Kayaking the West Susqehanna River

Once the weather gets warm, it’s time to start kayaking again! For the first trip of the season, we were introduced to an 11-mile segment of the West Branch Susquehanna River, which spanns some 243 miles, almost entirely within Pennsylvania.

Almost half — 102 miles — are within just one county: Clearfield County, in central PA. Along most of its course, the river wanders along a large “zigzag arc” over the north end of the Allegheny Ridge. It meanders through quaint towns, such as Clearfield, PA, but mostly, dense forests and mountains line both shores.

It’s long been a river integral to the communities that lived along it. The lands along the West Branch were vital hunting grounds and agricultural lands for Native Americans. The first recorded inhabitants of the West Branch Susquehanna River valley were the Iroquoian speaking Susquehannocks — the name translates to ‘people of the muddy river.’

The river sustained the region’s lumber industry, with annual log drives to lumber mills further down the river. Sadly, as Pennsylvania became more industrialized, the upper reaches of this magnificent river turned a weird, scary yellow/orange color due to sulfur that drained from nearby and abandoned deep bituminous coal mines.

Now, of course, thanks to ongoing efforts to combat the pollution and regulations on industry in the watershed, the water is healthier and exactly the color it should be. Fish flourish within, bald eagles nest along its shores, and it’s likely you’ll see heron, kingfishers, deer and fox.

If you don’t own your own kayak, you can still enjoy this wonderful natural resource. In Clearfield County, you can rent kayaks or canoes from a local outfitter, McCracken’s Canoe Rental and Sales (don’t let the name dissuade you — they also offer kayaks).

Dave McCracken himself accompanied us on this paddle.

Our 11-mile paddle took us from Clearfield, where we put in at Elliott’s Park (a memorial to a man’s dog) to Shawville, right across from the powerplant.

This stretch takes you from the light industrial outskirts of Clearfield, under several railroad and highway bridges. Although during some of it you can hear road noise, soon you’re well away from all noise except the sounds of your own paddles and the birds.

The river was high the day we were on the river, so mostly all we had to do was steer our kayaks through some of the faster swirls (none of it truly white water). This was more a float than a paddle.

If you own your own kayak, McCracken Canoe Rental and Sales will provide shuttling service. Contact them at the website below to determine rates and availability. Even if you don’t want any of their services, contact McCrackens. No one knows the river like Dave McCracken and Dawn, his daughter. They offer river maps, dry bags and other supplies, guidance, and advice.

Getting there: 5409 Shawville Highway, Clearfield, PA 16840

Hours: Check website

Website: www.mccrackencanoe.com

Beginning in March 2018, I started a series of posts about Clearfield County, PA. This is a continuation of the series. To see others, click on the label “Clearfield County” at the bottom of this post.

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