My brother planned a 20-mile, two-day packraft extravaganza. Just the two of us! The weather was a question mark but as the date drew closer, things looked good. It turned out to be unseasonably warm and just as gorgeous as one might imagine in the hills of northwestern Pennsylvania in the autumn. We were paddling on the great Allegheny River.
That’s me above! Yes it was that beautiful and that peaceful. We met in an area called President Village in Tionesta, PA where there is a semi-public boat launch. It is closed one day a month and there is a small fee, honor system style. It was an adorable, quiet group of houses next to the river. We would end here and start upstream near the town of Tidoute, PA.
Photo by Jonathan Tressler:
The packrafts are so easy to inflate and Jonathan had everything so well organized that it was easy getting started. We also could handle a lot of weight since we weren’t hiking. Our campsite and food therefore were kind of lush! But first we had to get there.
Photo by Jonathan Tressler
The West Hickory launch is part of the National Forest. It has an adjacent parking lot and we were the only car. We inflated, lashed packs to rafts, and launched. The river flowed at about two to three miles an hour, and we paddled when we wanted to go a little faster. We quickly passed under this bridge and floated by Tidiuote. There are many narrow islands in the river, some privately owned but many, like parts of the river itself, are preserved for recreation in the Allegheny National Forest. The Forest, by the way, is over half a million acres and makes up most of northwestern Pennsylvania. We paddled a bit less than halfway back to Tionesta and stayed overnight on one of the islands. Here’s the launch where we started and part of our camp:
The camp photo really doesn’t show how nice our site was. We chose a picturesque island without nearby houses, we had a gorgeous night sky with no light pollution, and it was quiet. No one else was on the island, nor did any other watercraft pass by. I imagine the area gets more crowded during summer months, but these were two weekdays in mid-October and we had the river almost entirely to ourselves. As for the camping, I slept in a camping hammock with a sleeping pad and pillow. Jonathan brought chairs, a table, even a radio! By the way, he had camped in the area before and he even knew a good radio station- 92 Gold- which played an unexpected mix of 70’s to 90’s pop music. We set up camp and he made an amazing jambalaya for dinner. I slept like a baby… in a cradle… held up by large trees sometimes swaying in the wind.
The next morning we were enshrouded in a gentle mist. I had seen the low-lying clouds early the day before while driving and now we were in one! After a few hours, we could see the blue sky above but the mist at our level was thick. We had a very lazy morning partly by choice and partly for safety, since boats would not see or hear us if we paddled in that fog. Breakfast was coffee and tea, leftover dinner, and stroopwaffles, yum! We filtered river water for drinking and packed up the gear. Other photos from that morning:
Photo by Jonathan Tressler
We paddled five or so hours that day back to the president village launch. A hurdle towards the end was bridge repair, which limited passage under the bride and brought debris we thought might puncture the rafts. We portaged around the bridge then got back to paddling. It was another stunning day and I enjoyed relaxing and watching the scenery pass by.
Later that weekend, I visited friends in Columbus, Ohio. We decided to take a day trip to Hocking Hills in southeast Ohio. We walked part of the Buckeye trail there, which includes over 1,400 miles as it makes its way around the entire state. Hocking Hills is a forested portion of the trail and has impressive rock formations as well as gentle Appalachian beauty.
I was so happy to be with longtime friends and hiking on a gorgeous day!
Dedicated to Jody, gone too soon. You are a part of every trip and a part of my soul forever.