Getting there and Along the Way
The Susquehanna River
Important Boating Safety Information
KNOW THE LAW - Boating Regulations
Low Impact Use Information
Human Waste Disposal Guidelines
Canoe Camping Checklist
For More Information
The Susquehanna River Trail... A Pennsylvania Water Trail
Water trails are recreational waterways on a lake, river, or ocean between specific points containing access points and day use and/or camping sites for the boating public. Typically, water trails emphasize low-impact use and promote stewardship of the resource. Explore Pennsylvania's first formal water trail...the 24 mile Susquehanna River Trail.
The Susquehanna River, sixteenth largest river in America, is the largest river lying entirely in the United States that flows into the Atlantic Ocean. The Susquehanna and its hundreds of tributaries drain 27,500 square miles, an area nearly the size of South Carolina, spread over parts of New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. The river meanders 444 miles from its origin at Otsego Lake near Cooperstown, New York until it empties into the Chesapeake Bay at Havre de Grace, Maryland. The Susquehanna is the "mother" river to the Chesapeake, providing 50 percent of all the freshwater entering the great estuary.
Life on earth revolves around water and in Central Pennsylvania the Susquehanna River serves as a vibrant corridor for the comings and goings of wildlife. The opportunity to view, maybe ever so briefly, some common and not so common wildlife exists most anywhere along the Susquehanna River Trail. These opportunities range from the white-tailed deer to the tiny chipmunk. River otters use the Susquehanna as a relocation corridor. Their watery cousins, the beaver and the muskrat, live here alongside painted, wood, map, and snapping turtles. It's quite possible to spot a feisty mink or a common water snake in a tangle of driftwood debris. Cottontail rabbits, striped skunks, woodchucks, gray squirrels, raccoons, foxes, and the elusive eastern coyote all live along the river corridor where habitat is suitable. Look and listen for american toads and a variety of frogs. Peer into the clear waters for smallmouth bass, suckers, catfish, carp, and, occasionally, musky and walleye. A warm summer evening offers the possibility of watching bats circling and swooping as they feed on insects just above the water surface. The most common will be the little and big brown bat.
There is always bird activity on the Susquehanna. The coming of spring sees large numbers of waterfowl in full migration. Around the islands, one will find puddle ducks like green-wing teal, gadwall, and resident mallards. Diving ducks appear on open water such as ringnecks and scaup. Herons appear in shallow backwaters and egrets begin to appear at Wade Island. By May, spring migration is at its peak. A sharp eye and a good pair of binoculars will find flycatchers, thrushes, vireos, warblers, orioles, and tanagers on the move. All summer, cormorants, ring-billed gulls, Canada geese, and tree swallows are common. Migration flights reverse in fall. Flocks of killdeer occasionally are found on gravelly islands. It's during this time of year when river trail travelers will be sharing the Susquehanna with waterfowl hunters (Steer clear of and do not disturb blinds and decoy spreads). Birds of prey - hawks, eagles, osprey, vultures, and owls - are visible along the ridges and throughout the river valley much of the year.
The Susquehanna River supports a very diverse fishery. Anglers can fish for muskies, walleye, smallmouth bass, panfish, catfish and carp. This stretch of river is renowned for its fantastic smallmouth bass fishing. In the future, American shad will be a more common sight. PLEASE note the current fishing regulations before fishing and keeping fish. PFBC Big Bass regulations are in effect for this stretch of water.
Fishing is often best around sunrise and sunset, however, smallmouth can often be enticed to bite all day. Good live baits include minnows, or hellgrammites. Artificial baits like rubber worms or plastic crayfish imitations also work well on smallmouth bass. Fly rods and poppers are very popular with some anglers targeting smallmouth bass.
Note: Islands, coded in green on the map, are under the jurisdiction of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources-Bureau of Forestry. State Forest regulations apply. When locating numbered islands from the water, look for numbered wood duck boxes along the island's shoreline and marker posts at dedicated clearings on those islands.
1.) Plan Ahead and Prepare
-Know your route
-Carry the proper equipment and clothing
-Know the limitations and skills of yourself and your group
-Notify someone of when you intend to return
2.) Camp and Recreate on Durable Surfaces
- Use existing clearings that won't be damaged by your stay
- Avoid long stays at one site
- Keep groups small
- Avoid trampling plants
3.) Pack It In, Pack It Out
- Carry out all waste - leave the site cleaner than you found it
- Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations securely
4.) Properly Dispose of What You Can't Pack Out
- Do all cleaning and washing as far away from the river as possible
- Scatter strainer dish water
- Clean fish away from camp
- Use biodegradable soaps
- Carry out human waste *(see below)
5.) Leave What You Find
- Respect all wildlife - enjoy from a distance without disturbing
- Respect our natural and cultural heritage - leave rocks, plants, trees, and artifacts as you found them
- Respect the privacy of others
- Keep noises to a minimum- enjoy the music of nature
- Be courteous to other river users
- Respect private property
6.) Minimize Use and Impact of Fires
- Use existing fire rings and keep fires small or use a camp stove
- Use only downed, dead wood smaller than your wrist
- Leave limbs on standing trees (dead or alive)
The following guidelines have been established for human waste management along the Susquehanna River Trail:
Note: The trail project will be exploring future human waste disposal options and technologies.
The Susquehanna River Trail needs you as a volunteer. Whether it is maintaining islands and access sites or entering data on a computer, your assistance and expertise is welcomed. River volunteers will be included in the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources volunteer program. A Susquehanna River Trail Association will soon be forming and will need your support. Call 717-737-8622
Improve your canoeing techniques, learn safe boating skills, enhance your knowledge of "leave no trace" ethics. Discover more about the natural and cultural attributes of the river. Several river trail partner organizations and agencies offer courses on these topics or have books or publications about them. Call 717-737-8622.
Make your voice heard and your actions count. Contribute to a conservation organization or participate in a hands-on project. The rivers need you! Call 717-737-8622.
For Information on the Susquehanna River Trail and opportunities to get involved contact the Susquehanna River Trail Association.
For Information on fishing licenses, boat registration, and related matters, call the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission at 717-705-7800.
For more information on water trails across the United States and beyond, contact North American Water Trails, Inc. at (207) 785-4079.
The trail is accessible at three formal trail heads owned by the PA Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) and at other municipal or private access points. All boats, including canoes and kayaks, using the formal trail heads at Halifax, Amity Hall, and Fort Hunter must have a valid boat registration. For unpowered boats, including rafts, registration is not required to use other non-PFBC accesses or to visit the river islands (Other access points to the trail are indicated on the map. Some of these access points are "primitive.") Harrisburg's City Island is the terminus for the trail. All boaters using the trail to go down river must exit at City Island. There is a dangerous low-head dam just south of City Island.
The normal summer flow of the Susquehanna River along the length of the trail accomodates small, shallow draft, powered and nonpowered craft. Users must know their capabilities, their travel route, and their approximate float time. Assume you will float approximately 2 miles per hour. Avoid being caught on the river after dark. River levels and current vary widely and can change quickly. Boat only at water levels appropriate for your capabilities and never when the river is high or flooded. Trail use should be avoided when the river level in Harrisburg is predicted to be over 6 feet. Televised weather reports and newspapers are good sources for this information.
Haldeman Island (State Game Lands No. 290) - This 990-acre island is managed by the Pennsylvania Game Commission for waterfowl and served as a rearing location for young eagles brought to Pennsylvania from Canada as part of the eagle restoration program. Most of Haldeman Island is a propogation area and as such is closed to all human activity.
Juniata River - Flowing for approximately 100 miles through the ridges and valleys of Central Pennsylvania, the Juniata is the 2nd largest tributary to the Susquehanna River. Juniata is a Native American word reported to mean "standing stone."
Clarks Ferry Bridge - This new concrete bridge, completed in 1986, replaced a 1925 concrete-arch toll bridge. Prior to their construction, a covered wooden bridge conveyed boats traveling the Pennsylvania Canal in the 19th Century (look for timber cribbing in the river). The Appalachian National Scenic Trail crosses the bridge near the midpoint of the trail's 2,155 mile route.
Susquehanna Water Gaps - Over millions of years, the erosive force of the river has cut through five ridges of the Appalachian Mountains north of Harrisburg. Three of these water gaps can be seen on the river trail - at Peters Mountain, Second Mountain, and Blue Mountain. These impressive landforms have been designated a National Natural Landmark by the United States Department of the Interior.
Dauphin Narrows/Statue of Liberty - The Dauphin Narrows is the most technical/difficult section of the River Trail. Stay far to the left when traveling downstream and exercise caution. To your right, you will see a 25 foot replica of the Statue of Liberty constructed out of wood, metal, and fiberglass by a group of Harrisburg area citizens, led by Mr. Gene Stilp, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of "Lady Liberty."
Fort Hunter Park - This 37-acre county park and 19th century house museum were the site of an important frontier fort during the French and Indian War. Today, visitors may enjoy exhibits at the restored Centennial Barn, tours of the Mansion, picnicking at the pavillions, and other recreational pursuits.
Rockville Bridge - At 3,280 feet, this is the longest stone-arch railroad bridge in the world. More than 30 trains cross over its 48 arches every day. It opened in 1902 and replaced an iron bridge dating from 1877.
McCormicks Island - Owned by the City of Harrisburg, this is one of the largest islands on the River Trail. A stand of white pine trees found mid-island are evidence of a farm that was once located here. The southern tip of the island is a great stop for an afternoon picnic
Wade Island - Pennsylvania's largest multi-species rookery (nesting island) is home to Great Egrets and Black-Crowned Night Herons (In Pennsylvania, Great Egrets are considered "threatened" and Black-Crowned Night Herons are considered "species of special concern.") The island typically contains hundreds of nests. This site was named one of 75 "Important Bird Areas" in Pennsylvania by the National Audobon Society. Please enjoy this island quietly and at a distance from your boat. Trespass is illegal.
Sheets Island - Managed by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, this island and nearby islands are a designated state natural area. Sheets Island contains an exemplary bottomland hardwood forest and ruins of a farmstead are sometimes visible at the north end of the island. Like many river islands, Sheets Island has a rich Native American heritage. Note: Digging for artifacts on all river islands is prohibited by law.
City Island - This 64-acre regional recreation site is owned and operated by the City of Harrisburg. During your visit, you and your family can take-in a Harrisburg Senators baseball game; catch a ride on the City Island Railroad; enjoy a meal at Riverside Village; swim at the City Island Beach; and more. Then stroll across the Walnut Street Bridge to downtown Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania. Harrisburg is experiencing a renaissance since aggressive economic development and other initiatives were begun under Mayor Stephen R. Reed in 1982.
1] One wearable, Coast Guard approved Personal Flotation Devices (PFD or life jacket) in serviceable condition and of
the appropriate size is required for each person in your boat. If your boat is 16 feet or longer, one throwable device
(seat cushion or ring buoy) is required. Canoes or kayaks, regardless of length, are NOT required to carry a throwable
2] PFD's must be worn by all children 12 years and younger on all boats 20 feet and less in length, while under way, and on all canoes and kayaks. Others are strongly encouraged to wear a PFD, especially when traveling through the Dauphin Narrows.
3] All boats MUST display an anchor light (a white light visible 360 degrees all-round) when at anchor between sunset and sunrise. Boats can use a lantern or clip-on battery powered unit to meet this requirement.
4] All powered boats MUST show running lights between sunset and sunrise. Between sunset and sunrise, unpowered boats must carry a white light (visible 360 degrees all-round) - installed or portable - ready to be displayed in time to avoid a collision.
5] All boats are required to carry a Sound Producing Device, some mechanical means of making a sound signal audible for a half mile. Athletic whistles meet this requirement.
6] All motorboats and ALL BOATS using PA Fish and Boat Commission access areas must be registered.
7] Operating watercraft, including canoes, kayaks, and rafts, under the influence of alcohol or drugs is illegal. The law is strongly enforced for user safety.
Joe Baker, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
Merlin Benner, PA DCNR
Roland Bergner, Pennsylvania Game Commission
Lewis Butts, Jr., Islands Task Force
Gene Counsil, PA DEP
Ed Chubb, Dauphin County Parks and Recreation
Dan Devlin, PA DCNR
Cliff Dillmann, Canoe Club of Greater Harrisburg
Donald Dreese, PA DCNR
Cindy Dunn, National Audubon Society
Christina Fackler, Tri-County Regional Planning Commission
Tom Ford, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission
Doug Gibson, Blue Mountain Outfitters
Gil Hirschel, Susquehanna River Basin Commission
Mike Krempasky, PA DCNR
Brook Lenker, Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay
Dana LiBrandi, Dauphin County Parks and Recreation
Mary Liskow, Blue Mountain Outfitters
Dan Martin, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission
Tina Manoogian-King, Harrisburg Parks and Recreation
Donald Oaks, PA DCNR
Pat Reilly, Sierra Club-Governor Pinchot Group
William Roberts, Jr., Harrisburg Times
John Shearer, Susquehanna Smallmouth Alliance
Paul Swartz, Susquehanna River Basin Commission
Bruce Shilliday, Island Owner
Vanyla Tierney, PA DCNR
Kris Wolpert, Blue Mountain Outfitters
This project was financed in part by a grant from the Pennsylvania Recreational Trails Program under the administration of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Recreation and Conservation. Funding for this program is provided through the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) of 1991 as amended. Funding was also provided by the Conservation Fund's DuPont American Greenway Awards and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission
If anyone believes he or she has been subjected to discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin, he or she may file a complaint alleging discrimination with either the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Recreation and Conservation, PO Box 8475, Harrisburg, PA 17105-8745, or the Office for Equal Opportunity, U.S. Department of Transportation, Washington, D.C.