Clarion River Water Trail
The Clarion River is the 2019 Pennsylvania River of the Year and will be featured on a U.S. Postage stamp. It meanders through the narrow valleys and hardwood forests of the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors region for 110 miles, flowing from Johnsonburg through Cook Forest to Clarion and ultimately joining the Allegheny River near Foxburg. Forested mountain slopes teeming with wildlife, intermittent riffles on the water, and rock outcrops above its surface provide a picturesque backdrop for outdoor recreation. Nearly 52 miles of the river have been designated as scenic and recreational under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and adjacent public lands along its shores 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 offer great opportunities for experienced paddlers due to narrower and faster waters sometimes blocked by trees, and paddlers here most enjoy the water in the spring and after rainfalls. Boat and canoe launches and other amenities can be found at Elk State Park and Bendigo State Park, which also offer hiking trails, picnic areas, and other recreational facilities.
The East and West Branches of the river flow together at Johnsonburg to form the main Clarion River, which then continues on to Ridgway, home to several kayaking and canoeing outfitters. This section of the river offers fantastic trophy brown trout fishing. From here, the river begins its stretch of scenic and recreational sections, and as it continues southwest and begins to widen, it borders state game lands and the Allegheny National Forest — truly a beautiful and remote span of the river. Between Portland Mills and Irwin Run, three Class I+ rapids provide a bit more of a challenge to paddlers.
Below Spring Creek, the Clarion River borders River Road, which offers a scenic drive and 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, and the section of the river between Johnsonburg and Clear Creek State Park provides anglers with miles of exceptional trout and smallmouth bass fishing.
The river’s character gentles as you near Cook Forest State Park, and this section is popular for family recreation. Famous for its magnificent old-growth forest of white pine and hemlock, the Cook Forest area features many hiking trails, easy canoe access, and good fishing and picnicking spots. The Seneca Point Overlook here and Fire Tower just downriver of Cooksburg provide spectacular views of the Clarion River Valley. In the town of Cooksburg, you’ll find lodges, cabins, B&Bs, restaurants, campgrounds, shops, canoe liveries, and lots of other attractions for vacationers young and old.
Downstream from Cooksburg to Mill Creek, the river’s final federally designated stretch returns to a primitive state with limited access and more challenges as it borders Cook Forest and state game lands and flows into the calm deep water of Piney Reservoir. The Toby Boat Launch and Route 322 bridge launch near the borough of Clarion provide reservoir access to power boaters, paddlers, and anglers alike.
The lower section of the Clarion River Water Trail below Piney Dam has fewer public access points, but paddlers can put in or take out at Deer Creek as well as the State Route 58 Bridge in Callensburg. The Clarion then joins the Allegheny River between Foxburg and Parker on the Clarion/Armstrong County line, and from there, it continues on to Pittsburgh and beyond.
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