Discover Riverfront Park: Where History and Nature Intertwine

In the foreground, the West Branch Susquehannah River flows quietly by on a cloudy day. Green trees line the opposite shore. Behind, there's a sliver of a mountain visible.

Along the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, Riverfront Park highlights Williamsport’s rich history and nature’s beauty. But its lush greens and quiet paths are not just about nature’s charm. They also represent the echoes of an era long gone.

You can embark on a self-guided tour of Canfield Island, complete with a 1/2 mile ADA-accessible walking trail. As you walk around the island, info signs recount tales of Canfield’s varied uses, its rich history and even fascinating facts about the flora that call the island home. During my visit, I saw several dog walkers and joggers.

Discover another great local Lycoming County park: Rider Park and its gorgeous overlooks.

A Journey Through Canfield Island

Once known as the Native American Village of Ostonwakin, Riverfront Park’s roots can be traced back to archaeological evidence from 1200 AD. Today, what was a busy Native American village is a waterfront park for recreational activities. Amidst its green landscapes, you’ll find bike and walking paths, a picnic pavilion, a multi-purpose field and a boat launch, all inviting visitors to immerse themselves in a blend of recreation and history.

The heart of Riverfront Park is Canfield Island. Over the years, the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology meticulously excavated here, revealing a timeline of human occupation that astonishingly stretches back to 4835 BC. These layers of sandy earth, deposited by the river’s whims and frequent flooding, have sealed remnants of civilizations in time. An impressive 10 feet of excavation has unveiled at least ten different cultural groups. From spearheads to ancient tools, every artifact reveals a unique chapter of history.

A River’s Tale

The Native Americans named the river Otzinachson. Its vast network of trails ensured communication among Native American tribes in prehistoric times. However, more recently, canals and railroads paralleled the river. Unfortunately, the 19th and 20th centuries weren’t kind to the Otzinachson, as pollution from factories and mines decimated its waters.

But hope floats, quite literally. Recent efforts have improved the river’s water quality, once again making it a river where fish thrive. These efforts reintroduced Shad fish, once a staple for Native Americans and a favorite in logging camps. The river’s history is also marked by the mid-1800s timber harvesting surge, where logs floated en masse to the Susquehanna Boom near Williamsport, PA.

Riverfront Park, in essence, is a bridge between the past and the present. Whether it’s the rhythmic flow of the Susquehanna River, the tales unearthed from beneath Canfield Island, or the rustling leaves whispering stories of ancient tribes, the park offers a unique journey. A journey where history lives vibrantly within nature.

Know Before You Go

There is ample parking in multiple parking lots in various places in the park, including at the start of the Bressler Heritage Trail that runs along the river from the park into Williamsport. The Bressler Trail was dedicated in 2005 in memory of historian, educator and archeologist James P. Bressler, whose excavations in the park revealed important details about the different cultures that inhabited Canfield Island.

Getting there: 102 West Fourth St. Williamsport, PA
Hours: daylight

For other great things to see and do in Lycoming County, check out the articles below: