Ohiopyle White Water Rafting Has Options for all Skill Levels

Posted By Jeremy in Explore


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When it comes to getting out in nature, especially nature near Pittsburgh, it is really hard to say no to Ohiopyle State Park.

Between the trails, overlooks, and vastness of the park itself, you can really experience nature in any number of ways. But there is only one way to get out and enjoy the park at its most pristine and wild conditions- getting out on the water.

Thankfully, there are a number of Ohiopyle white water rafting options available to help you do just that.

So whether you are looking to simply have a nice day out on the water and enjoy the park, or have an adrenaline packed adventure on the water (while also enjoying nature in the down periods), rafting in Ohiopyle is a great option to consider.

Rafting the Youghiogheny River for all Skill Sets

Rafting in the Laurel Highlands

Rafting on the Youghiogheny is often broken up into three distinct trips, all based on the location on the river you are. They are aptly named:

  • The Upper Yough – Located in Maryland and offering Class IV and V rapids (only on dam release days).
  • The Middle Yough – Closest to Ohiopyle State Park and offering Class I and II rapids.
  • The Lower Yough – Located further north from Ohiopyle in the Laurel Highlands and offering Class III and IV rapids.

Now, if the names seem a bit backwards that the Upper Yough is south and the Lower Yough is north, well, there is a reason for that- the river flows south to north!

But the naming convention aside, the more important aspect to us is that there are three distinct sections of the river to enjoy, and each is targeted to very specific skill levels.

White Water Rafting Near Ohiopyle

The Middle Yough is the one most visitors and first time rafters will likely want to consider. The rapids are not very technical and can mostly be navigated by the guide with very minimal assistance from the rafters. There are short bursts of rapids at the beginning and end of the journey (perhaps six or seven runs in total), with one or two moderately intense ones at the very beginning, but the middle segment is more or less calm river to float and enjoy nature (more on that later).

The Lower Yough is what we would recommend for those who have been rafting once or twice and want a bit more from a technical aspect. Here you will be assisting the guides significantly in ensuring you are hitting the rapids at the right angles and hanging on through the ride. This is a more intense ride in all aspects, and passengers have been known to fall out from time to time and even the occasional raft flip- suffice it to say, it is an adrenaline junkie's paradise. (This is our favorite.)

As for the Upper Yough, well, we've yet to do this one, and because the rapids are for the extremely advanced I can't say that we will ever get there ourselves. But if you have been rafting many times in the past and are technically proficient or even expert level, planning a visit around a dam release is likely to provide a rush you are seeking.

Rafting is the Best Way to Experience Nature

Rafting in Ohiopyle

One of the things we love about rafting is that regardless of the rapid choices you make, there will be some down periods in between to enjoy the beauty of the Laurel Highlands.

This is more noticeable on the Middle Yough where the middle half of the trip is almost purely a floating journey with no rapids, and less prevalent in the Lower Yough to a degree even though calm sections still exist.

When you are enjoying the steady flow of the rivers in these segments, you really get a feel for the true grandeur of the park. In the middle Yough, for example, your raft will be the only man made item visible for miles. When you do see people, it is likely either going to be bikers on the Great Allegheny Passage or a very, very infrequent train.

Rafting in Southwest Pennsylvania

The bulk of the time it is just you, the water, the trees, and the occasional wildlife (of which we saw an abundance of herons, but kingfishers, sea otters, bears, and bald eagles are said to make a rare appearance from time to time).

While you can certainly see all of these things while hiking on one of the many trails in Ohiopyle, there is something special about seeing it from the water with just you, a few friends, and the guide.

Once you get there, you'll understand.

We have been out on the Youghiogheny River several times over the years. The most recent was on the middle Yough for Class I and II rapids that was hosted as part of a media event in which our cost was covered; however, we have also paid for this in the past with some of the four companies located in Ohiopyle town (White Water Adventurers and Laurel Highlands River Tours were a part of our Class I and II trip). As always, all opinions are our own.

Looking for more outdoor activities in the Laurel Highlands? Check out The Shooting Academy at Nemacolin or the ski resorts in the Laurel Highlands! Or if you want to stay mostly inside, check out Kentuck Knob!

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