Canoeing the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River

by PennPaddler

Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River

Canoeing the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River

Located between Alexandria and Altoona, PA, the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River is one of those local rivers that somehow seemed to be just a little too far out of the way to paddle. But on June 12th, 2010 our small group of three decided to paddle the small river, we had two adults in one canoe and one child in a kayak. 

The Vehicle Shuttle
 The 40 mile drive from home to the river took much longer than we anticipated; I’ll blame it on the slower weekend traffic and a long rest stop at the Sheetz in Bellwood, but once arriving at the put-in the trip quickly began to take form. One very nice feature of canoeing this section of the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River is the very short (approximately 20 minutes) vehicle shuttle; it’s short because the river flows nearly perpendicular to Route 22 then loops back again to meet Mt Etna. This river has to be the easiest and quickest shuttle of any river I’ve paddled, but you still get a nice 12 mile canoe trip. 

Paddling the River
The section we paddled was approximately 12 miles and took us about 4 hours, not a bad average considering we were in no hurry. We launched at the Flowing Springs canoe launch, near Canoe Creek State Park, and ended the trip at Mt Etna. At Flowing Springs the river is slow and it does flow parallel to the highway for a few miles allowing the annoying sounds of traffic and the sight of some commercial property to invade what you might expect to be a more scenic paddle. This section is also paralleled by the Lower Trail Rails-to-Trails bike path.

The first hour into our trip we paddled consistently to keep a decent pace in the warm dead water, but as the noise of the highway grew distant we noticed the shores of the river growing steeper, the landscape growing greener, and the river flowing faster. Once we were about one hour into the trip things began to get more interesting with occasional obstacles and fun riffles.

Canoe Full of Water

Canoe Full of Water

While doing my river research I was told to expect some class 2 rapids just before approaching Williamsburg. And although I didn’t see what I considered to be class 2 rapids there were a few areas with some tricky current that required some attention. And it was just before Williamsburg when a rock spun us backwards and flipped us in about 1.5 ft of water. Unfortunately it wasn’t the cool refreshing kind of swim that canoers enjoy on a blistering hot day, but more of a painful body slam onto a rocky stream bed complete with small scrapes and multiple bruises on my body, and a very soggy lunch. Our nine year old kayaker had no problem negotiating these riffles and rocks in his new recreational kayak. 

I was worried we would be exposed to the sun’s intense heat the entire trip but as we paddled into the more remote section of river we had a pleasant surprise by the green forest canopy above that shaded us during most of the remaining trip. And as the landscape changed from commercial to a seemingly forest view we were met with wildlife and natural landscape photo opportunities. And the tricky riffles and rocks were there to greet us often enough. 

Paddling through Williamsburg is your typical “canoeing through town experience” with remnants of old commercial and industrial interference upon the river, but once through Williamsburg the scenery again turns to the natural landscape I anticipated from my view into the valley during the vehicle shuttle.   

Canoeing Frankstown Branch Juniata River

Frankstown Branch Juniata River

If you are in the Altoona area I recommend canoeing the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River, and take your fishing rod because the Juniata is popular for fishing. Be prepared for casual canoeing with a few tricky riffles and rapids and maybe some fun class 2 rapids under higher water conditions.  

If you have any questions of comments about canoeing the Juniata River or others you can ask them on our canoeing forum

Enjoy more images of our canoe and kayak trip on the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River. 

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