(Above photo by Kyle Yates)

The Clarion River meanders through narrow valleys and hardwood forests for 115 miles.  Its headwaters enter the PA Great Outdoors region in Elk County and flow south through Cook Forest to Clarion and ultimately to join the Allegheny River near Foxburg.

Over the last two hundred years, the story of the river has been one of resource exploitation, degradation, resilience, and recovery. Lumber was the chief industry along the river during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. At one time heavily polluted, it has experienced a tremendous recovery.

Today, forested mountain slopes teaming with wildlife, intermittent riffles and rock outcrops provide a picturesque backdrop for outdoor recreation. A 52-mile stretch of the river has been nationally designated Wild & Scenic. Adjacent public lands provide abundant opportunities for camping, hunting, hiking, bicycling, wildlife watching, and picnicking.

Fun on the Water

Each section of the Clarion River Water Trail has a unique character. The East and West Branches of the river are narrower, swifter, and trees sometimes block the stream, offering great opportunities for experienced paddlers. Paddling here is best in the spring and after rainfalls. Boat and canoe launches and other amenities are available at Elk State Park and Bendigo State Park.

(Above photo by John Straitiff)

The East and West Branches of the river flow together at Johnsonburg to form the main Clarion River. It continues on to Ridgway which is home to several kayaking and canoeing outfitters. This section is best known for fantastic trophy brown trout fishing. From here the river begins to widen and is bordered by state game lands and the Allegheny National Forest. Between Portland Mills and Irwin Run is a beautiful and remote section with three Class 1+ rapids to challenge paddlers.

Below Irwin Run, the Clarion River is bordered by the River Road, which offers easy access to the river and some limited campsites in the Allegheny National Forest. Clear Creek State Park has a riverside campground, cabins, and canoe access. The section of the river just below Johnsonburg to Clear Creek State Park offers anglers exceptional trout and smallmouth bass fishing.  

The river’s character becomes gentler as you near Cook Forest State Park. The section is popular for family recreation. Cook Forest is home to Pennsylvania’s magnificent old growth forest of white pine and hemlock. You’ll find many hiking trails, easy canoe access, and both good fishing and picnicking spots. The Seneca Point Overlook is here too, providing spectacular views of the Clarion River Valley. In the town of Cooksburg, you’ll find lodges, cabins, B&B’s, restaurants, campgrounds, shops, and canoe liveries.

Downstream from Cooksburg to Mill Creek, the river returns to a primitive state with limited access and more challenges. This Wild & Scenic section of the river is bordered by Cook Forest and state game lands and flows into the calm deep water of Piney Reservoir. The Toby Boat Launch near the borough of Clarion is the last public launch on the Clarion River and is popular for power boaters on the reservoir.

This lower section of the Clarion River Water Trail, below Piney Dam, is still under development. Local groups are working to establish public access on the 32 miles of river between the Toby Launch and its confluence with the Allegheny River.

Find more information to help you plan a day of fun on the Clarion River online at or call (814) 849-5197 for free water trail maps.

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