Canoe Camping the West Branch of the Susquehanna River

by PennPaddler

westbranch2The West Branch of the Susquehanna is not a pristine river, but as Pennsylvania rivers go the West Branch is an excellent canoe camping river winding through the beautiful mountains of Pennsylvania. On this river you will escape highways, houses and the busy commercial lifestyle, except for the occasional passing train. With the beautiful scenery, camping and wildllife, this river could be considered Pennsylvania’s best kept paddling secret.

Because of the beautiful scenery and the plentiful campsites along this section of the West Branch, it is the most favorable section of the West Branch for canoe camping trips. And because of the numerous access points along this section of river, you can paddle a one day float or paddle several days to Keating, Renovo or even Lock Haven. This article covers the most interesting and scenic stretch from Shawville to Keating. This portion will take two to three days depending on your paddling pace and water level. This section of the river is easily broken into three shorter sections that are land-marked by bridges with very convenient boat access points.

Shawville to Deer Creek Bridge
The first stretch of this section of the West Branch begins at the Shawville power plant and continues down river for 6-8 hours to the Deer Creek Bridge. In the past, Deer Creek Bridge was a great camping spot for canoe campers but several years ago the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission outlawed camping at this location. But the bridge still provides a convenient boat access and many paddlers begin their journey from the Deer Creek Bridge and continue onward to the Karthaus Bridge or to Keating. Three to four hours after passing this first bridge you will want to begin looking for a campsite on the right side of the river, or get stuck camping on the left side of the river, near the railroad tracks, which makes for a very interesting and unforgettable camping experience.

Navigating Moshannon Falls

Navigating Moshannon Falls

Rolling Stone Bridge
The second stretch of this section begins at the Rolling Stone Bridge, and depending on where you camped the night before you could encounter the Rolling Stone Bridge within several hours of beginning your second days paddle. And it’s on this section of river your paddling journey will become more interesting. Just a few hours below the Rolling Stone Bridge you will encounter Moshannon Falls. Moshannon Falls is a short class 2 rapid that a novice canoeist can easily navigate. However at higher water levels the waves at Moshannon Falls can reach up to 4 feet and can easily sink a canoe or flip a kayak.

A few hours after navigating the Moshannon Falls you will encounter the Moshannon Creek. You can’t miss it. While slowly navigating a wide slow left bend in the river you will notice the wide red creek entering on right side of the West Branch. The Red Moshannon is a result of Pennsylvania’s earlier unregulated mining industry. The “Red Mo” begins as a pristine watershed many miles upstream. But by the time it finishes its journey at the West Branch, the Red Moshannon is polluted with acid mine drainage. It is also at this point you will view some very comfortable and attractive summer camps and hunting cabins on the left side of the river. It is worth pulling over to attempt a historical perspective at the old indian campground at the mouth of the Red Moshannon. Many paddlers camp at this location. The reddish stained rocks are evidence of the damage done to Pennsylvania’s environment during the early coal mining period. The Red Moshannon is navigable during high water levels.

You can Purchase the Susquehanna River Water Trail Map at the Lumber Heritage Website. Your money goes toward a good cause.

Karthaus Bridge
The Karthaus Bridge is only two -three hours downriver of the Red Moshannon, or 4 – 6 hours below the Rolling Stone Bridge. Many paddlers begin their one night canoe trip at Deer Creek and end at Karthaus. However, If you intend to paddle to Keating, you should paddle at last six hours below the Karthaus Bridge before setting up camp. This should allow you three to five hours of paddling on your last day. It is on this section below the Karthaus Bridge you will begin feeling the seclusion of the river. There are excellent large grassy campsites that are capable of accommodating large groups of people. There is always a plentiful supply of hemlock and wood to build a nice campfire. Kick back and enjoy your trip because canoe camping doesn’t get any better than this in Pennsylvania. In the evening be sure to grab a flashlight and a lawn chair and spend some time along the river bank. Listen to the West Branch come to life. You will hear the frogs and the loons, and maybe the owls on the mountainside. Listen closely, you may hear the call of the Pennsylvania elk or coyote.

On to Keating
Your third days journey should only be a short 3-5 hour paddle to Keating. You will be in Keating when you see the wide Sinnemahoning Creek flowing in on the left side.

This Shawville to Keating section of the West Branch of the Susquehanna is approximately 53 miles. You could expect excellent scenery, excellent camping and canoeing, and wildlife. You may also encounter an occasional rattlesnake. Expect large crowds during the Memorial Weekend holiday. The water level is usually adequate until the end of June, and occasionally into July or August during heavy rains.

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