The Raystown Branch
Juniata River Water Trail
by Craig Mayer

This article is the first in a series describing Pennsylvania's six newly designated official water trails. The Raystown Branch of the Juniata River meanders through rural Bedford County. The trail begins in historic Bedford and runs a tangled 55-mile easterly course to Saxton, Bedford County's northernmost settlement. Saxton was chosen as the eastern trailhead terminus because it marks the point at which powerboats begin to use the river as it forms Raystown Lake. Boating south of Saxton is almost exclusively confined to canoes, kayaks and rowboats. Motor use is limited to the occasional deep pool or high water conditions.

The trail itself is characterized by slow pools interrupted by fast but shallow riffles. It is a Class I water course, ideal for the novice canoeist. Today, along with its use as a municipal water supply, the river serves as one of the area's prime recreational resources, providing excellent smallmouth bass fishing and supporting summer vacation cottages and a growing canoe and kayak population. Historically, it was used by nearly every industry that flourished in the region and figured prominently in our colonial history.

Back in time

Starting in Bedford in front of the Fort Bedford Museum or just upstream at Old Bedford Village (both sites will have trailhead signs), one can get a firsthand look at the region's colonial history. To the east and about four miles downstream, the paddler passes the Juniata Woolen Mill at Lutzville. This mill was constructed in 1805 and is probably the first such mill built west of the Susquehanna River. The mill also sits at the site of Aliquippa's town--the Indian villages of the Shawnee or Delaware. The water trail then passes through Everett (formerly named "Bloody Run"), where paddlers might stop for refreshments. Pennsylvania's mid-state hiking trail, which runs generally along the Tussey Mountain Ridge, crosses the water trail at Everett.

From Everett, the trail continues east for seven miles until reaching Juniata Crossing (about one mile west of Breezewood on Route 30) and the historic Stone Lodge built there about 1812. Stone Lodge overnight guests included Abraham Lincoln, P.T. Barnum and Zachary Taylor. The Crossing, as it is known locally, is where English forces forded the river in cutting the Forbes Trail for the campaign against the French in 1757. Just downstream is an early 19th century three-story grist mill and the remains of a bridge pier used to support a chain suspension bridge built around 1800. On the eastern approaches to the pier, wagon tracks that have been worn into the rocks are clearly visible.

1800s

The river moves north through quiet farmlands, and it cuts deep and scenic cliffs on the way. Bald eagles have often been seen on the river between the Crossings and Saxton. When passing through the village of Cypher, about 17 miles downstream of the Crossings, stop to examine the masonry work in the old railroad bridge and trestle. It was built in 1861-63 to carry coal south and to transport passengers to the Bedford Springs Hotel. The Borough of Hopewell lies five miles farther downstream, where on weekends a paddler could stop and easily walk to the Keystone Foundry Museum. It was built in 1857 for the Huntingdon and Broad Top Railroad. Continuing along, next comes Riddlesburg, where coke ovens have been preserved. Three miles downstream is Warriors Path State Park, which lies astride the river. The Saxton trailhead terminus is located at VFW Park.

There are many more delights along the trail. Every year for the past 18 years, the Bloody Run Canoe Classic has been held on the river section between Bedford and Everett. It includes both recreational and competition-class boats. For the year 2000 race, the trail and rotary club race committees will use the race to inaugurate the new river trail.

Come join the festivities on Sunday, May 21, 2000.

Craig Mayer owns Adventure Marine Canoe and Kayak and is chairman of the Raystown Branch Juniata River Water Trail Committee.

.pdf file of this article


January/February 2000 Angler & Boater


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