Susquehanna River - Holtwood

Susquehanna River, Pennsylvania, US



Usual Difficulty III+ (for normal flows)
Length 2 Miles
Avg. Gradient 5 fpm
Max Gradient 5 fpm

Mark Cecchini & Rob Terry at Playspot 1

Mark Cecchini & Rob Terry at Playspot 1
Photo of Kristen Podolak

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
Susquehanna River at Harrisburg, PA
usgs-01570500 6.00 - 12.00 ft III+ 01h08m 5.29 ft (too low)

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.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2016-09-29 22:47:51

Rapid Descriptions

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User Comments

Users can submit comments.
September 27 2016 (841 days ago)
Steve BeckerDetails
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:
October 14 2014 (1555 days 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:
January 2 2004 (5492 days 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.
January 2 2004 (5492 days 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
November 30 2003 (5525 days ago)
Jeremy LaucksDetails
For the real skinny on Holtwood play, surf over to the constantly evolving Susquehanna Surf Guide
September 30 2003 (5587 days 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.
April 18 2002 (6117 days ago)
John BergDetails
Isn't the fish ladder on river right?

Associated Projects

  • Holtwood Dam - Susqehanna (PA)
    Dam Owner is proposing to reduce flows and alter channel containing whitewater features as part of a FERC license amendment.