Feb 10, 2010

Adventure: Clarion River, Toby Cove to Piney Dam

I'm boycotting winter. Fuck snow. So I'm going with a warm weather post today.

Working for various canoe outfitters in the Pa Wilds afforded me a lot of solo time on the Clarion River. Not to mention it was a stone throw from my apartment at my alma mater. So bit by bit, I paddled the stretches of the 100 mile waterway, which has been designated a National Wild and Scenic River. While most paddlers hit the banks in Cook Forest, boaters prefer a swath of reservoir waters upstream of the Piney Dam. But in the final 4 miles of the river as it heads toward the dam, the river, which is in a slender lake form, becomes isolated. There are no access points, not even a portage from Toby Cove on. This allowed me a chance for flatwater paddling without any real boat traffic to worry about. Get there.

Click Read More to see a picture by picture recap of the solo paddle after the jump!


Being solo, I need a way to keep the bow weighed down. I usually accomplish that by keeping all my gear and water in the bow, but I was only heading out short term so my shit was empty. Before I launched I opted to throw in a bunch of river rocks I snagged at the boat dock. Don't judge me.
I launched at a pretty commonly used spot... the Clarion Boro launch just upstream of of Toby Cove. I passed right under the Toby Bridge to the mouth of Toby Creek, home of "The Rock," an infamous hang-out for co-eds up the hill at the University.
It didn't take long before I was passing under the Route 322 bridge, also known to locals as the River Hill Bridge. This impressive arch bridge replaced an older one that ended up just a few feet over the water when they first flooded the valley upon completion of the Piney Dam. So it had to be knocked down. Oops.
Just after the bridge, I really had to take a potty break. I pulled into the private marina on river left and headed up to the old path of Rt 322, now just a dead end to some boat docks. It gave me the chance to get a few pictures of an old riverfront homestead, now reduced to just a foundation, and spring sitting on the river banks. Sweet steps leading up from the dock, Jesus... it's like urban ex/infiltration shit.

Hopping back in the canoe, I realized just how much deadwater lied ahead of me. Fuuuuuck. Paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle. Finally, the third and final bridge on the trek: Interstate-80! This was a pretty cool one to pass under and despite how high it was you could hear traffic roaring above. Neat perspective, eh?

I finished my way downstream and the next thing ya know the water disappeared over the horizon. You know what that means: dam ahead! I bailed out at the warning signs and pulled the canoe ashore...

Bilo had left the Jeep stashed at the dam parking lot up the hill. What I had just realized was that was a half mile... up the hill... straight through the woods with no trails whatsoever. I humped the canoe on my back for the worst portage ever. Blehhhh.

I loaded the canoe back onto the Jeep and headed back for some dinner in Clarion. Another stretch of the Clarion River scratched off the to do list in my trusty canoe. Wooo.



  1. This is too funny, when you pulled over to "potty" and walk up to old 322 you left your canoe at my old dock. LOL. We had a boat on the river from 1972-1976, there was a beautiful green arch bridge over old rt 322 right where the spring was. Rumor has it there are 2-3 cars that tried to take the bridge too fast in the river bottom. Pieces of my old dock are still there, near the canoe picture. I hope you did NOT potty on my old dock! LOL. Great article man, a lot of memories, I grew up water ski'n on that river and love it. The depth used to be 40' where you docked. Rob in Hershey (piaforcharity@comcast.net)

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This blog focuses on the travels of Captain Crash, a Pittsburgh native and outdoor guide with a knack for adventure. With a few sidekicks and two great Jeeps, Crash finds incredibly unique and scenic areas throughout Western Pa, WV, NY, OH, MD, and beyond. The adventures are typically off the beaten path to places almost completely unheard of today and often involve camping, offroading, ATVing, paddling, biking, hiking, backpacking, climbing, urban exploring, rappelling, cliff jumping, ghost hunting, urban legends and more.
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