Last Updated on September 25, 2020 by Jeremy
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Ohiopyle State Park is Pittsburgh's nature hub. There are so many options to get out and explore, be it for hiking, outdoor adventure activities, and more. But of those, there is none that we love more than white water rafting in the Laurel Highlands.
We're no stranger to rafting the Middle Youghiogheny's Class I and II rapids (an easy trip out on the water), but what we really love is getting out on the Lower Youghiogheny's Class III and IV rapids for some excellent white water!
Recently, I was invited back down to the Laurel Highlands to be a guest of White Water Adventurers, Inc. in order to check out their new Taste of the Yough tour and catch some white water in a day trip from Pittsburgh. In this one, I wanted to share a bit more about what the experience is like.
Note: Select photos and video clips in this article were provided courtesy of White Water Adventurers, Inc. I was joined on the outing with I've Been Bit travel blog and the Laurel Highland's Visitor Bureau. (Angie sadly missed this one.)
Rafting the Lower Youghiogheny is a Fun Challenge
To start, I wanted to take a moment and talk about white water rafting Class III and IV rapids, as they are not as scary as they sound.
Yes, they are a bit more challenging, thrilling, and have (in my opinion at least), a greater risk of falling out of the boat. But where they have the greatest of risk is not inherently due to the rapids themselves, but rather how prepared you are in your group.
The reason is that you do not necessarily have to go out with a guide, even on Class III and IV rapids, which means that your level of expertise in the group could vary considerably.
For those who opt to go out without a guide, you will receive instructions on how to tackle rapids from guides in nearby kayaks and standing on rocks in the river. They will tell you to paddle to the left, right, reverse, etc. but it is ultimately up to your group to follow instructions to hit the rapid at just the right angle.
Go with a guide, however, and they take a bit more of this responsibility onto themselves (such that during my outing, most of our instructions were simply forward or reverse- no left, right, etc.).
I think this is the biggest difference to keep in mind because often the main difference between hitting a rapid successfully and, say, getting tossed into the water is simply lining your raft up at the precise moment, paddling fast, and bracing for the bounce that follows.
As I almost exclusively go out with a guide, I can safely say that my outing on the Class III and IV rapids felt like it had no more risk than the Class I and II's I have done on the Middle Yough, and most of that I attribute to the steady hand and experience of our guide.
To see what some of the best rapids are like, check out this hyperlapse displayed at 2x-4x speed!
The Taste of the Yough Tour is Perfect for Those Short on Time
Up until 2019, most of the Lower Youghiogheny white water rafting tours were all-day affairs. Yes, you hit some of the best white water in all of Ohiopyle, but the tour also would take anywhere from 4-6 hours in total- making for a long day for anyone who is not staying in the area overnight.
As such, local outfitter White Water Adventurers, Inc. came out with a Taste of the Yough tour that hits the roughly eight best rapids (mostly Class III) nearest to Ohiopyle town.
The perk? This one is just about 90 minutes to two hours in length!
In fact, apart from the duration, what I really liked about this tour was its design around a unique feature of the Youghiogheny (illustrated in the image above). You see, the Lower Yough typically begins just after the waterfall in Ohiopyle town, winds its way around the horseshoe bend, and continues north through Ohiopyle State Park.
It may not seem like much, but one of the reasons the Lower Yough tours take so long is that there is a long slog of intermittent rapids halfway through before hitting up the final Class III and IVs of the trip. The Taste of the Yough tour cuts this segment out and hits only the rapids that are found around the horseshoe bend near Ohiopyle town.
What you get in doing this is an outing with few very short breaks between the rapids. Within minutes of your departure to the tour ending on the other side of the horseshoe bend you'll be hitting rapids almost back-to-back-to-back. (I say almost as there is, naturally, some breaks between segments but it is much shorter than we've experienced on other rafting tours.)
Even better? Once you are done all you have to do is boulder up a couple of rocks, walk up some stairs, and cross the bridge back into town to continue with your day!
This tour truly takes full advantage of the unique horseshoe bend of the Youghiogheny River, and is also a wonderful outing for those who are short on time. Would I have liked more time on the rapids during my visit? Yes, of course. But honestly this was just the perfect amount of adrenaline that still let me have time exploring the Laurel Highlands all in the same outing, and for that I can truly appreciate it.
I'd like to thank White Water Adventurers, Inc. and the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau for inviting me out to enjoy the Taste of the Yough Tour. Photos in this article are a mix of mine and those provided courtesy of White Water Adventurers, Inc. and are noted accordingly. As always, all opinions are my own.
Looking for accommodations in the Laurel Highlands? Check out some great options on Airbnb!