The Lehigh Gorge, nestled between the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, offers travelers a unique experience to discover challenging whitewater in a raft or kayak. No matter the skill level, several companies offer trips and in-river classes for the novice to the most experienced of paddlers.
With the skyrocketing summer heat and the northeastern humidity, keeping cool is essential. For travelers looking for something fun that doesn’t include fighting for space in the hotel pool, whitewater adventures offer an extraordinary and challenging experience.
The Lehigh River, a tributary of the Delaware River, is a 109-mile-long river located in eastern Pennsylvania that has class two and three rapids, depending on the water levels and section of the river that the rafts travel.
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Jerry McAward, owner of Northeast PA Kayak School and Jim Thorpe River Adventures said that the Lehigh River offers guests a “budget-friendly” whitewater kayaking experience close to home.
“I enjoy inspiring people to try new things outdoors and help them to make some life changes, big or small.”
The center offers a variety of trips for all skill levels, from a three-hour float with lots of time to swim and play to a five-hour trip navigating in whitewater. Summer rafting guides instruct adventure seekers in proper paddling and safety precautions while highlighting the fun parts of the experience like using splash buckets to keep cool, swimming, floating and capturing the experience so guests can return home with a photo of the memorable afternoon.
An experienced kayaker and rafting guide, Tom Storm said they see travelers coming from New York and Philadelphia looking to trade the bustling city air for a relaxing or adventurous weekend in the mountains.
“The river is chock full of history and scenery—it’s perfect for those who may have little to no prior experience on rivers. As far as adventure activities go, it’s also very approachable and, best yet, you get to guide the raft yourself!”
For more adventurous or experienced river riders, the second section of the Lehigh offers 12.8 miles of the river for about five hours. The challenge is greater and there’s more mental and physical fitness needed to steer the raft.
“What we whitewater professionals and enthusiasts get most excited about is weather and water level. Many folks want a sunny day to go out, but what we really look out for is incoming rain events. If it’s higher water levels and adventure you are looking for, don’t let rain change your mind. Get out on the water and have an experience that is truly epic,” says Storm.
In addition to rain events, the higher water levels are made possible by dam releases, which occur every two weeks from mid-May through July, then every weekend until Labor Day when water is released and results in concentrated flows during the daylight hours.
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When the river runs below 250 cubic feet per second it’s too low for boating, and especially rafting, but at 250 to 1,000 cubic feet per second, the river becomes more suitable for boating. Above 1,000 cubic feet per second, the difficulty level becomes somewhat greater and higher skill levels and better equipment may be necessary. At levels above 5,000 cubic feet per second, only expert boaters in kayaks, closed canoes or very large rafts should dare attempt the river according to the Pennsylvania Recreational Guide.
Chris West has been guiding on the Lehigh River for nine years and says that of all the places he’s worked, including West Virginia and Maryland, the Lehigh is the best for anyone to come and enjoy whitewater.
He’s guided groups of families, bachelor and bachelorette parties and a wide range of ethnic and religious groups.
“We are seeing more diversity than ever before but what keeps people coming back is the proximity from large metro areas.”