Explore the Susquehanna: 4 Water-Trail Day Trips
In celebration of National Great Outdoors Month in June, which encourages us to connect with and enjoy the outdoors, we’re sharing four Susquehanna Greenway day trip paddles for each of the four sections of the Susquehanna River.
4 Water-Trail Day Trips
Explore the North Branch
Oakland to Hallstead - 12 miles (11.9 river miles)
Estimated paddle time: 4-5 hours
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Description: The Susquehanna River makes a “Great Bend” in Susquehanna County on its way from New York to the Chesapeake Bay. This bend is full of stunning landscapes with a hint of history. Begin your paddle at the PFBC Oakland access on the west side of the river. Here you will find gravel parking with a paved ramp access. To utilize this access, please note that all boats must be registered in PA, including non-motorized boats. Enjoy the calm waters of the river as you paddle for a few miles until it’s time to navigate around the Susquehanna Depot Dam. To do so, paddle to River Left side of dam (avoid center breach for fear of entanglement hazards and re-circulating currents). Look for blue Portage sign. Carry gear and boat around wing wall on portage trail, 50 yards and re-enter River Mile 350.5 (Front Street Private Access). (To avoid the portage altogether you may alternatively begin your paddle at the Front Street Private Access, which shortens the voyage to 8 miles.)
A few points of interest along and near this route:
- RM 355.4 - Pennsylvania Scenic Byway
- RM 355.4 - D&H Rail Trail, 38-mile trail on former Delaware and Hudson rail-bed that runs from NY State line south along river to Lanesboro, south to Forest City, and along Lackawanna River to Simpson.
- RM 352.5 - Starrucca Viaduct - Built in 1848 with local bluestone; it is the oldest bluestone railroad bridge still in use in the state.
- RM 350.9 - Starrucca House - Large brick train station.
- RM 344.7 - Red Rock - Rock wall where Native American paintings once depicted General Clinton's advance in 1779 to meet General Sullivan's army at Tioga Point.
Camping: Overnight stop at 354.6; Cascade 'Y' primitive campsite.
Put In: River Mile 354.4; PFBC Oakland Access
Amenities: Boat ramp and parking
Explore the West Branch
Renovo to Hyner - 7 miles
Estimated paddle time: 2-3 hours
Description: This day trip is your chance to paddle one of most remote areas of the Susquehanna River, deep in the wooded landscape of Pennsylvania's Lumber Heritage Region along the West Branch. Here, Pennsylvania’s virgin timber was harvested throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries and floated down the Susquehanna to supply lumber for shipbuilding, construction and coal mine props. Today the woodlands and waterways of the Lumber Heritage Region provide landscapes for outdoor recreation.
To begin this excursion, launch from the Renovo 5th Street Access (constructed in 2018), and paddle a few miles past green wooded mountains and some residential areas. Just past the North Bend access you will pass the mouth of Young Woman’s Creek, and from this point the river will flow southeast. A few points of interest from here include the Red Hill Fossil site, Hyner Run and just under the Gold Star Mothers Bridge you will finish your voyage at the Hyner Access. Keep your eyes peeled for hang gliders launching from the top of Hyner View State Park. Nearby is the Western Clinton Sportsmen’s facility.
Amenities: Renovo is a Susquehanna Greenway River Town. The Renovo access has parking and is near food, restroom, a picnic area and lodging. The Hyner access also has parking. Camping and a cabin are within a drivable distance at Hyner Run State Park (fee).
Put In: River Mile 97.8; Renovo 5th Street Access (constructed 2018)
Take Out: River Mile 90.8; PFBC Hyner Access, south side of river
Area Outfitters: McCracken’s Canoe Sales and Rental (Clearfield)
Explore the Middle Susquehanna
Amity Hall to Marysville - 11.75 miles (River miles: 10.75-11.75 miles)
Estimated paddle time: 3-5 hours
Description: This section of the Middle Susquehanna, just north of Harrisburg, has much to offer in history and sightseeing with several significant landmarks, islands abundant with birds and wildlife, and some exciting river rapids at the Dauphin Narrows. Due to these rapids, this itinerary is a trip best suited for paddlers with moderate experience. The excursion also takes paddlers past points of interest including the Susquehanna's Lady Liberty standing atop railroad bridge ruins, the world-renowned Rockville Bridge and Fort Hunter Mansion and Park.
To begin this adventure, launch from the Amity Hall Access along the Juniata River just north of Duncannon. Paddle down to the Susquehanna River, staying river-right to begin your voyage. For the next stretch feel free to explore the river, cruise the shore lines, paddle the many channels between the islands, float down the middle or feel free to explore the islands themselves. These islands can be a nice picnic stop, but be respectful of private property signs and mindful of poison ivy and slippery river banks. Not all of the islands are open to public access; consult the Middle Section Water Trail map and/or SRTA website for more info.
Eventually, around RM 79, you will reach the Dauphin Narrows area. It is important to keep far river-left for this stretch at all water levels. Stay a couple boat lengths from shore as you encounter three sets of small waves. There are also a few rocks and ledges to avoid. Any route other than far river-left risks endangerment to yourself, your boat and any possessions in your boat. Some significant features to admire in this area are the old bridge piers and the Dauphin Narrows Statue of Liberty.
After going through the third set of waves, return to the river-right shore for the take-out. You can take out at either the Marysville Access (closer to town) or Marysville Heritage Park Access (past town, closer to the Rockville Bridge), which are both on river-right. Be on the lookout for the Rockville Bridge. Completed in 1902, the Rockville Bridge was, and remains, the longest stone masonry arch railroad viaduct in the world. Another nearby attraction is the Fort Hunter Mansion and Park on the Susquehanna’s left bank.
Amenities: Boat ramp and parking at each access; the Marysville Access is near restaurants and groceries.
Put In: Juniata River at Amity Hall PFBC Access
Take Out: River Mile 76 Marysville Boro Schrauder Heritage Park Access or River Mile 77 Marysville Access
Area Outfitters: Blue Mountain Outfitters (Marysville)
Explore the Lower Susquehanna
New Market to Middletown - 7.25 miles (River miles: 7.25 miles)
Estimated paddle time: 2-3 hours
Description: This quiet stretch of river is perfect for paddlers of all levels. It is located near the hub of Pennsylvania's State Capital as the river meanders south past remnants of the steel industry that served as one of the area's earliest stimuli for growth.
To begin your journey, launch at the New Market Access on the west side of the Susquehanna, just south of Harrisburg. An interpretive panel at the access point focuses on the historic steel industry and the steel mill heritage of the area. Just across the river from this access is the town of Steelton. The extensive works of the Pennsylvania Steel Company, later operated by Bethlehem Steel, are located along the Susquehanna River in Steelton. You will paddle past some of these remnants on river-left.
As you continue south, you will also pass a number of islands, most of which are privately owned, so be respectful of any no trespassing signs. After you pass beneath the bridge of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, it's just about 4 miles until you reach the mouth of Swatara Creek. Harrisburg International Airport will also be on river-left, so keep your eyes in the skies for planes landing and taking off.
Enter the mouth of Swatara Creek on river-left to reach the take-out point at the PFBC Middletown Access. An interpretive panel is located at this site with a focus on how land along the Swatara Creek was used, how the creek’s decline impacted the Chesapeake Bay and current efforts to restore stream water quality.
Put In: River Mile 67.6; New Market Access
Amenities: boat ramp; near parking, restrooms, and picnic facilities.
Take Out: River Mile 61.2; PFBC Middletown Access
Amenities: boat ramp; near parking, picnic, restoom, and food facilities.
Area Outfitters: Susquehanna Outfitters (Wormleysburg), Blue Mountain Outfitters (Marysville)