7 great Pennsylvania bodies of water for your summer adventures

Whitewater rafting on the Youghiogheny River. (Photo: GO Laurel Highlands)

By Kalena Thomhave

May 25, 2023

Whether you’re looking for an action-packed river trip or a lazy weekend on the lake, Pennsylvania has a body of water for you.

Though Pennsylvania is technically a landlocked state (if you don’t count passage to the Atlantic by way of New Jersey), there are many places to get on the water when the weather turns sunny and warm.

A bevy of rivers crisscross the state begging for kayaks, canoes, and rafts, along with more than 2,500 lakes, attracting swimmers and boaters. If you’re more of a beach person, there’s Lake Erie, a lake that can seem more like a sea, given its size and ample “shoreline.”

We’ve put together a list of seven places where you can enjoy the water this summer across the state. Whether you’re looking for an action-packed river trip or a lazy weekend on the lake, Pennsylvania has a body of water for you.

Rafting and More on the Youghiogheny River – Ohiopyle

Winding its way through scenic Ohiopyle State Park in the Laurel Highlands, the Youghiogheny River offers some of the best whitewater east of the Mississippi.

Known as the Yough for short (pronounced “Yawk”), the river is perfect for an intense whitewater rafting or kayaking adventure on the Lower Yough as well as a more relaxed journey on the calmer Middle Yough, which is ideal for families. Liveries in the small town of Ohiopyle host tours and rent rafts as well as kayaks, duckies (inflatable kayaks), canoes, and stand-up paddleboards. After you’re finished with your river trip, you can enjoy the rest of Ohiopyle, celebrating with a drink or live music at Falls City Pub.

Paddling the Delaware Water Gap

In NEPA, you can paddle the Delaware River through the famous Delaware Water Gap, a spot where the river cuts through the Appalachian Mountains with Pennsylvania on one side and New Jersey on the other. Numerous liveries within the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area rent canoes, kayaks, and rafts so you can enjoy a day on this wide and mostly gentle river. Usually, the rental company will bus you to your drop-off location and then drive you back when you’re finished with your river trip.

If you bring your own canoe or kayak to paddle the river within the national recreation area, the Monroe County Transit Authority provides a free weekend shuttle service that can take you — and your boat — back to where you started.

Kayaking in the Pa. Grand Canyon

Kayaking Pine Creek within the Pine Creek Gorge — colloquially known as the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon — allows you to experience one of the most scenic locations in the state. The creek, the largest tributary of the West Branch Susquehanna River, cuts through the Allegheny Plateau, and you can too when you take to the water by kayak, canoe, or raft.

For the best route, follow the Pine Creek Water Trail, which begins in Ansonia, Tioga County. To complete the whole trail, you’d paddle more than 42 miles. If you’d like to take a shorter trip, plenty of liveries in the area rent boats and can also shuttle you back to your car when you’ve finished on the water. However, you can also take an overnight trip on the water—consider kayaking and camping along the creek at campsites within Tiadaghton and Tioga State Forests. The best times to paddle are spring and early summer, but you can also safely kayak the creek after a heavy rainfall.

Beaches of Presque Isle – Erie

Home to Pennsylvania’s only “seashore,” Presque Isle State Park is an inland destination for a beach trip usually reserved for the coasts. Here, swimmers can enjoy the waves of Lake Erie—and if you choose, you can even surf. The Presque Isle peninsula, home of the park, juts into Lake Erie to create Presque Isle Bay, a harbor that makes many boaters happy. Within the state park, canoe, kayak, and pontoon boat rentals, among other boating options, can be found just past the Perry Monument at Presque Isle Boat Rental.

Clear Waters of Raystown Lake – Huntingdon County

Raystown Lake is the largest lake in Pennsylvania, and thus an attractive summer vacation destination in Central Pa. When you’re not searching for Pennsylvania’s Loch Ness Monster, the Raystown Ray, you can take to the water by pontoon boat, canoe, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard. After renting your watercraft of choice from one of several companies in the area, explore the many acres of the lake, which is 32 miles long as it stretches along an idyllic valley.

Many people visit Raystown Lake because of the tranquil atmosphere—the lake area hasn’t been transformed by mass commercial development and its water is said to be the clearest in the state. Look no further if you’re seeking a rural retreat on the water.

Paddling Southeastern Pa. on the Schuylkill River

The Schuylkill River Water Trail runs 137 miles across Southeastern Pennsylvania, but instead of paddling the entire river trail at once, you can approach it in many different sections—each section offers a different experience. For instance, you can take an urban river trip in Philly along the Lower Schuylkill River, with one recommended launch point being Bartram’s Garden. Indeed, Bartram’s Garden has a public dock with free boat rentals each Saturday during the summer. You can also launch your own kayak or canoe from the dock. After Bartram’s Garden, the Schuylkill continues flowing south until it reaches the mighty Delaware River.

Canoe the Beautiful Brandywine – Chester County

Located roughly an hour from Philadelphia, the cool and calm waters of the Brandywine River offer an escape from the city.

Northbrook Canoe in West Chester has sent canoes of friends and families onto the Brandywine since 1977. Like most rental companies, you can schedule a leisurely day trip, and at the end of your tour, get shuttled back to the start. Unlike most rental companies, you could also reserve a spot to “Canoe & Dine” which pairs a river trip with a sit-down dinner when you return, complete with live music.

For a different bit of culture, visit the Brandywine River Museum of Art in Chadds Ford after you drop off your canoe, as the museum sits along the river.


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