Paddling

Lakes, streams, and of course the river afford kayakers, canoeists, and recreational boaters an abundance of publicly accessible facilities in all parts of the Schuylkill River Heritage Area. In this section you'll find information about where you can paddle legally and safely, important safety and access information for river paddlers, water level and quality in the river, resources for further information, and clubs and organizations you can join.

WHERE TO PADDLE

There are numerous facilities across the Heritage Area that provide access to lakes and the Schuylkill. French Creek, Tuscarora, and Locust Lake State Parks have lakes of varying sizes for flatwater paddling. Canoes, rowboats, and pedalboats can be rented at these facilities. Blue Marsh Recreation Area is a favorite flat water boating facility in the Western Berks region.

For those seeking a little more movement, several of the river's tributaries are navigable seasonally. Please note that the tributaries can be narrow, fast moving and more challenging than the river itself. These sections are recommended for experienced paddlers only. Many of the tributaries lack public access points. Please do no trespass on private property while putting in or taking out. SRHA advises you to access the river and its tributaries only at marked locations.

The Little Schuylkill and the West Branch in Schuylkill County are navigable during the spring. Both feature public access points and are part of the Schuylkill River Water Trail.

Tulpehocken Creek below Blue Marsh Dam is navigable with public access areas. Take out locations are under development in the City of Reading.

THE SCHUYLKILL RIVER WATER TRAIL

Schuylkill River Water Trail logoPaddling the Schuylkill River can be a fun way to exercise and enjoy the outdoors. Public access points to the Schuylkill are marked as stops on the Schuylkill River Water Trail. These locations are publicly owned and maintained and meet Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission standards. Look for the oval medallion at these launch points. The river can be shallow and rocky at spots, so please be sure to check the water levels in the area you wish to paddle before putting in. Also, please note that there are 6 full and 2 breached dams on the Schuylkill, and paddlers are required by law to portage around these dams. Portages can be lengthy in unimproved locations.

To gauge how much time it takes to paddle from one landing to the other, consult the water trail map to calculate the river miles from point A to B. Typically 4 river miles will take a little more than an hour under normal flow conditions. Or, visually gauge the speed of the river. The average person walks at 3 miles per hour. Is the river moving slower or faster than you can walk?

Water Trail Maps

Online Maps. These maps are updated as changes occur.
Printed Guides and Recreation Maps are available for sale in the River Store

Water Trail Updates for the printed guides. Most of the changes involve landings and dams.

STAYING SAFE ON THE WATER

Rivers, streams, and lakes can present unexpected challenges to recreationalists. For a safe and enjoyable experience, it is important that you remember these basic rules and guidelines;
  • Always wear a Personal Floatation Device (PFD) approved by the U.S. Coast Guard and make sure it is secured properly.
  • Be sure you have the proper equipment and know how to use it
  • Check the weather and water levels before getting on the water.
  • Never paddle alone, and leave a float plan with a friend or family
  • Carry a whistle and use it if you are in distress.
  • Cell phones may not work in the remote sections of the upper Schuylkill

The American Canoe Association provides paddlers with a lot of useful information about safety on the water. Read the ACA's Top 10 Safety Tips.

What Kind of Equipment will you need?

There are a variety of canoes and kayaks available at major outfitters and sports centers. It's just a matter of finding the one that's right for you. Consult with the sales staff at these locations about your options.

When on the water, proper accessories and clothing are important . Again, outfitters are the best source for your equipment needs, as it varies according to the type of craft you buy.

See all Paddling Sites


WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE YOU PADDLE

Before you put your boat in the water, it is important to know a few things about what you should expect and prepare for. Consult the United States geological Survey for the latest water level and flow rates. The Philadelphia Water Department provides information on the quality of the river in Philadelphia and its suitability for recreational activities.

Water levels

Water quality

water trail updates Water Trail Updates

Unpowered boats are not required to be registered with the PA Fish and Boat Commission for use on the river or tributaries, however, registration or a Launch Permit is recommended. Registration or a Launch Permit is required for use of private crafts at all State Parks and Blue Marsh Recreation Area. All motorized boats are required to be registered with PFBC. Contact PFBC for information on registering your boat.

WHO ELSE LIKES TO PADDLE?

There are several clubs and organizations in the Heritage Area that organize trips, provide lessons, and sponsor special events for paddlers on the River:

Take it Outdoors Adventure Group: Holds regular paddles on the Schuylkill River.
Keystone Canoe Club
Philadelphia Canoe Club

Each June the Schuylkill River Heritage Area sponsors the Schuylkill River Sojourn, a week long trip down the length of the river. The Sojourn attracts people from all over the country and is a great opportunity for new paddlers to get some experience, and for experienced paddlers to hone their skills and meet new people. The trip is guided, all meals are provided, and rental equipment is available. Click here for more information about the Schuylkill River Sojourn.

LINKS

Water levels in the Schuylkill River (USGS)
NOAA Hydrologic Prediction Service
Water quality in the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia (PWD)
American Canoe Association