Pennsylvania Great Outdoors: Clarion River Water Trail

Alyssa Morrison

Alyssa Morrison

Published March 20, 2022 4:40 am

The Clarion River meanders through the narrow valleys and hardwood forests of Pennsylvania’s Great Outdoors region for 110 miles, flowing through Johnsonburg to Cook Forest then Clarion and ultimately joining the Allegheny River near Foxburg.

Forested mountain slopes teeming with wildlife, intermittent riffles, and rocky outcrops along its edge provide a picturesque backdrop for outdoor recreation. Nearly 52 miles of the river have been designated as scenic and recreational under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and adjacent public lands along its shores provide abundant opportunities for camping, hunting, hiking, bicycling, wildlife watching, and picnicking.

In 2019, the U.S. Postal Service recognized the exceptional nature of this river by issuing a Forever stamp showcasing a colorful autumn photo of the waterway with mist rising off its surface. The Clarion was also honored as 2019 Pennsylvania River of the Year for its biologically diverse watershed, scenic beauty, historical significance, and variety of recreational opportunities.

Each section of the Clarion River Water Trail has a unique character. The East and West Branches of the river offer great opportunities for experienced paddlers due to narrower and faster waters sometimes blocked by trees, and paddlers here most enjoy the water in the spring and after rainfalls. Boat and canoe launches and other amenities can be found at Elk State Park and Bendigo State Park, which also offer hiking trails, picnic areas, and other recreational facilities.


The East and West Branches come together at Johnsonburg to form the main Clarion River, which continues downstream to Ridgway. This section of the river offers fantastic trophy brown trout fishing. From here, the river begins its stretch of scenic and recreational sections, and as it continues southwest and begins to widen, it borders state game lands and the Allegheny National Forest — truly a beautiful and remote span of the river. Between Portland Mills and Irwin Run, three Class I+ rapids (X,Y, Z rapids) provide a bit more of a challenge to paddlers.

Below Spring Creek, the Clarion River borders River Road, which offers a scenic drive and easy access to the river and some limited campsites in the Allegheny National Forest. Clear Creek State Park has a riverside campground, cabins, and canoe access, and the section of the river between Johnsonburg and Clear Creek State Park provides anglers with miles of exceptional trout and smallmouth bass fishing.

The river’s character gentles as it nears Cook Forest State Park, and this section is popular for family recreation. Famous for its magnificent old-growth forest of white pine and hemlock, the Cook Forest area features many hiking trails, easy canoe access, and good fishing and picnicking spots. The Seneca Point Overlook and Fire Tower just downriver of Cooksburg provide spectacular views of the Clarion River Valley. In the town of Cooksburg, you’ll find lodges, cabins, B&Bs, restaurants, campgrounds, shops, canoe liveries, and lots of other attractions for vacationers young and old to enjoy.

Downstream from Cooksburg to Mill Creek, the river’s final federally designated stretch returns to a primitive state with limited access and more challenges as it borders Cook Forest and state game lands and flows into the calm deep waters of Piney Reservoir. The Toby Boat Launch and Route 322 bridge launch near the borough of Clarion provide reservoir access to power boaters, paddlers, and anglers alike.

The lower section of the Clarion River Water Trail below Piney Dam has fewer public access points, but paddlers can put in or take out at Deer Creek as well as the State Route 58 Bridge in Callensburg. The Clarion then joins the Allegheny River between Foxburg and Parker on the Clarion/Armstrong County line.

Find more fun things to do, see, and experience in Pennsylvania’s Great Outdoors region online at


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