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Clarion River, Pennsylvania

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Cleveland, Ohio
Yesterday, my wife, father in law and I completed a weekend trip of 27 miles on the Clarion river in Pennsylvania. It’s a wonderful river to paddle with great scenery, wildlife viewing camping and decent fishing.

We typically try to do this trip in April for higher water levels and less river traffic. However, a variety of factors conspired to delay the trip to the second weekend of May. The river was the lowest I’ve paddled it, but certainly navigable. However, the lower water levels caused us to shorten the trip by 13 miles. We were planning to put in at Irwin run, but instead settled on Millstone.

Friday evening after work, we drove out to the area leaving a vehicle at our take out at Mill Creek. We traveled about 40 minutes to stream side camping about two miles upstream of Millstone arriving and setting up camp after dark. It was a rather muggy, warm night. Toads were mating and their calls overnight were nearly deafening.

Up early Saturday, we packed our gear and made the short drive to Millstone. Here, we used the trailered canoes as tables for breakfast preparation and consumption. It very lightly drizzled for about 15 minutes. We’d see clear skies after that. We were on the water by 9AM.

We would paddle around 18 miles today to Thompson eddy, designated canoe sites river right. There were plenty of day trippers on the river. Many of the canoe sites were also occupied. The weather was very good- warm and mostly sunny. Water levels were also very forgiving for novices. With the water up another 18”, many of the riffles get too near class II and the liveries cut back on their service. This stretch of river from about river mile 79- 49 also stays near state parks (clear creek and cook forest) and along lightly traveled, but paved roads making it easily accessed. Upstream of mile 79, the river travels through Allegheny national forest and is a bit more remote. It’s also narrower and more likely to hold strainers. Rapids up there quickly exceed class II as water levels rise. Our day, though a bit crowded and easily navigable, was fun though. We had many wildlife encounters: otters, a mink, eagles, osprey and a porcupine. Our campsite at Thompson eddy is downstream of the area the road leaves the river and neighboring campers were far enough away that we felt all alone. It was a gorgeous evening spent on the banks of the gorgeous river.

Sunday morning, we took our time breakfasting and packing and hit the river about 9:30. We had around 8 miles to travel. We saw no other paddlers today until we arrived at the boat ramp at pine lake for the takeout. This stretch of river is truly wonderful. It feels wild: no roads, no structures. The river drops over ledges and tumbles through the valley at a much quicker pace than the previous 30 miles. It’s a stretch we wished would have lasted much longer. We took our time with it, stopping at sandbars usually underwater for us to skip stones and watch the eagles. The last half mile is flat water paddling as the river begins to be affected by the dam downstream. Those affects are currently muted as the dam is undergoing some repairs that, reportedly, could last all summer. We were out of the water by 1:00.
 
Michael, thanks much for this interesting trip report. I've never heard of the Clarion River, and it's so nice to know there's another nice overnight trip in the East. If you had had those additional 13 river miles, would that have added another night to the trip?
 
At the water level we paddled the river last weekend, those 13 miles would have added another night.

The river was at 3.2’ on the gauge at Cooksburg as we started our trip. We typically overnight that stretch of river with plenty of time and not many forward strokes at about 4.5’ on that gauge.

The river will only get more difficult to navigate as the year goes on and water levels drop.
 
Michael, thanks much for this interesting trip report. I've never heard of the Clarion River, and it's so nice to know there's another nice overnight trip in the East. If you had had those additional 13 river miles, would that have added another night to the trip?
This river can easily provide a three night trip by beginning in the Allegheny national forest well upstream of where we started this one. That trip will require some more advanced paddle skills; particularly in higher water.
 
Very nice report and pics. The Clarion River is very popular with a lot of people. The fishing can be very good at the right time of the year. After Memorial Day it can be very crowded.
 
At the water level we paddled the river last weekend, those 13 miles would have added another night.

The river was at 3.2’ on the gauge at Cooksburg as we started our trip. We typically overnight that stretch of river with plenty of time and not many forward strokes at about 4.5’ on that gauge.

The river will only get more difficult to navigate as the year goes on and water levels drop.
MichaelMerry, thanks for sharing your trip!

Do you think this trip could be completed during the summer? I looked at the Cooksburg gauge and its been around 2.5' to 2.7' this past week.

Is there any significant whitewater along this section of river that a novice paddler should be concerned about?
 
MichaelMerry, thanks for sharing your trip!

Do you think this trip could be completed during the summer? I looked at the Cooksburg gauge and its been around 2.5' to 2.7' this past week.

Is there any significant whitewater along this section of river that a novice paddler should be concerned about?
Nothing here, particularly below 3.5’ on the gauge, a novice paddler should be concerned with. You should be more concerned with ENOUGH water this time of year. 2.5 is going to be slow going and may even require some walking.
 
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