This a good after work run for Erie residents. Since Erie enjoys a moist climate, the water is usually high enough about once a week except for when it is frozen over and during the summer months. During the summer this run is only available a couple of times from June through early September unless it is a very stormy summer. Lake effect rain helps make this run available in the Fall. There is good surfing for intermediate kayakers and it is very suitable for beginners. Rafting this section is quite difficult due to the fast moving water, sharp bends, and occasional trees requiring very precise maneuvering. At levels over 6.5 ft, this run would be too pushy for rafting in my opinion.
There are a couple of miles of Class I water on Elk that can be added on to the run by putting in on Rt 99 in McKean. Up near McKean the run has more downed trees than the suggested put-in. There are a lot more sharp bends as the river meanders through a shallow valley and a more pastoral setting.
The run from Baron Road starts out very tame with a long pool and one small Class I for the first 0.5 miles. After this, the run begins to descend through a shallow wooded ravine with small shale cliffs often on one side or the other. The run also passes some streamside homes, most of which do not interupt the scenery. Most of the rapids are of the ledge variety except for the first rapid and the last two which are created by small boulders. At the end of the run in Sterrettania, there is good access (PA Fish and Boat Commission Access Area) and a nice bar. There are a number of options for put-ins and take-outs. All this combines to make this reach the gem of Erie County! Enjoy!
You must have a PA registration on your boat to take out at the PA Fish and Boat Commission Access Area, regaurdless of boat length or type of boat. Alternatively, you can park at the bar and take out just upstream of the bridge on West Road. Remember, if you are taking out in the Access Area, you must have a registration even if you are parked at the bar just up the road. I personally found this out the hard way by getting a $50 fine. I think it costs $18 to register a boat and is good for 2 years.
There is a painted gauge on a West Road bridge pier on the right side of the river at the intersection with 832 in the PA Fish and Boat Commission Access area. This gauge is in increments of .25 ft. If it is reading 1 ft, you will have just enough water for this run to be worth it. It gets very fun at 1.75 ft or higher.
This is a small warm up rapid. The deepest route is on the right side of the island. There are usually some eddies here if the water isn't too high.
This is the first big rapid on Upper Elk marked by a huge concrete pillar in the middle of the river called "The Widowmaker". It starts out as a fairly sharp left bend and gradually sloped section, dropping about 4 feet over a distance of about 30 yards. The Widowmaker may cause problems if you hit it. It could potentially wrap a boat or trap a swimmer. At higher levels above 5.5 ft as shown in the photo, you may want to take the sneak route on the left side as the hole can get very nasty and may even surf you into the concrete at some levels. If you take the sneak, this rapid is nothing more than a fast, shallow ripple. When the water is low, you can surf the hole beside The Widowmaker. It is actually a combination of a little waterfall and deflection off the Widowmaker that make this hole.
There is a big pull off along the right side of West Road just after crossing under I-79 going towards McKean. Carry your boat accross the road in the parking lot of the trucking company. I don't think the trucking company lets you park on their property.
This is just a fun little rapid to chop through, but offers little for surfing or eddies.
This is a good sized, short ledge and is a good spot to surf at any runnable level. When the water is low, the right side is great for doing doughnuts. In high water (above 1.3 feet) a wave train extends from the ledge and into a deep pool below Rick Road. When this happens it is possible to do enders here! If you don't have much time this is a good putin. You will still catch the best rapids by putting in at the bridge on Rick Road. There is room for a couple of cars on the right side just before crossing the bridge going north on Rick Road. The land owners across the road from the pull off are very friendly and used to fisherman on their property. They don't seem to mind boaters at all.
This is a nice series of surfing waves. It is about 40 yards long with most of the good waves on the river left. Don't be surprised if you see the land owner's bulldog on the left side of the river. It seems to be pretty harmless.
This is a fun little hole for doing doughnuts. There is an eddy on the right.
The river drops very suddenly here... and I mean suddenly! You are paddling along and all the sudden, without warning, you plunge over a steep ledge and into a big hole that's fun to surf. The hole is in center of the river. The rapid is only about 10 yards long but drops a good 5 or 6 feet. The only way to recognize this rapid is a beautiful cascading sidestream and a nice house on the river right which are just downstream of the rapid as the river makes a sharp bend to the left. Unfortunatly this awesome ledge washes out to nothing more than a few small scattered holes above 5.5 ft or so. The bese level for this rapid is around 5.3 ft.
This is another rapid that comes out of nowhere. This is a long ledge with a series of good surf waves.
The river becomes very wide and shallow even when the water is well over 1 foot on the guage. The deepest route is on the right side. Most of the river is a steep drop of about 3.5 feet except for the slide on the right.
This is mostly just a 50 yard stretch of tall standing waves. However, the right side has one of the best waves on the run for surfing. I don't think there are any useful eddies near the wave.
This is a new rapid that formed in the flood from the Hurricane Francis remnents. A good sized ledge was created as the river eroded down to shale bedrock. There are some nice holes for surfing on the right side of the river at the end of the rapid.
This rapid is made famous after a pair of kayakers that had trouble here. Local boater Frank Frankovich saw one of the men had their boat pinned in this rapid last Christmas! The right side of the island is the deepest route and generally the most interesting. This rapid is almost always changing after big floods and ice flows because this rapid is not strictly bedrock like most of the other rapids.
There is a nice series of holes and small eddies right accross the road from the bar. A concrete slab is on the right side of the river. If the water is up this can create a pretty good sized hole.
PA Fish and Boat Commission Access Area There is plenty of room for parking here.
There is a brand new gauge on nearby Walnut Creek. The gauge is pretty close to Elk, so it is quite accurate. Please note that many of the picture footnotes use levels from the Brandy Run gauge. When Walnut is running at 5.05 ft, this section will usually be runnable.
There is a painted gauge on a West Road bridge pier on the right side of the river at the intersection with 832 in the PA Fish and Boat Commission Access area. This gauge is in increments of .25 ft. If it is reading 1 ft, you will have just enough water for this run to be worth it.
Permits are not required for this reach.
We have no additional detail on this route.
Use the map below to calculate how
to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.
Tree Down at Bridges
Parking at Baron Road
Upper Elk Creek Map
If someone gets hurt on a river, or you read about a whitewater-related injury, please report it to
American Whitewater. Don't worry about multiple submissions from other witnesses, as our safety
editors will turn multiple witness reports into a single unified accident report.
This past fall American Whitewater met with Ohiopyle State Park managers to discuss possible updates to their whitewater paddling regulations. The first topic was to change the rules governing raft sizes at different water levels to recognize the capabilities of self-bailing rafts. Shorter self-bailing boats will now be allowed to run the river at high water. Some small changes to the regulations will make Ohiopyle Falls more accessible to paddlers. A change in the way the gauge is interpreted should make the falls "legal" on more days. Although whitewater paddlers are only one part of the vast public that visits the park, every effort was made to accommodate them while avoiding user conflicts and safety hazards. Special thanks goes to Ken Bisbee, Ohiopyle State Park Operations Manager and John Hallas, a former Ohiopyle State Park Operations Manager who is now Director of State Parks. Click here to read the updated Ohiopyle River Regulations:
Log into the American Whitewater website and you can contribute to river descriptions,
flow and access tips, and maps associated with runs you've done. You can even add new
runs to the inventory!