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Difficulty III+
Length 2 Miles
Gauge Susquehanna River at Harrisburg, PA
Flow Range 6.00 - 12.00 FT
Flow Rate as of: 58 minutes ago 4.74 [FT]
Reach Info Last Updated 09/29/2016 10:47 pm

River Description

Holtwood has a number of different boating options:

The new Whitewater Park! The Whitewater Park is located at the base of the old fish ladder along the river right shore, just upstream of Route 373. The park is activated during scheduled releases in early spring and fall, and the schedule can be found here. American Whitewater worked closely with local paddlers to negotiate construction of the whitewater park as mitigation for excavations and flow impacts to natural whitewater features downstream of the dam. The park features a big extremely fast breaking wave at the top, a strong and dynamic hole in the middle, and a finicky but at times very nice small wave at the outflow of the park.

When Holtwood Dam is spilling at high flows, paddlers can make a circuit of all of the spots listed below, except for Almond Joy. I have listed the circuit in logical order. Please note that this circuit will require long upstream attainments and carry's across islands .

Description of the river right channel

Big Water fun, Class IV

Storm Hole

The Play Spot

Other Squirt lines

Put In

Take Out

the playspot list, low water to high water
Storm Hole 5.5 thru 6.7
Playspot 6.0 to 7.5
Playspot II 7.5 to 10+
Powerline 7.5 and up
Rumble Pit 7.0 to 8.0
Pleaseant Surprise 7.5 to 9.5
Rock-N-Roll Hole (aka Almond Joy) 8.0 to 10.0
Accelerator 10.0 to 12.5
Mama Bear 11+
Beartrap 13.5+

You can do some creeking in the fish ladder on river left at the breast of the dam. I must warn you that the river left wall of the fish ladder has holes that are blown out that create sieves. There is a lot of rebar in the Fish Laddeer. I know a few locals that have run it. When there is a lot of water coming through the the fish ladder, the dangers are not as evident. I tell people to look at it first without water before you decide to run it. I typically put in about 1/2 way down the fish ladder, you still get a little creeking before you hit the pumping Susquehanna.

Rapid Descriptions


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Steve Becker
3 years ago

The Holtwood whitewater park consists of 3 spots on river right (west), made from the flow of a dam flood gate, some cement, and a large boulder wall to constrict the flow. head north from 372 on River Road near the Lock 12 historical park. Follow the road up to near the dam and park. There is a large path to get to the river with plenty of warning signs, you can see the river from this parking area. It releases in Spring and Fall, after fish and rare plant season, but before and after ice season... (Oct-Nov, March-April) Do not paddle above the three spots - (maybe what the above description is referring to the fish ladder?) The upper spot - is a large wave, the river falls about 10 feet into a wide wave with a large downstream wave train. Eddie service on both sides provide easy access. It is very fast, tall and bouncy. Not overly retentive, ie easy to get out river left. The middle spot - is more of a hole, a smaller drop maybe 5 feet. This one is more similar to a feature you would find on a river. Easy to catch the current and entry/exit on either side, easier river left. The lower spot - is a narrow wave, kinda washed out with higher releases. Not retentive unless you have a fast boat. release listing:

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5 years ago

Any chance someone could do an update here? Supposedly, this has changed a lot with a $4M whitewater park. A good article on it (with some good photos of action there) is: The full 'old' guide to it is available at:

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16 years ago

Holtwood is best accessed from McCall's Ferry road (River Right). There is a trail leading down to the river next to the large warning sign (with the Starrk-Moon sticker) under the powerline. Take the Trail to the left. If you plan on staying above the bridge, simply attain or walk back up the the put-in. If you head downstream, you'll want to set a shuttle and take out at the Lock 15 area, reached off of River Rd. (McCall's Ferry Rd downstream of Rt 372.) Park outside of the gate if you're going to take off after sunset.
Unfortunately, several people have had their cars broken into here (some more than once). It's best to leave your valuables at home. Most of the time the theifs steal wallets, cell phones, CD's, and the like, and don't usually go after the smelly boating gear you leave in your car,but to be on the safe side, if you have an extra boat on your car, make sure it's locked up securely and it's best not to leave boats unattended when running or walking shuttle. Consider yourself warned.

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16 years ago

Re: Give us the holtwood beta... by Bradley Jan 01 2004, 20:44 GMT New
Date: Jan 01 2004, 23:12 GMT
From: rhinoboard

Holtwood is on the Susquahanna River in Southern PA. The good playspots are about 1/4 mile downstream from the huge dam. Check it out at

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Jeremy Laucks
16 years ago

For the real skinny on Holtwood play, surf over to the constantly evolving Susquehanna Surf Guide at:

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16 years ago

Colby runs Holtwood Dam New
Forum: BoaterTalk
Date: Aug 26 2003, 23:01 GMT
From: loon-moon-soon

Homeboy Colby Mackley comes in from the Olympic Pennisula borrows a boat and heads out and runs the big dam left of center. Colby was out scouting the dam yesterday and decided it could be done. Colby said that he dropped off the biggest horizone line ever out on the big river. Some boards were missing and the water was just below the remaining boards as he got his ass launched into the air coming off the lip. Cool stuff on the Susquehanna. Not for others. Don't try this at home. Brad@Starrkmoon

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John Berg
17 years ago

Isn't the fish ladder on river right?

Gage Descriptions

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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  
2016-12-27 n/a Fatality Cold Water Read More
2007-04-29 High Fatality Cold Water Read More
1993-05-28 Medium Fatality One Boat Trip Read More



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Army Corps Study Threatens Lehigh River Boating

Bob Nasdor

Paddlers on the Lehigh River below the Francis E. Walter Dam and Reservoir are concerned that a planned study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and its partners, the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection will lead to a reduction in whitewater boating opportunities on the Lehigh. The study will evaluate the feasibility of various alternatives to optimize project operation. Aside from the project's authorized primary missions of flood risk management and recreation, the study will also consider water supply and water quality, to identify possible improvements to the existing structure, infrastructure, and operations that will support current and future demands within the region. The Army Corps is holding a public meeting on January 9, 2020 at the Mountain Laurel Resort in White Haven, PA from 6-8 p.m. to explain the study and hear public comments. American Whitewater, Appalachian Mountain Club, and other organizations are expected to file comments with the Army Corps prior to the September 29th deadline in order to share our concerns about the study and potential impacts on boating, the outdoor recreation economy, and the Delaware RIver Basin. We encourage our members to attend the public meeting to voice their concerns.

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Holtwood Whitewater Park to Open in 2015 (PA)

Kevin Colburn

Anticipation was running high for the first public dam releases on the newly constructed Holtwood Whitewater Park this fall, however the final round of testing in early October revealed more work was needed before opening the park. Testing and modifications are ongoing, and we'll release a schedule of releases early next year.  The good news is that the waves are going to be incredible.

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Wave Construction at Holtwood (PA) Begins

Kevin Colburn

Earlier this week the owner of the Holtwood Hydroelectric Project on the Susquehanna River (PA) initiated a construction process that will result in two sizeable whitewater waves at the base of a defunct fish ladder on the west side of the dam.  Once completed, the waves will be activated by 264 hours of scheduled water releases each year as well as by significant periods of spill.  The waves will provide for high quality freestyle kayak surfing opportunities.  Construction is anticipated to be complete by year end, and releases should begin no later than the summer of 2013.

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Final Holtwood Plan Ready For Federal Approval (PA)

Kevin Colburn

On December 15th, 2011, the owner of Holtwood Dam on the Susquehanna River submitted a whitewater boating plan to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for approval. The plan calls for two new whitewater features to be built immediately downstream of Holtwood Dam along the York County side of the Susquehanna River at the base of a defunct fish ladder. It is anticipated that the construction of the features will occur in 2012, and will be fully operational in 2013.

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Holtwood Project Back on the Table (PA)

Kevin Colburn

Last week, the owner of the Holtwood Hydroelectric Project on the Susquehanna River resubmitted their project expansion proposal to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and requested expedited approval.  This action restarts the process for modifying the Holtwood Project that was shelved in December.  American Whitewater and our partners are working with the owner to fully implement the settlement agreement we signed last year to minimize and mitigate recreational impacts of this hydro-project expansion. 

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Dam Owner Pulls Plug On Holtwood Expansion (PA)

Kevin Colburn

Yesterday the owner of Holtwood Dam on the Susquehanna River announced that they would not move forward with their plans to install additional generation capacity to their dam. In a statement on their website, William H. Spence, executive vice president and chief operating officer of PPL Corporation stated: "As we evaluated this project in light of current economic conditions and projections of future energy prices, we reached the conclusion that it is no longer economically justifiable.”

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Agreement in Principle Reached on the Susquehanna (PA)

Kevin Colburn

Representatives from the paddling community today reached an Agreement in Principle with the owner of the Holtwood Hydroelectric Project, Pennsylvania Power and Light.  This tentative agreement supports fish passage goals, power generation, and protects and/or mitigates whitewater boating opportunities.

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Holtwood Public Meetings Planned for April (PA)

Kevin Colburn

The dam owner and FERC staff will conduct a site visit and host public meetings regarding the Holtwood Hydroelectric  Project on Thursday, April 17, 2008.  Holtwood is located on the Susquehanna River.  The dam owner is proposing to install additional turbines, modify the channel, and delay relicensing their dam, each of which will impact paddling opportunities downstream. 

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New Project Threatens Holtwood Playspots (PA)

Kevin Colburn

A new project has been proposed that would likely destroy most or all of the popular play waves and holes downstream of the Holtwood Dam on Pennsylvania's Susquehanna River. American Whitewater is working with regional clubs and businesses to assure that paddler's interests are considered and met in the case that the project is carried out.
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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.

Matt Muir


Kevin Colburn


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1193355 06/10/08 n/a n/a
1206887 09/29/16 Kevin Colburn ww park descr added