Paddling PA’s Middle Allegheny

Camp on river islands among bald eagles.

When it comes to the Middle Allegheny River, it’s all about the islands. Camp in solitude on a Northwest Pennsylvania river island with 360-degree waterfront views where you’re all but guaranteed to see bald eagles. The Middle Allegheny is just a 90-minute drive from Pittsburgh (that is, closer than the Upper Allegheny Islands Wilderness) and offers numerous, user-friendly access points, so a day-trip is also easy. Take your time to explore the islands, channels and feeder streams—complete with waterfalls—along this nationally designated wild and scenic river. 

Recommended Day-trip: Franklin to Fisherman’s Cove

The town of Franklin is an outdoor adventure hub. There’s direct access to French Creek and the Allegheny River for paddling, plus the Allegheny River Trail and Justice Trails for cycling, which you can combine into paddle-pedal multi-sport experiences. Add in a paddling outfitter and places for food and drink, and you’ve got your next go-to launch location.

Head for the public boat ramp in Franklin. OARS (Outdoor Allegheny River Services) also has a private put-in, with boat rental and shuttle services available. From Franklin, it’s 9 miles to Fisherman’s Cove (the takeout is river-right along Fisherman’s Cove Road). Budget four hours for the float and look for petroglyphs on Indian God Rock, river-left about a mile upstream from the takeout. Without major roads paralleling the river, it’s flatwater paddling with a remote feel and plenty of bald eagles—you won’t have to look hard—plus ospreys and kingfishers. Stop for a mid-float break on one of the islands to swim or to fish for smallmouth bass and walleye. The islands and feeder creeks create sandbars that make perfect swimming beaches. June through August is the best time to go, when water temps are warm enough to swim without added layers under your PFD.  

Due to releases from the Kinzua Dam upstream, the Middle Allegheny can be floated year-round, though it’s the air and water temperatures, not depth, that will likely determine when you decide to paddle it. Check the USGS gauge for real-time conditions. Expect to cover 2-2.5 miles per hour, depending largely on whether you have a headwind.

Recommended Camping Trip: Franklin to Emlenton

Pack your camping gear and try a one- or two-night trip beginning in Franklin and ending 35 river miles later in Emlenton. Day 1, launch in Franklin and paddle 14 miles to Danner Primitive Camping Area in Clear Creek State Forest. River-right, the free sites do not require a reservation for a one-night stay (but register once you arrive); there are picnic tables, fire rings and a pit toilet. Plan to filter water. It’s another 20 miles to Emlenton, so plan for a long day to reach the takeout (river-left under the bridge in town), or break it up by finding an island where you can camp (there are several islands in this stretch). Camp beneath towering sycamores, among the ferns and wildflowers. It’s a primitive camping situation—at most, you’ll find a fire ring made of rocks—so practice Leave No Trace principles, which includes digging a hole for your toilet and packing out all trash. More Info:

Getting There 

From Pittsburgh, take Interstate 79 north to State Route 8, north to Franklin. 


End your trip at Trails to Ales Brewery in Franklin; try a wood-fired pizza paired with an Allegheny River Fog hazy IPA. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.