White Water Rafting on the Yough
By Doug Kish, MA – This year our white water rafting trip took us to an area we had not explored in the past. It was incredible 89-degree weather at the end of April as our group traveled about three hours southeast to Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania, the home of White Water Adventurers, Inc. Located on the lower portion of the Youghiogheny River, or the Yough for short, this 134-mile long tributary of the Monongahela River runs through Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland before emptying into the tributaries of the Mississippi River. Youghiogheny is an Algonquin word meaning “a stream flowing in a contrary direction” and it is exactly that, combined with rapids ranging from Class I to Class V.
Arriving on Sunday afternoon we checked in with White Water Adventurers to confirm our schedule for the next day. The majority of lodging in Ohiopyle is cabins and bed and breakfasts, with the exception of the Yough Plaza, which has rooms and suites. After checking in and stowing our gear, we set out to explore the area. Our lodging was located less than a block from the Ohiopyle State Park. The unseasonably warm weather, together with the weekend, brought numerous visitors to the park, some of them venturing into the water to cool off. A hike by the river revealed rough water due to abundant spring rains. After about a half hour of walking, we were drawn by the smell of good food and the sound of music to stop at a restaurant with outdoor tables.
While it was still light, I opted for a bike ride to explore further. Continuing to follow the river through the park, I could see and hear the roar of the water as I passed beneath a canopy of trees. On the return trip, I made one last stop before dark on the top of a bridge to take in the view of the setting sun and the gorge below. Across the river, trains with cars for passengers and shipping containers run continuously at all hours on this major rail line. Travelers in double decker cars could be seen enjoying their dinner while enroute to their destination, which might have been Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania or Washington, D.C.
The next morning we enjoyed breakfast at a nearby café with a beautiful view overlooking the river. Then it was off to White Water Adventurers where we completed the appropriate paperwork and met our raft guide, Joe Bever. Since we selected the Paddle and Peddle trip, we were fitted with bikes that would be transported down river to the takeout location for our return ride. White Water Adventurers will also transport bags for rafters so you can change into dry clothes for the return trip. Although we were advised that the water temperature was near 60 degrees due to the mild winter, which is about the warmest it gets even in the summer months, we still opted for wet suits and booties to keep us dry and warm in case of a tumble into the water. Life jackets and helmets were fitted to each person individually. Walking down to the river, our boat was waiting for us. In the staging area we positioned ourselves in the boat and Bever gave us a quick review of safety instructions, including how to control the paddle, and an idea of what we would be doing. We met two additional guides, Scott Donatelli and Zack Herring, who would accompany us down the river in separate kayaks. Donatelli would take photos from all angles during our trip, which was no easy task, and Herring was available to help in case anyone needed a hand.
The adventure began as we all picked up the boat and carried it to the water. After a rehearsal of how to turn and how to back up, we were off. After a short time we cleared the Cucumber Rapids and pulled over to the shore where we disembarked for a small hike to Cucumber Falls, one of the many scenic waterfalls located within the 19,000 acres of Ohiopyle State Park. Back in the boat, we continued on our journey through the Lower Yough. Contrary to some of my prior whitewater rafting trips, this river has rapids close together with few areas of flat water. Our guide was very knowledgeable of the history of the river. He relayed the story of a train car that derailed from the tracks on a cliff above more than 50 years ago. It rolled down the hill and still remains in its final resting place by the river, even though the trees flattened by it years ago have since grown tall again. Asked why it was never removed, Bevar said, “It’s a great conversation piece.”
As we approached each of the rapids, our guide would stop the boat and advise us how to maneuver through the area in order to avoid flipping over. Asked about wildlife in the area, Bever advised he spotted a mother bear and her cubs on the shore during a recent trip. Soon after that question, we spotted a deer on land nearby. After some turbulent Class IV rapids, we again pulled over to the shore and had lunch. At this location, we were given the opportunity to leap off Jump Rock and experience the water firsthand. The best way to do this is not to think about it too much, but just jump in. When you first hit the water, the cold temperature takes your breath away, but in a few seconds the wet suit does its job and you hardly notice the cold. Since the water is calm in this area, you are able to swim to the other side of the river where the boat is waiting. Everyone accounted for, we forged onward. Continuing through the Class III and Class IV rapids, we ultimately passed through 24 rapids, 8 of which were considered major rapids, along our 7½ -mile journey down the river.
Landing at the takeout area, we changed into dry clothes, grabbed our bikes and began heading back. One of our guides accompanied us on the ride back and he, too, relayed historical and wildlife facts about the area. The path, which consists of an abandoned railroad line with the tracks removed, runs next to the river, as well as over a bridge, and is again filled with numerous photo opportunities. While the weather continued to be sunny and warm, it was only a short half-hour ride to get back.
One member of our group, Roy Coffey, summed up his experience by saying, “Being an amateur outdoorsman, I found the White Water Adventurers trip exhilarating and addictive. Thanks to our friendly, confident and capable guides, my first white water rafting trip was one of my favorite experiences. The beauty and cleanliness of the park were unmatched. I never felt unsafe or unprepared. It was truly a fun and exciting adventure–one I suggest everyone try! I can’t wait to return.”
Bobby Stolicny, another in our group, said, “White water rafting was something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I have to admit, I wasn’t sure what to expect after driving just a few hours from home, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a charming town on a beautiful river with lots of activities and friendly people. It was an exhilarating experience. Our guides were personable, knowledgeable, and made us feel safe. I enjoyed Bever’s history about the river and how each rapid got its name. Donatelli was always two steps ahead taking photos, and Herring was there to ensure our safety just in case someone fell out. Thankfully, the only thing he rescued that day was a pair of sunglasses. Thanks to everyone at White Water Adventurers and I look forward to our next trip down the Yough River.”
On the last day of our adventure, we had breakfast at the café before heading out for a 2-hour hike. We returned to Cucumber Falls for pictures and then visited the natural water slides. The air temperature was a bit cooler that day and none of us opted to try the water slides. It was then time to head back home with lots of pictures and great memories of our fun adventure.
White Water Adventurers has several different rafting packages available. The Lower Yough paddle/peddle trip is suitable for guests ages 12 and older. It runs 7½ miles through 22 rapids ranging from Class II to Class IV through Ohiopyle State Park. The Middle Yough trip is an 11-mile trip lasting 3-5 hours and perfect for novice paddlers ages 5 and up. Suitable for rafting or kayaking, it includes calm pools, meandering rapids and playful swimming holes. This trip has the option to pedal and then paddle. The Upper Yeogh trip is rated among the top 10 commercially-run white water rivers. It has Class V rapids on an 11-mile run, broken down into three sections: the warm-ups, the workout (drops an average of 115’/mile) and the cool downs. This adventure is recommended for rafters in good physical condition and at least 16 years old.
Visitors can rent go-pro cameras to record a video exactly as they experienced it and relive the adventure again and again. Guides also take numerous photos which are available for review and purchase at the office. White Water Adventurers rents 1 and 2-man inflatable kayaks, 2-man PPB’s, and 4 to 6-man rafts. There is also an interesting gift shop where you can purchase a t-shirt or other souvenir of your visit. All sizes and types of bikes are available for rental so the whole family can ride. There is also mini-golf in the area for some slower-paced fun.
Our accommodations at the Yough Plaza were very clean and nicely decorated, and the property was well maintained. While we had rooms with two double beds, Yough Plaza also has suites with two bedrooms, kitchens and a living room area with a sleeper sofa. For more information or to make reservations, visit their website at youghplazamotel.com.
Ohiopyle is not the typical tourist town. It’s a clean, friendly, small town with cafes, pubs, pizza and ice cream shops, and quaint souvenir shops. During the winter months, the population of Ohiopyle numbers 59. But in the summer, over a million people visit this popular area. I can certainly understand that since this is an excellent location for outdoor enthusiasts. For me, it was an opportunity to experience a new area of the country and a great adventure, and to make new friends. I plan to return to White Water Adventurers in the future to conquer the more challenging rapids. Check out the website wwaraft.com to book your White Water Adventurers trip or to learn more about their services.
White Water Rafting on the Yough