: Swatara Creek

Swatara Creek is a gentle river that flows past the famous town of chocolate fame, Hershey. The creek features a water trail with several access points for trips of varying lengths. Bald eagles can often be spotted along the river, so keep an eye out.

Class of Rapids Rating:
Class I/II - easy, slow-moving water

Where to Launch & How to get there:
10 Swatara Drive, Annville, PA 17003

12: Slippery Rock Creek

Slippery Rock Creek is the ideal place if you’re looking for a fun whitewater run. The creek features difficult rapids as it flows through the scenic gorge and into McConnells Mill State Park. There is a small dam near the mill that may need to be portaged.

Class of Rapids Rating:
Class II to IV+ - moderate to difficult, powerful rapids, not for beginners

Where to Launch & How to get there:
Rose Point Park, 8775 Old US-422, New Castle, PA 16101

13: Green Lane Reservoir

Green Lane Reservoir is a beautiful flatwater lake surrounded by lush forests. There are lots of small coves and inlets to explore and the lake is also a great spot for fishing and birding. Deep Creek Lake, south of the reservoir, can be paddled without a launch permit if launching from the Day Use Area in Green Lane Park.

Class of Rapids Rating:
Class I/Flatwater - easy, calm lake

Where to Launch & How to get there:
1051 Walt Road, Pennsburg, PA 18073

14: Lake Arthur

Lake Arthur is a scenic 3,225-acre lake surrounded by green forests and rolling hills. The water is clear and calm and can be great for families, with plenty of shoreline to explore that can make it great for more seasoned paddlers looking for a longer session.

Class of Rapids Rating:
Class I/Flatwater - easy, sheltered lake

Where to Launch & How to get there:
Bear Run Road, Portersville, PA 16051

15: Pine Creek

Pine Creek is a scenic water trail that flows through some spectacular scenery, including the gorge known as Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon. This stretch features whitewater rapids up to Class III and can be best attempted if you have some prior experience.  

Class of Rapids Rating:
Class I/II to II/III - easy to moderate, fast-moving water

Where to Launch & How to get there:
Big Meadows Access Ramp, Wellsboro, PA 16901

Kayak Rentals And Tours Around Pennsylvania

You don’t always have to bring your own kayak if you want to paddle in Pennsylvania. Most of our top kayaking destinations offer rentals and/or tours nearby.

However, if you plan to hit the whitewater at Slippery Rock Creek, you should probably have your own whitewater kayak, as rentals are not available.

●    Allegheny Outfitters (Allegheny River - rentals)
●    Kittatinny Canoes (Delaware River - rentals and tours)
●    Blue Mountain Outfitters (Susquehanna River - rentals)
●    Presque Isle Boat Rental (Lake Erie - rentals and tours)
●    Take It Outdoors Adventures (Schuylkill River - rentals and tours)
●    Hidden River Outfitters (Schuylkill River - rentals and tours)
●    Port Side Rentals (Raystown Lake - rentals)
●    Cook Forest Canoe Rental (Clarion River - rentals)
●    Laurel Highlands (Youghiogheny River - rentals and tours)
●    Wilderness Voyageurs (Youghiogheny River - tours and lessons)
●    Marsh Creek Watersports (Marsh Creek Lake - rentals)
●    French Creek Kayaks (French Creek - rentals)
●    Cocoa Kayak (Swatara Creek - rentals)
●    Green Lane Boats (Green Lane Reservoir - rentals)
●    Crescent Bay Boat Rental (Lake Arthur - rentals)
●    Pine Creek Outfitters (Pine Creek - rentals and tours)

Do I Need To Register A Kayak Or Canoe In PA?
In short, maybe. It depends on the area or body of water. State parks will require your kayak or canoe to be registered. This applies to non-motorized and motorized vessels.

County parks may not require registration. Other launches or bodies of water may require you to purchase a launch permit.

For a more detailed guide on PA kayak registration, check out our full article here.

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