Although the Lehigh goes through a remote senic gorge, it cannot be considered a wilderness experience. The area was considered the 'Switzerland of Pennsylvania' in the 1800s, has several strip mines tucked away in the hills, had 4 railway lines along the river, and before the railroads were built was completely dammed from White Haven down to Easton.
The area has recovered a lot of its natural beauty, but is still very heavily trafficed. The state park and rafting outfitters do a great job of minimizing the impact on the environment, regulating the amount, timing, and locations of rest stops of the rafting trips, and keeping garbage picked up
If you paddle the river alone during the week, you can still see a lot of wildlife and believe you are in the middle of nowhere. But on weekends the river more resembles a whitewater circus. It is 2 hours from 2 major metropolitan centers, and draws a lot of people for whom this is their first outdoors experience, and first whitewater adventure other than Dorney Park or Great Adventure.
Some tips on enjoying yourself in spite of (or perhaps because of) the crowds:
Don't have unrealistic expectations. Its crowded and getting more crowded. Easier river access, better management of water flows, availability of plastic boats, better paddling instructions all contribute to more crowds. Even though rafting customers seem to have decreased in recent years, the increase in private boaters more than make up the difference.
The state park permits about 40 raft trips a day, divided among 4 outfitters on the upper and lower sections. Each trip has about 20 rafts, and 4 guides in kayaks or duckies. The trips get strung out on the lower, but stay bunched up on the upper with stops at the bottom of rapids for regrouping. Try to run the drops in between the raft trips.
Don't follow a raft too closely. If they get pinned on a rock, you might get swept underneath them.
Don't go down a drop right in front of a raft - if you get stuck on a rock, you might get smushed.
You can't call yourself a true Lehigh boater until you have been runover by a raft. 5 points for you if you drag yourself from under the raft and then roll up. 1 point for the raft if you swim.
There are usually several routes down a rapid for a kayak or canoe, rafts usually have only 1 clean route. On busy days look for slots to run. 1 point for you if you if you get part of a raft trip to follow you down a route that then becomes too narrow for rafts, 5 points for you if they hit a 'flipper' rock.
The traditional 'play spots' usually have long lines waiting to get in. Instead of getting frustrated waiting in lines, spend your trip practicing your eddy turns (lots of rocks available), and surfing the many small waves. If you do decide to spend some time surfing a play spot don't be a hole hog. The next person waiting in line can also surf the wave all day, frontwards and backwards. You don't impress anyone unless you surf without a paddle, blindfolded, juggling 4 flaming torches, singing selections from the opera Carmen while drinking a glass of water.
Rafts have a de facto right of way. They are 1- usually coming down the rapid out of control, and 2- are paying $50 per person to hit every wave and hole on the river regardless of whether there is a kayaker or canoeist surfing it.
Some waves are wide enough to allow you to dodge rafts while staying on the wave. 1 point for every raft you avoid, 1 point for the raft if they bump you off the wave, 5 points for the raft if they run you over. The rafters are usually pretty good at not deliberately hitting you, but not at the cost of missing the hole.
There are some very large paddling clubs in the area that often use the Lehigh as training trips. If you avoid them you will notice the river becomes much less crowded.
A lot of clubs also have a lot of open boaters. Nothing against this class of paddler, but they do seem to take up a lot more real estate on the river than boaters that have obtained a higher level of conciousness, kayakers or the true masters of the river - C-1ers :-).
Logistics at takeout and puting are getting complicated. Don't clog up the waterline at White Haven, get off the river and up the stairs as soon as possible at Rockport. If you carry your boats up the hill to the parking lot at Rockport you can avoid a sometimes long wait to get your car down. Keep your boats out of the way at Rockport when waiting for your car to come down, and load quickly once it does - the more cars the rangers can fit at the bottom the faster you will get your car down.
So to summarize, if you don't like crowds do the Lehigh during the week. Otherwise enjoy the camaraderie of many, many fellow boaters. The alternative is a private boater quota system like Pennsylvania's other whitewater state park - the lower Yough.
|This information is my opinion only
and may not reflect actual conditions.
It is based on my usually hazy memory,
and should not be used to decide whether
you or your guides are qualified to run the river.
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