Clarion River - Portland Mills to Cooksburg

Clarion River, Pennsylvania, US


Portland Mills to Cooksburg (Middle Clarion)

Usual Difficulty I(II) (for normal flows)
Length 28 Miles
Avg. Gradient 6 fpm
Max Gradient 10 fpm

Fall on the Clarion

Fall on the Clarion
Photo by Michael Spanjer taken 10/15/96 @ unknown

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
Clarion River at Cooksburg, PA
usgs-03029500 300 - 10000 cfs I(II) 00h57m 838 cfs (running)

River Description

The Clarion River is a beautiful place to paddle, with long stretches of calm water interspersed with rapids that can reach easy class II. This reach starts at Portland Mills, goes along the southern boundary of the Allegheny National Forest, past Clear Creek State Park and Cooks Forest State Park. The section between Arroyo bridge and the Irwin Run canoe launch is in the National Forest and has the best legal riverside wilderness camping that I've found in western PA, as well as three of the best rapids, called 'X', 'Y', and 'Z'. There are other rapids between Hallton and Belltown, as well as a few smaller ones downstream. These rapids are small at 300 cfs, but at 2000 cfs at the Cooksburg gauge they get a little more interesting. Just upstream from the bridge at Belltown there is a parking lot on river left that gives access to an interesting play spot for beginners - there is an old abandoned gas pipeline across the bed of the river that gives a river wide wave ( about 40 feet wide) up to nearly a foot tall. This wave is buried when water levels get up a little - say above 2000 cfs.

There is camping at Cooks Forest State Park, Clear Creek State Park, and several campgrounds in the National Forest. Primitive camping is allowed in most of the National Forest and there are a few sites right beside the river between Clarington and Irwin Run.

Access is good, with a road running on river right from Cooksburg to Irwin Run. There are dozens of spots to park and put in, as well as several canoe launches. At Arroyo bridge there is a parking area and put in where the road crosses the river. There is another canoe launch area just east of Portland Mills on route 949.

There are four or five canoe liveries on the Clarion, mostly down towards Cooksburg (the shallow end of this reach), with one upstream at Clarington. On summer weekends the river near Cooksburg is crowded with paddlers dragging heavy aluminum rental canoes through the shallows, so stick to the upper half. My favorite part would be from Portland Mills to Irwin Run canoe launch - about 8 miles with 5 fun little rapids to play in.

If you want to paddle the downstream section from the end of the reservoir to the Allegheny you'll have to rely on releases from the Piney Dam. It's a scenic, isolated valley with small rapids that isn't paddled often because of the unpredictable releases. Call the dam at (814) 226-8630 to find out when they release, or watch the USGS guage and try to guess from the pattern what's going to happen.

StreamTeam Status: Verified
Last Updated: 2007-04-17 21:37:53


Rapid Descriptions

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