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November on the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania

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My wife, father-in-law and I just returned from two nights and 35 miles on the Allegheny River from Franklin to Emlenton. It was a perfect weekend to canoe.

We drove out to Emlenton after work Friday, November 3, and left our shuttle vehicle at the parking lot for the Allegheny Trail, a rail trail that runs along much of the river on this stretch. We then piled into one vehicle with the canoes on the trailer and drove to the Samuel Justus Trailhead, arriving just after 6:00. We traveled about 2 miles downstream to the Deep Hollow camping area river left. This camping area has three lean-tos, tent pads, fire rings and porta-potties. The takeout is a little tough to find and navigate, but well worth it. This is a wonderful resource, although close to Route 322 and the highway noise. Nevertheless, we had a nice fire and dinner and enjoyed a few glasses of wine prior to heading to bed about 10:30. Temps hovered in the mid-40s.

Saturday, November 4, we arose shortly after sunrise and completed our camp chores and breakfast. We managed to get onto the water by about 10:00 under partly sunny skies, very light winds and temps that would rise to about 55 degrees. It was a lovely day to paddle! My wife and father-in-law paddled our tank; the 17' aluminum Grumman with most of our gear. I soloed in a 14,6 Wenona Royalex sitting backward in the bow seat and using gear to establish some semblance of trim. It worked fine.

The river is dam controlled with all of this outflow coming from Kinzua Reservoir. If not for that, river levels would be too low to paddle this time of year. The canoe hulls never touched river bottom this trip. This is an extremely beginner-friendly stretch of river with excellent camping. There are numerous islands on which camping is permitted. A few miles below Franklin, the river leaves the paved route behind. While there are still some structures and gravel roads along the river, much of it is undeveloped and beautiful, even past the peak for fall colors. We managed a consistent 4 miles per hour. Typically, the river has 1-2 mile sections that move very well with some easily managed wave trains. These are broken up by 1-2 mile sections of calm that can be a hassle if you end up with a southerly wind. The river is wide enough that sweepers and strainers are never an issue.

We made Danners Rest at the 14-mile mark by 1:00 and had some lunch. Danners Rest is in Clear Creek State Forest and is another excellent camping resource. There are picnic tables, fire rings, a pit toilet (being replaced by a vault toilet) and a piped spring (not potable). The area sits across the river from the Kennerdell Tunnel, a destination unto itself. We busted the stove out for lunch and made some hot drinks for our next stretch of paddling. We looked at a North Country lean to river left at the 19-mile mark. The NCT shares the route with the Allegheny River Trail here. We weren't interested in sleeping in the lean to and the surrounding area was not conducive for tent camping, so we paddled on. At around mile 22.5, we found a wonderful site river right that is in Clear Creek State Forest. The site gets a lot of use but was otherwise clean. We left it better than we found it. We made camp by around 4:45 and enjoyed dinner made over the Dragonfly stove, some more wine and excellent views as the colors changed with the setting sun. A peaceful night was had.

Up on Sunday, November 5 before the sun! We set the clocks back, so we were all well-rested. It got coolish overnight and was about 38 degrees by morning. However, there were no clouds in the sky and the sun warmed things up quickly. It got close to 60 degrees! We were on the water by 9:00. We made a number of stops today. There are islands at approximately miles 25 and 27 that have wonderful camping on them. We also stopped to check out the Rockland Tunnel, another railroad tunnel meant to shorten the route by cutting off large oxbows in the river. Finally, at about mile 31, there is a much nicer lean-to on the Allegheny River Trail/NCT. At mile 35 is the takeout in Emlenton. We made that by 1:45, completed the shuttle, had a beer and an early dinner at Emelenton Brew Haus and headed home.

This is a wonderful trip for beginners and families, which is the reason I posted it here. Another great Allegheny River trip we've done a number of times runs from Buckaloons Federal Campground downstream of Warren to Tionesta, PA. The entire stretch of river from the reservoir to Emelenton is really nice, but novice paddlers should be aware of the Oil City rapids upstream of Franklin.
 
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Thanks for the nicely written and descriptive trip report.
But I’m curious…What’s with the golf cart in the tunnel??
 
There are repairs underway at the east entrance to the Rockland Tunnel. It appears the golf cart may be used to move workers and light tools in and out of the area.
 
Thanks for contributing that nice trip report and photos. I've always wondered about paddling on the Allegheny. Are all those campsites free?
 
Glenn, From Kinzua (kin-zoo) dam to Emlenton (or Parker if you prefer) takes most people about 4 days and there are no portages. Most of the islands in this stretch are owned by the Allegheny Nat'l Forest so dispersed, minimum impact camping is permitted on any of them free of charge. There are several outfitters that operate along the river, all of which (I believe) offer shuttle service for the entire stretch.

Here's a map if you're interested.
 
Glenn, From Kinzua (kin-zoo) dam to Emlenton (or Parker if you prefer) takes most people about 4 days and there are no portages. Most of the islands in this stretch are owned by the Allegheny Nat'l Forest so dispersed, minimum impact camping is permitted on any of them free of charge. There are several outfitters that operate along the river, all of which (I believe) offer shuttle service for the entire stretch.

Here's a map if you're interested.

Unfortunately, we’ve always found the islands upstream of Tionesta to be overused and littered. We’ve actually participated in clean up operations on them. They seem to get over loved. It’s part of the reason we tend to take our shoulder season Allegheny river paddles on the Franklin- Emlenton section. The riverside, practically front country camping is really nice. Perhaps this fact results in the islands getting less frequent use on this part of the river. Island camping between Franklin and Emlenton looks really nice.
 
we’ve always found the islands upstream of Tionesta to be overused and littered.
Good to know. I am planning to do from the dam to Parker one of these days and will have to remember to start looking for sites early (so I can pass on the truly nasty) and to keep my expectations low.
 
Good to know. I am planning to do from the dam to Parker one of these days and will have to remember to start looking for sites early (so I can pass on the truly nasty) and to keep my expectations low.
Depending on season, buckalloons federal campground is nice, perhaps for your first night. It’s too busy in summer and on nice season weekends. We once spent a Friday night there in November and were the only campers in the whole place. It’s clean, launching is easy and has some facilities.

I typically avoid front country camping, but a river trip through towns sometimes makes it necessary.
 
Good idea. I love the fall and any time in the off season. It is quiet, the critters are active.
I recently went camping with my dog at a nice local campground. I was the only person there.
 
Michael, thanks so much for this TR. The Allegheny is a river I'm interested in, and not too far away.
Please tell us about PA boat launch permits. Does it really cost $22 to put your canoe in the river there, as shown on the state website? Here in VA the state owned boat ramps are all free to everyone, funded by hunting and fishing license fees.

Also, the topo maps show hundreds of oil and gas wells along the river. Are these wells still in operation, or do the maps show old wells that are no longer extant? Did the petroleum industry cause pollution in the river, and if so has that been cleaned up?

Same questions about your TR on the Clarion River.

Thanx

Reese
 
Michael, thanks so much for this TR. The Allegheny is a river I'm interested in, and not too far away.
Please tell us about PA boat launch permits. Does it really cost $22 to put your canoe in the river there, as shown on the state website? Here in VA the state owned boat ramps are all free to everyone, funded by hunting and fishing license fees.

Also, the topo maps show hundreds of oil and gas wells along the river. Are these wells still in operation, or do the maps show old wells that are no longer extant? Did the petroleum industry cause pollution in the river, and if so has that been cleaned up?

Same questions about your TR on the Clarion River.

Thanx

Reese
These are tough questions!

I have never been aware of launch permits or seen any indication at any launch I’ve used that launch permits are required. I live in Ohio and previous research has indicated to me that Pennsylvania observes reciprocal boat registration with other states. I’ve also had encounters with Pennsylvania law enforcement while plying their waters and have received no indication that launch permits were required. This represents the extent of my knowledge on this subject.

As far as welll pad locations indicated on maps, this area is the cradle of the North American oil and gas industry. It has a terrible environmental record as a result. However, the area has recovered remarkably well. The rivers are full of fish and other wildlife and the wells are not readily noticed by eye, nose or ear from either river.

I hope this helps.
 
Thanks, Michael. It's encouraging that the pollution has been cleaned up.

We don't have to register canoes in Virginia, nor other manually propelled or sail-only vessels, just power boats. OTOH, I don't think it would be prohibited. Reciprocity would be an issue to research.

The Allegheny looks like a nice frontcountry trip that would be an easy drive from here. Time to start planning the 2024 paddling calendar.
 
It’s a really nice shoulder season paddle.

For what it’s worth, I’m a bigger fan of the clarion. However, the camping is not as readily available and the waters can be a bit rougher. Also, the clarion is not dam controlled; so water levels are a problem in summer and fall. I prefer because of less riverside traffic and narrower faster moving water.
 
Also, we love to meet and travel with the like minded. If you are similarly interested, we’d be down for planning trips in the area with those likeminded folks.
 
Please tell us about PA boat launch permits.
Reese, PA has observes reciprocity with other states (and, most likely, Canada) as far as boat registrations. If your state does not require it, your proof of residency outside of PA will suffice. Even for PA residents, paddlecraft do not need to be registered as long as they are not powered (even by a trolling motor) and you do not use launches that are maintained by the state.

There are maintained launches on most of the rivers but there are also myriad other places that you can launch (like anyplace that you can legally get to the water that is NOT state-owned land). For example: launching in a state park or state forest requires a launch permit or registration. A national forest, city park, private property or road right-of-way= no permit needed (note: check your take-out also)
 
Michael, connecting with like minded people is what this forum is all about.

Gamma, thanks for the clarification. Local knowledge is always helpful.

I need to amend what I said about boat launching in Virginia. "Officially," to use boat launches maintained by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, you need some kind of document. That can be an access permit, boat registration, fishing license, or hunting license.

I don't even think about the requirement because I have lifetime hunting and fishing licenses. When we had a registered boat, my wife was co-owner and therefore covered.

In practice, nobody's checking. I have never seen a conservation officer checking at state boat launches. They are just too busy. Once in a while they will check for PFDs at a popular fishing lake, or they may show up in the woods checking hunting licenses.

Right now it's deer season and all the COs are out busting illegal hunters. Good time to paddle, except there's a drought and all the streams are drying up.
 
This trip report brought back memories! A group of us New Englanders (and one Floridian) came down 6 or 7 years ago and paddled the Allegheny from Kinzua to Emlenton in October. It was a fantastic river, and the camping was pretty good. I've never seen more eagles in one place than along this river. Paddling by an oil refinery was a unique experience for us. And checking out the tunnels along the rail trail was cool, and a bit spooky. Glad we didn't run into any homicidal clowns! Thanks for sharing your report!
-rs
 
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