The mighty Susquehanna River is recognized in Pennsylvania for many reasons, but few identify our treasured river for its very special state recognition as Pennsylvania’s largest water trail system. The Susquehanna River Water Trail runs over 500 miles throughout the state, but what is it and why is it so important to the recreational culture in our area?
Water Trails are not a new concept in Pennsylvania. A network of 28 water trails covering over 2,000 miles of waterway currently exists across all the major—and some minor—watersheds within the Commonwealth.
At its most basic level, a ‘water trail’ is simply a navigable trail on a waterway for the paddling public. These trails can traverse rivers, lakes, canals, and even coastlines. Some trails are specific to non-motorized boats like kayaks and canoes, while others accommodate motorized vessels, shoreline fishing, innertubes, and other watercraft.
These corridors provide marked launch sites and celebrate the local history, ecology, geology, heritage, and wildlife within an area. Depending on the trail you explore, you may even find day use sites, and—in some cases—overnight camping areas and support amenities.
Water trails also offer several incredible benefits to local communities, some of which include increased tourism, economic benefits, easy access to waterways for recreation, and the potential for restoration and conservation.
The Susquehanna River Water Trail system was one of the first identified and designated within the Pennsylvania Water Trail Program. With over 500 miles of navigable waterway crossing 22 counties, it is also Pennsylvania’s largest water trail.
Just like the concept of ‘all thumbs are fingers, but not all fingers are thumbs’; all waterways in Pennsylvania can have water trails, but not all waterways are considered ‘Pennsylvania (PA) Water Trails’.
For a waterway to earn the title of a ‘PA Water Trail,’ it must first go through a multi-phased application process that includes conducting a trail feasibility study, identifying a network of launch/landing sites, producing a map, and appointing an active organization to oversee the management of the water trail that is independent of state agencies.
This process is managed by the Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC) with support from the PA Department of Conservation & Natural Resources (DCNR) and the PA Fish & Boat Commission (PFBC) among others.