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Youghiogheny River, PA

Boofing at Cucumber Rapids. Photos by Mary Reed.

You don’t get too many chances at DIY whitewater rafting, and even fewer on a river as fine as southwestern Pennsylvania’s Yough (that’s ‘yawk’ in local parlance), a.k.a. the Youghiogheny River.

“The one thing about the Yough is that it flows all year round, which makes it excellent for tourism and recreation. That sets it apart a lot,” says Erica Smith, co-owner of Riversport School of Paddling, noting that the river levels are helped by good natural flow in addition to dam releases upstream. “But also, (you have) the fact that the Yough has three very different sections – that is really unique.” Erica is talking about the upper, middle and lower sections of the river.

The lower Yough is the section commercially run by rafting companies. It runs through popular Ohiopyle State Park, and it’s 7 ½ miles of class III - IV whitewater rapids through clean water, rock gardens and a verdant, deep gorge. Rent a raft for your group and put in at Ohiopyle State Park, just downstream from Ohiopyle Falls, or start here with your kayak and play all along the Loop, the mile-and-a-half section of the river that, well, largely loops back on itself, allowing kayakers to portage back to the put in and do it all again. A number of the lower Yough’s best rapids are along the Loop.

The lower Yough is one of the most popular rivers in the East, so summer weekends find the river jam packed; parking and permits can be hard to come by. Plan accordingly.

The middle Yough, class I-II, as well as the experts-only upper Yough, class IV-V, and top Yough, class III-V, are not so commercialized, so you can enjoy the whitewater as well as the wild and scenic quality of the river without the crowds.

The Yough is the centerpiece of 20,000-acre Ohiopyle State Park, home also to 79 miles of hiking trails, the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage, a natural water slide at Meadow Run, ample camping and mountain biking to the top of nearby Sugarloaf Knob.

Where it’s at: An hour and a half from Pittsburgh; from the the Pennsylvania Turnpike, take Exit 91 (Donegal) to PA-31 east, go 2 miles to PA-711/PA 381 south, and continue on 381 for 20 miles to Ohiopyle

Contact: Ohiopyle State Park, or (724) 329-8591; a river paddling permit is required between 7:45 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekends, call 888-727-2757

Digs: Ohiopyle State Park has tent camping ($23-$26.50/night) and yurts ($33-$80/night), 888-PA-PARKS; Paddler’s Lane B&B in Confluence ($79 and up) also has camping ($6/person/night), or 800-777-6061

Grub: Riversport’s Lucky Dog Café, or (814) 395-5744

Brew: Falls City Pub in Ohiopyle, or (724) 329-3000

Gear and outfitting: Rent a raft from Wilderness Voyageurs in Ohiopyle ( or 800-272-4141), or dial in your kayaking skills at Riversport School of Paddling in Confluence, which also offers rentals, or (814) 395-5744

Cost: You need a $3 permit to run the Lower Yough on weekends April-October (888-727-2757)