Whitewater River Descriptions

Please Note:This document represents one person's opinions about the character and difficulty of some of the rivers frequently paddled by the Philadelphia Canoe Club. It is emphatically NOT a guide, but more a grouping of relative difficulty using the writer's subjective interpretation of the AWA River Classification Scale.
Please consult the AWA Safety info, and Whitewater Accidents and Close Calls database which can be found on their website, under Safety.Readers should note that regional interpretations exist, and have changed over time. Ed Gertler's book Keystone Canoeing, and the Middle States volume of Appalachian Whitewater more thoroughly cover many of the rivers and streams covered here. Club members also boat a wide variety of rivers not listed here; rivers are listed either because we have them on the trip schedule, or because they are common whitewater reference points for area paddlers. The rivers listed here are rated at moderate levels (ie, the lower end of "that's a decent level") ; rivers frequently become harder with more water. River levels rise and fall, rapids change, strainers can appear overnight.Please have skills and equipment appropriate to the situation, or be willing to accept the consequences. Ratings are intended to be fairly conservative for the mid 1990s. Remember that 30 years ago Cucumber Rapid on the Lower Yough was listed as a Class 5. Higher and lower river levels offer different challenges, and a paddler who has only boated small creeky stuff will tend to be startled by the New or Ottawa.

The following rivers are rated on the AWA rating scale. This scale can be accessed through the AWA website AWA.org. If the numbers don't mean anything to you, it is a good idea to check in with local paddlers to get an idea of what you might be getting involved in. Streams within about 2 hours of Philadelphia may have a brief comment attached; out of state streams are indicated.

    Penna&New Jersey Whitewater runs

  • Schuylkill below Flat Rock Dam to Philadelphia Canoe Club - 1+ at low summer levels. Higher levels offer more playing. Very high levels can be nasty for swimmers. (As of February 1997, all paddlers must carry around Flat Rock Dam or risk a heavy fine.)
  • Lehigh at 1000 cfs or less Walter Dam to White Haven 2 White Haven to Rockport 2-3 Rockport to Jim Thorp 2-3 from 1000 to 2500 cfs the sections of the Lehigh becomes more vigorous, with better playing, but longer swims. Levels above 2500cfs require a solid roll and appropriate skills. The Lehigh is scenic, crowded during scheduled releases, and can be cold in spring and fall.
  • Lower Black Creek 3-3+ at medium flow
  • Nescopeck below Rte 93 2+ at 1'. Lots of small stream maneuvering among many rocks set among rhododendron and hemlock. Due to coal mine drainage, this is a good one for the opening day of trout season.
  • Muddy Creek 2 (3, 5?) medium level Scenic and small, with one portageable drop much more severe than anything else on the river.
  • Lambertville Wing Dam 2+ at less than 4' on Riegelsville USGS gauge (1-800-431-4721) Always enough water, though frequently too high. Widely used training and play rapid, with multiple play spots, strong currents.
  • Scudders Falls on the Delaware offers good to excellent play from around 7000 CFS at Trenton up to maybe 50,000 CFS. It has changed recently, and probably will again. Formerly known primarily for its surfing wave, that wave has turned, as of 2007, into a good play hole for cartwheels, spins, loops and the latest hole move du jour. The hole is playable up to about 20,000. Above that level various play features along the fall line closer to the Pennsylvania come in. Occasional break ins have occurred, generally when few people are around. 
  • Darby Creek 2+
  • Mill Creek 3- small stream prone to strainers. Runs infrequently for a short time after hard rains.
  • Wickecheoke (NJ) 3 (4) The first 3 or 4 drops are the hardest. Below the covered bridge is generally 2+, with possibility of strainers. Needs substantial rain.
  • Lockatung (NJ) 3-4 at 8.5' (one mandatory dam carry, and a 12' waterfall which can be run on the right at some levels. This is a scenic Jersey creek about half the size of the Tohickon, with higher gradient.)
  • Tohickon 3+ at 2' There is a lot of playing on this creek, which runs for a day or so after hard rains, particularly outside of foliage season. Scheduled releases in March and November are generally extremely crowded. Gets more difficult above 3.5, and floodstage is at 5'. Above 3.5' the last half becomes more continuous, and swims can become long and thoroughly unpleasant.
  • Geddes Run 4-5 This Tohickon tributary stops running within maybe 2 hours after a long hard rain. This should always be scouted for strainers, due to the high velocity of the water and scarcity of useful eddies. One probably mandatory portage due to very high vertical pin potential.
  • Lower Youghiogheny 3+ at 2.5' Becomes pushy and harder above 4'
    Surf West Virginia
  • Cheat Canyon (W.Va.) 4 at 2' to 3'
  • New (W.Va.) 4 at 2.5'. Big, generally open rapids with lots of play and attendant big waves, big holes and strong eddy lines
  • Lower Gauley (W.Va.) 4 at 2500 cfs
  • Upper Gauley (W.Va.) 4-5 at 2500 cfs
  • Cheat Narrows (W.Va.) 3-
  • Middle Fork Tygart (W.Va.) 4 at 4'
  • Arden section of Tygart (W.Va.) 4 at 4'
  • Tygart Gorge (W.Va.) 4 (4+) at 4'
  • Lower Big Sandy (W.Va.) 4-5 at 6.2'
    Other States
  • Top Yough (MD) 4-5 at 2.2'
  • Upper Yough (MD) 4-5 at 2.1'
  • Deerfield, Monroe Bridge (Massachusetts) 3+ at 900 cfs
  • Black River (Watertown, NY) 4 (4+) 2500cfs
  • Ottawa (Ontario/Quebec) 4 at 3'