Lehigh - 0. Francis Walters Dam to White Haven

Lehigh, Pennsylvania, US


0. Francis Walters Dam to White Haven (Top)

Usual Difficulty II(III) (for normal flows)
Length 6.75 Miles
Avg. Gradient 15 fpm
Max Gradient 15 fpm

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
Lehigh R bl Francis E Walter Res nr White Haven PA
usgs-01447800 700 - 10000 cfs II(III) 00h22m 597 cfs (too low)

River Description

Section of the Lehigh from the Francis Walters Dam to White Haven. Easier than the Upper (White Haven to Rockport) or the Lower (Rockport to Jim Thorpe). A popular fishing stretch, so you have to share the river.  The land on either side once you leave the immediate area of the dam is state park land, and boat launching or take-out is not allowed except at state park designated locations.

Put in Directions (to base of dam):

From Route 80 take the White Haven exit. Go North and drive all the way to the Stop sign at Rt. 940. Make a right onto Rt. 940 East and follow it into Whitehaven. Continuing on Rt. 940 East drive a few hundred feet down to Towanda Road and make a left. (If you crossed the RR tracks you just missed it) Follow Towanda Road all the way to the Francis Walter Dam. Make a right at the huge Francis Walter sign and drive down about 1/8 mile taking the first right, a small dirt road, (there are two portable toilets placed there) and follow that dirt road for about a mile until it ends. This is a good stretch for people moving up from Section III (Jim Thorpe to Bowmanstown) to Sections I and II (White Haven to Jim Thorpe). Lightly used (due to better water just downstream) it is usually left to fishermen enjoying some peace and quiet compared to the downstream rafting circus.

Generally, the Top Lehigh contains milder drops than the Upper, making it more suitable for true whitewater beginners.  (thx to sk for the description).



StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2010-12-14 01:10:07


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
1.5Turnpike Hole - Pam's RockIIHazard Playspot
3.0Small Island Rapid - Devil's ElbowIIHazard Playspot

Rapid Descriptions

Turnpike Hole - Pam's Rock (Class II, Mile 1.5)

The trickiest spot is just above the Turnpike bridge. An island splits the river here. At the very bottom of the island in the left-hand channel lies Pam's Rock, a boat-length off the right shore of the island. Much of the water down this channel hits the rock and lasts off to the left, almost perpendicular to the river course. Run well to the left of Pam's Rock to avoid this cross current...it's a flipper for beginners.

Small Island Rapid - Devil's Elbow (Class II, Mile 3.0)

From the Philadelphia Canoe Club's JR:

Top Lehigh - Small Island Rapid and Novice Students

Over the years, a number of training groups have had problems at this rapid so I thought I'd blather a bit and open a discussion on it.

About half-way down the top section, there is a small island with several small trees in the left-center of river. The upstream approach has several large ledge-eddies on river-left separated by "sliding-board" holes. On river-left just above the island, there is a ledge that forms a swift narrow tongue of water maybe 6 feet wide with a flat triangular wash-over rock obstructing part of the tongue. There are two left-shore eddies just below the ledge and there is a small eddy (or slow water) on the left side of the island. As the wave-train formed by the fast current passes the island (about 20 yards below), part of it plows into a boulder garden on river left before most of the current bends right out to the center of the river. Once in the center, the river is wide, fast and shallow and a boater must paddle around a lumpy left bend to catch a large eddy at the bottom, river-left.

Why this rapid is often a problem for novices:
Many instructors encourage students to boof the left side of the ledge and catch the top eddy before peeling-out or ferrying to the island. On either of these two moves, a student flip in the fast current can result in a long swim past the island and out to the shallow fast current in the center. Once a swimmer and equipment passes the island, rescue is long and difficult with rock broaches for boaters and bruises likely for swimmers until they round the bend and are pulled into the large river-left eddy at the bottom. This is what I refer to as the "Big Flush."

Having ushered about a dozen novice groups through this section and chased numerous boats, paddles and bodies all the way around the bend, I've formed a definite opinion on how to approach it. While doing an out-of-boat scout here, I explain the options available INCLUDING walking it. When we encourage students to take a challenging route without indicating options and risks for their individual skill-levels, then we're subjecting everyone to unnecessary danger.

Aside from portage (which should ALWAYS be an offered option), there are two and sometimes three in-boat options that can be presented when scouting this rapid - depending on the river level and how much support is available.

Option 1 - IF students have been hitting their eddy's high and are able to perform ferries in swift current without loosing ferry angle (or flipping)... then they are a good candidate for boofing the left edge of the ledge, catching the river-left eddy and either ferrying to the island or heading out to the center of the river after passing the island. It is often the top ledge boof or the ferry to the island where long difficult swims start if a students skills are not developed. I've heard of some groups that position an out-of-boat person on the island or wash-over rock with a throw-bag. This is a good idea if you have enough support and your students have been throw-bag trained. Of course, there's no guarantee that a rope will be caught and if I can't spare a helper, then I prefer to have everyone in their boats ready to chase boats and bodies. Once a student and/or equipment passes the island and heads downstream, an instructor or assistant must be expended to chase them. So, spot-on eddy-catching and ferrying skills should be prerequisites for this option.

For students that have NOT been hitting eddy's high and performing swift current ferries:

Option 2 - There is a small tongue of water just upstream from the point of the island that a student can get to with a wide peel-out from the starting eddy. After going through the tongue, a quick right-side sweep is needed to avoid a rock broach. Once they've made the turn to avoid the rocks, the eddy next to the island is easy to paddle into. I usually position myself or one assistant in the island eddy to get there quickly. I like this move for less-developed students because, even with the risk of broaching after the tongue, the current is much slower here and if a student flips and swims, rescue to the island is easy. If an additional assistant helps in a rescue here, they are still positioned to help the next student. This option helps your group stay tight to the island and avoids the "big flush" for less skilled students.

Option 3 - If the level is 750cfs+, the river-right side is lumpy but passable. The downside to this option is that you need to commit at least one assistant to accompany the student - one that you won't get back to the island area. The start off requires a wide ferry and peel-out to the river-right side and either avoiding or punching a couple of small holes. I only recommend this for a less-skilled student if I have plenty of support and by placing them last in order. Otherwise, it's portage or Option 2.

There are no guarantees and there are probably other options that I haven't considered for this spot. The bottom line is that if we point out what options that a student has and make recommendations based on their skill levels, support and water conditions, then we're doing our jobs as instructors and allowing the student to "assume the risk" with an informed choice followed by our recommendations. As instructors, we can always say "No" to a challenging choice if we don't think the students skills are up to it or if support is not immediately available. Concern for group safety should always trump an instructors desire to challenge.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
June 2 2016 (962 days ago)
garygentile (156090)
A detailed description of the entire Lehigh River can be found in the "Lehigh River Paddling
Guide," which can be purchased online at http://www.ggentile.com/nonfiction_books.html. Scroll down
to the appropriate title.
May 29 2012 (2427 days ago)
karlmarsh (154461)
I was wondering at what point (CFS) does the difficulty jump the next level . I am taking some new
people out and I wanted some good starter stuff. Ok went down to the river and spoke to some guides
and they said that you could run the dam to White Haven at 2800 but he would only in a sealed boat.
He did note that people run it at 800-1000 with open boats like i have (10ft kayak no skirt yet) Ok
an update My friends and I went on Sunday a dam release day Water CFS was 800 CFS and 4.2 ft. 2 of
us on 10ft kayaks and one on 12 ft. The only one who flipped his kayak was in a 10ft and he seemed
to be aiming for rocks. We were told by some others at the end that we were out of our minds but I
don't really think It was that bad. Some hairy parts but the rapids were scattered so you could
recover in the slow parts. I had to stop 3 times to drain my kayak from water splashing in. I'm no
expert but I do have the skill to hold a line i see and avoid rocks. I will do the run again but
with a skirt.
August 7 2011 (2723 days ago)
x (1)
I'm going to look up the current rules and regs about this boat put-in/take-out issue. There has
got to be clear cut laws about it. As for the fishing issue above White Haven, there is no issue. I
haven't run it yet but this year will be my first time. I am however choosing to run it later in
the season so the fishermen can get a little bit of peace. At the end of the day...We've all got to
share the river's beauty. Paddlers don't need to violently splash or holler near fishermen to avoid
spooking. And fishermen don't need to leave empty worm cups and beer cans on the banks. Gotta
Respect! See you on the river!!
September 14 2008 (3780 days ago)
x (1)
There is a secret put-in below the dam/above White Haven. It is in a residential area that would
otherwise be private, but I believe has to have a right of way to the park for access. There are no
signs at this location about no boater put in. There is a parking area that is for the public. I'm
not aware of any restrictions. As for agreements with fisherman, I don't buy it. I don't see
rangers ticketing people for taking out at White Haven either. The rangers are chill and not a
bunch of nazis in the park. The only way you are gonna get a ticket from these guys is for open
containers of booze or something stupid.
November 18 2007 (4081 days ago)
x (1)
I have been boating on the Lehigh for over 15 years and as a resident of White Haven have never had
a problem running the top section. We fought for years to get the access open at the turnpike
bridge and finally a court ruling opened it. Just stay to far river left when you come into White
Haven and take out under the 80 Bridge not the town bridge. If you get ticketed, Fight it. The
Gorge runs all the way to F.E Walter, so it it open to all. BTW, The top is the best run on the
river over 6000 CFS. Huge waves, Massive holes and access is easy. If you are a beginer don't even
think about it.
November 16 2007 (4083 days ago)
x (1)
The reason taking out at White Haven is not allowed is that years ago we boaters agreed to leave
this section to the fishermen in exchange for the outstanding release program we got in the Lehigh
Gorge. Let's respect everyone's access to the Lehigh and padddle just the great sections below
White Haven. Dave Sibley, Wilmington Trail Club, Paddlers Section
September 24 2007 (4136 days ago)
x (1)
As of September 2007 there have been reports that the state park rangers are ticketing boaters who
put in anywhere upstream of White Haven, or attempt to use White Haven as a take-out. Recent
correspondence has indicated that putting in at the dam may be okay, but taking out at White Haven
is not allowed. 09-08-10 I am a White Haven resident and float a one man pontoon boat from below
the dam as well as the access point in White Haven Poconos.. I stop and fish along the way. I have
never had a problem when I arrived below the Rte 80 bridges for takeout - and I have talked with
the rangers while doing so. Steve Z

Related Groups

Volunteer Opportunities / Activities

Associated Projects

  • Lehigh River (PA)
    AW has worked with local paddling clubs to improve the recreational value of dam releases on the Lehigh


Calendar Control Date:
Calendar by Date by Title

May 2019

Lehigh River Release
07:00 am -7:00 pm est
Scheduled Whitewater Releases850-650 cfs

Lehigh River Release
07:00 am -7:00 pm est
Scheduled Whitewater Releases850-650 cfs

Lehigh River Release
07:00 am -7:00 pm est
Scheduled Whitewater Releases850-650 cfs

Lehigh River Release
07:00 am -7:00 pm est
Scheduled Whitewater Releases850-650 cfs


Lehigh River Release White Haven,PA runs 05/10/08 - 08/18/19, next 05/11/19
[+] favorites