After two days of being overfed by my grandparents, doing laundry, and drying our gear we headed off in search of the Juniata River. As if our 107 miles on the Allegheny river wasn’t enough, we were in search of another 126 miles. This river attracted our attention because of its location (near my grandmother) and its size. The Allegheny River was great because it had a constant current and went through some beautiful areas, but we were looking for something a little smaller, that still held enough water for our SUPs. We originally planned to start on the Frankstown branch putting in near Canoe Creek State Park, but as we arrived we decided the water was just too low. We didn’t want to risk damaging our SUPs, so we decided to cut out 28 miles and put in below the only dam on the river. Just above this dam the Little Juniata and the Frankstown Branch join together almost doubling the amount of water giving the river plenty of volume to paddle.
We put in around 1pm on the first day at mile 98 on the Pennsylvania Water Trail Map. The first day flew by as we had a tailwind and a decent current carrying us downriver. We enjoyed a lot of train bridges that crisscrossed back and forth across the river and were entertained by the trains passing by all day. We paddled through Jack’s Narrows which we found slightly disappointing; with one of our home rivers being the Winooski River with it’s intense rock gorges in the Middlesex to Waterbury stretch, this “narrow” pass was a let down. It squished the railroad track and the highway into our little valley and made for a very noisy few miles. We made camp just across from the boat launch at mile 76 at the end of a corn field. The first 22 miles of this trip passed so quickly we could hardly believe we paddled that far. Our 126 miles in 6 days could turn into 98 miles in 4 days if we didn’t slow down.
Fortunately we didn’t have to slow down our paddling, as more water came into the Juniata, the current began to slow down and we weren’t moving quite as fast as day one. For the next three days we paddled through farm land interspersed with seasonal camps and trailer parks. Some areas were much nicer than others, but most were unoccupied and trashy. It seemed like most of the river was lined with summer camps that are not well kept because no one is there full time. This was definitely not something we are used to seeing. Generally the river banks in Vermont are clear of trash and its not accepted to dump furniture, tires or vehicles into the river.
We chose a little island that was a designated camp site on our map as an end point for the day. After 23 miles we pulled up to the island and found that we had to climb up a 5 foot bank to get to the site. We started throwing our gear up onto the island. Once the gear was up, I climbed up to help haul the SUPs out of the water. The instant I reached the top, a goose started making a ruckus and waddling away from its nest. The goose had decided this was the perfect place to lay its eggs. We weren’t willing to camp 5 feet away from the nest so we loaded our gear back up and continued down river. We found another suitable spot just 500 feet downriver near mile 52; but we had to listen to the geese honking all night long.
We had planned another 20 miles for day 3, but as we rounded the first bend and the river opened up into a 6 mile straight away, the wind picked up. We were expecting some wind, and a storm front to blow in at some point in the afternoon, but we were hoping we would get tailwind from the front. No such luck. By 2:30pm we were so frustrated with battling the wind, we decided 17 miles was plenty for the day. With the rain getting closer, we called it quits and set up camp near Mifflin, PA at mile 35. Shortly after the tent was set up the first band of rain hit us, and we ducked inside to stay dry and warm. We started watching Avatar on my iPhone. It worked perfectly to put the phone in the net pocket at the top of the tent. We enjoyed our own private “paddle-in” movie theater! Once the first band of rain passed through, we quickly made ourselves dinner and cleaned up before the rain started up again and kept going for the evening. Our tent kept us warm and dry through the substantial rain and we were able to use our solar charger to recharge my iphone.
With the storm now on the other side of us we were able to enjoy a sweet tailwind on day four. We hoped to paddle 20 or so miles to leave an easy last day, with a strong tailwind we easily cruised through the day. By mid afternoon the wind picked up even more, and by late afternoon we were out paddling in 40+ mph wind gusts. We struggled to control where our SUPs were taking us. This was our first real experience paddling in irregular waves. We were used to paddling through river rapids which have very predictable waves. These waves were chaotic at best. They would die down with the wind and then pick up again the next minute. There were white caps everywhere and the wind wasn’t just pushing the water around, it was pushing us too.
We enjoyed it for a bit, it felt like we were flying down the river. One wave would pick us up and surf us a few feet forward, before it would race past us and another would catch up and surge us forward. It was fun until we had to find a campsite. The one serious rapid on the river was approaching and we wanted to be able to see it, scout it and pick our favorite line without the wind at our backs. We couldn’t find a campsite before the rapid so we broke down and stopped at The Green Valley Campground in Newport, PA at mile 6 for our last night. We were able to get a hot shower and we even splurged with a celebratory dinner at the restaurant on premise. The campground didn’t have our typical alone-in-the-woods feel, but it got us out of the wind and provided a little luxury on our last night.
We tried to go slow in the morning because we only had 6 miles to paddle before our pick up at 12:30on the Susquehanna River. We even made ourselves a big pancake breakfast before before getting on the river. Our slow morning didn’t work out too well, with people milling about the campground, we were antsy to get on our way. We put on at 10 and paddled a short way to that rapid we heard so much about. It turned out to be a single ledge that was easily runnable river right, with several slots throughout the ledge that could have also been run.
It wasn’t much, but in the wind from the day before, we easily could have ended up swimming and damaging our boards.
We took out at the Riverfront Campground & Fish Camp in Duncannon, PA where my grandmother picked us up and brought us back to our truck. Another river successfully completed! The Juniata River was not what we expected, but it held its own beauty and was very typical of central PA. The water trail itself was marked very well, all the public boat launches had mile markers on them and the designated campsites were marked with small silver plates on the trees. Overall, a very relaxing river to paddle.