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Difficulty I(II)
Length 28 Miles
Gauge Clarion River at Cooksburg, PA
Flow Range 300 - 10000 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 40 minutes ago 382 [CFS]
Reach Info Last Updated 05/13/2019 8:11 pm

River Description

The Clarion River is a beautiful place to paddle, and a federally-designated Wild and Scenic River, 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 found in western Pennsylvania, 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 on the Cooksburg gauge they get a little more interesting. Just upstream from the bridge at Belltown a parking lot on river left provides access to an interesting play spot for beginners - an old abandoned gas pipeline across the bed of the river creates 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.

Camping is available 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 providing dozens of spots to park and put in, as well as several canoe launches (see the water trail guide). At Arroyo bridge a parking area and put in is available where the road crosses the river. Another canoe launch area is just east of Portland Mills on Route 949.

Two canoe liveries serve paddlers in Cooksburg as well as one in Ridgway. 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. The best section is 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 gage and try to guess from the pattern what's going to happen.

Rapid Descriptions

X Rapid

Class - II Mile - -78.2
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Y Rapid

Class - II Mile - -77.7
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Z Rapid

Class - II Mile - -77.1
Rapid Thumbnail Missing


Gage Descriptions

When the gauge is down to 300 cfs the lower section of this reach (from Clarington to Cooksburg) is too shallow to paddle. At this level the upper section (from Portland Mills to Hallton) is okay, with a few short shallow sections. Keep in mind that at 300 cfs there are basically no rapids, and long stretches of VERY shallow water. I've been on the river at 5000 cfs and seen it at 13,000 cfs, which I would consider a little too high.

Directions Description

We have no additional detail on this route. Use the map below to calculate how to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.

Date Flow Result Factor  
1990-08-15 Medium Fatality Solo Paddling Read More



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Pennsylvania Dam Removal Conference to be Held January 31st.

Kevin Colburn

There will be a one day conference on January 31st in eastern Pennsylvania that will address dam removal and rehabilitation in the state and region. It is likely that this very affordable conference would be helpful to paddlers interested in working on dam removal projects in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. Registration for the conference is due by January 23rd.

Thomas O'Keefe


Stephen Zerefos


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1212336 05/13/19 Thomas O'Keefe updated description
1192904 04/17/07 Stephen Zerefos n/a
1212337 05/13/19 Thomas O'Keefe updated description