With 150 lakes and 170 river miles to explore, it’s no surprise that the Pocono Mountains is a paradise for paddlers of all sorts. Whether you prefer kayaking, canoeing, rafting, tubing, whitewater rafting, or stand-up paddleboarding, there are scenic and unspoiled waterways calling your name all around our region.
Enjoy a day out on the Delaware River, with layers of lush green hills rising up from the shore on either side of you. Brave the rapids of the Lehigh River or drift in the inlets of Lake Wallenpaupack at a leisurely pace. Local outfitters and gear shops offer everything from hourly to daily rentals as well as delivery and shuttle services to take all the stress out of transportation. You can even book a trip with an experienced guide.
Water recreation season in the Poconos typically runs from May to September. Be sure to contact your destination or livery ahead of time to confirm opening hours and offerings or even book your trip in advance. If bringing your own boat, make sure you’re familiar with Pennsylvania registration requirements for your vessel. If you’re planning to fish, don’t forget to bring your Pennsylvania fishing license, which can be purchased online.
As paddlers know, the water can have a mind of its own. Whatever type of water recreation you’re planning to enjoy, remember to wear a life jacket and stay alert.
Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River
The Delaware River forms the Eastern border of both Pennsylvania and the Poconos region, and it’s a prime spot for paddlers. On the Northern end, the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, managed by the National Park Service, has public access spots three to 20 miles apart on both the Pennsylvania and New York banks. From Class I and II rapids and riffles to quiet pools and eddies, this area offers fun for paddlers of all skill levels and a beautiful variety of scenery and wildlife to take in.
Float past historic riverside villages and the nation’s oldest existing wire cable suspension bridge, the Roebling Aqueduct. Imagine what life on the river would have been like during the bustling days of the Delaware & Hudson Canal as you enjoy the peaceful and pristine present-day setting. Bring your own kayak, canoe, or raft (don’t forget life jackets and paddles!) and set off from Pennsylvania public boat launches along the Upper Delaware in Buckingham, Callicoon, Narrowsburg, Damascus or Lackawaxen. Going fishing? You’ll find trout, bass, walleye, eels, and shad in the Delaware Highlands.
Don’t have your own boat? Book a trip with authorized liveries! Northeast Wilderness Experience in Honesdale offers daily kayak rentals as well as guided adventures. Lander’s River Trips services eight different launch and land locations and provides camping packages as well as river sports rentals. Celebrating over 80 years operating on the Delaware River, Kittatinny Canoes specializes in river rentals and camping trips.
Paddler’s Pro Tip:
One of the most memorable and meaningful ways to experience the Delaware River is the Delaware River Sojourn. Now in its 28th year, this epic, multi-day trip is open to paddlers of all skill levels and age, combining canoeing or kayaking, camping, education programs, historical interpretation, and more. Sign up for a day or embark on the full 2023 sojourn from June 17 to 23.
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
They say you can’t step in the same river twice, but there’s more of the Delaware River waiting to be explored in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area! Stretching 40 miles along the river as it winds its way between New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the DWGNRA encompasses 70,000 acres of wilderness. The beauty and tranquility of Delaware Water Gap have attracted vacationers for centuries, and a relaxing day enjoying water recreation is as popular today as ever.
Turn your prow towards Arrow Island to thread through the Gap itself, with Mount Minsi and Mount Tammany towering above you. You’ll find public boat launches at Smithfield Beach, Bushkill Access, Eschbeck Access, Dingmans Ferry and Milford Beach. Bring the whole family along to soak in the sunshine and paddle the river. There is no charge to enter the National Recreation Area, but expanded amenity fees are charged April through October to access Smithfield Beach, Bushkill Access, Dingmans Ferry, and Milford Beach.
When it comes to rentals, local outfitters have you covered! Set out on a trip lasting anywhere from two hours to two days with Adventure Sports. From paddling to pedaling, Edge of the Woods Outfitters offers guided river trips as well as hiking and biking adventures. Float your boat alongside the stunning Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort during a voyage with Shawnee River Trips. With Chamberlain Canoes, even your pet is welcome to come along for a peaceful day of paddling!
Paddler’s Pro Tip:
Bringing your own kayak to the Delaware River and need some help with relay transportation? The River Runner shuttle operates select holidays and each Saturday and Sunday from Saturday, May 27, 2023 through Sunday, September 3, 2023. Monroe County Transportation Authority partners with Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area to provide this free service. Park your car at a southern pick-up spot like Smithfield Beach, load your craft onto the River Runner trailer, and ride north to Bushkill Access, Dingmans Access, or Milford Beach. Then you’ll paddle down the river with some help from the current back to where you parked your car. Be sure to consult the River Runner schedule and keep in mind how long your trip will take: for example, it takes roughly four hours to paddle the 10 river miles south from Bushkill Launch to Smithfield Beach.
Jim Thorpe Kayaking and Lehigh River Rapids
The Pocono Mountains region is bordered by two of Pennsylvania’s mightiest rivers: the Delaware to the east and the Lehigh River to the west. The Lehigh River winds through the historic town of Jim Thorpe and the impressive Lehigh Gorge State Park, offering a challenging passage to adventurous paddlers, with fast-moving water and Class I to III rapids.
Kayaking in Jim Thorpe is no ordinary paddling: the powerful flow and rocky bottom of the Lehigh River mean that you’ll need to plan ahead and take safety precautions. For experienced whitewater paddlers planning your own trip, be sure to reference Pennsylvania Whitewater Regulations and Safety before setting out. Your equipment, including watercraft and life vest, must be designed for whitewater use, and don’t forget your helmet! The Lehigh River Water Trail is managed by the Wildlands Conservancy, and launches can be accessed at Glen Onoko, Jim Thorpe, and Parryville.
If you’re new to whitewater rafting, book a Lehigh River outing with local experts who will show you the ropes and ensure that you have a safe and fun trip! Jim Thorpe River Adventures, Adventure Center at Whitewater Challengers, Pocono Whitewater, and Whitewater Rafting Adventures all offer trips that let paddlers take on the rapids at a pace that’s comfortable for everyone. Opt for family-style rafting that ages 4 and up will love or prepare to get soaked on an adrenaline-filled, full-force dam release ride. These liveries also provide fun beyond tube and raft rentals, with camping getaways, bike tours, zip lines, paintball and more.
Paddler’s Pro Tip:
Respect the river! If you’re planning your own trip along the Lehigh, be sure to follow whitewater safety regulations. Take the stress out of a whitewater excursion by booking a trip with one of the local outfitters above who can tailor your trip to your skill level and interests. Keystone Kayaking Academy in nearby Weissport offers American Canoe Association certified whitewater instruction along with the best gear on the market. For a calmer Jim Thorpe kayaking experience, head to nearby lakes and reservoirs at Mauch Chunk Lake Park or Beltzville State Park.
You haven’t truly paddled the Poconos until you’ve explored the 5,700 aquatic acres of Lake Wallenpaupack, located in Wayne and Pike counties. Built in 1927 to produce hydroelectric power, this sprawling reservoir is the third largest man-made lake in Pennsylvania and the largest lake in region.
Fishing expeditions are popular on Lake Wallenpaupack, and anglers may reel in bass, walleye, pickerel, yellow perch, trout, channel catfish and a variety of panfish. Don’t forget your fishing license! Bringing your own canoe or kayak? Launch for free at Mangan Cove or pay a small fee at the access areas at Caffrey, Ironwood Point, Ledgedale, and Wilsonville. Local marinas offer a wide variety of rentals. Set out in a canoe or single or tandem kayak from Wallenpaupack Scenic Boat Tour & Boat Rentals not far from Hawley.
This is the perfect opportunity to try stand-up paddleboarding with a rental from Pocono Action Sports at Lighthouse Marina or Sterling Marina. Motorized rentals are also popular on Lake Wallenpaupack, from pontoons to boats for wakeboarding or jet skiing; but there’s plenty of space for water recreation enthusiasts to spread out along 13 miles of lake and 52 miles of shoreline.
Paddler’s Pro Tip:
Looking to avoid the wake from the many motorized boats on Lake Wallenpaupack? Try getting out on the water early in the day or plan your paddling excursion in the middle of the week to beat the crowds.
Poconos Lakes in Local and State Parks
State and local parks throughout the Pocono Mountains offer access to a number of the region’s lakes, many with kayak and canoe rentals available on site during the season. Surrounded by the lush Delaware State Forest in Wayne County, Promised Land State Park has two bodies of calm waters totaling over 500 acres ideal for flatwater paddling. Promised Land Lake and Lower Lake have five boat launch areas, and boat rentals including rowboats, canoes, kayaks, and paddleboats are available. Bring your own vessel to Prompton State Park in Pike County to enjoy the long and narrow 290-acre Prompton Lake, which has one boat launch located on the west shore.
Thanks to the glacier that covered the Pocono Plateau around 20,000 years ago, neighboring Gouldsboro State Park and Tobyhanna State Park, located along the border of Wayne and Monroe counties, both boast lakes to explore. These parks are about 25 miles southeast of Scranton and offer a variety of boat rentals as well as overnight mooring spaces. Watch for plant and wildlife as you paddle around the small islands on Gouldsboro Lake or navigate Tobyhanna Lake. Black bears are common in the area, and while they don’t typically approach humans, they can be attracted by food. Be sure to keep your picnic supplies secure and remember to stay alert.
In Carbon County, two different flood control projects have created reservoirs perfect for paddlers. The 949-acre lake at Beltzville State Park has almost 20 miles of shoreline. Set out from the Pine Run East Launch on the northern shore or the Preacher’s Camp Launching Area on the southern shore. A boat rental concession west of the swimming beach is open throughout the summer. On busy days, paddlers can take advantage of the “no wake” speed zone in Pine Run Cove and east of Preacher’s Camp launch.
Mauch Chunk Lake Park is another popular water recreation spot, offering 345 acres of lake and designated for non-powered watercraft and electric motors only, with boat rentals available at Boat Launch A. Reservations are recommended.
Paddler’s Pro Tip:
As you’re enjoying your day canoeing or kayaking on the lake, remember to budget sufficient time to return your watercraft to the rental facility. Sometimes waterways that appear to be connected on the map may not afford watercraft access; for example, the two lakes at Promised Land State Park are separated by a dam and are not connected for watercraft traffic. Also at Promised Land State Park, you may not be able to paddle under the Conservation Island bridge due to low water levels. Always stay alert and aware of your surroundings and any posted regulations.
Don’t forget to keep your eyes open to enjoy wildlife watching as well. You never know what creatures you’ll see, whether it’s salamanders sunning on the shore, turtles paddling peacefully, deer grazing in the woods, bald eagles in the branches above the water, or even a friendly cryptid like Goldie, rumored denizen of Gouldsboro Lake.
Want to be able to roll out of bed in the morning and get straight out on the water? Many places to stay in the Poconos offer exclusive lakefront access, whether at the small and intimate Stone Lake Bed and Breakfast or the 100-acre Chestnut Lake Campground. Book riverside accommodations for the night at River Beach Campsites or 1870 Roebling Inn on the Delaware, and you’ll be just steps away from the Delaware.
See how many of the above Poconos canoeing, kayaking, rafting and paddleboarding hotspots you can check off your list! With so many amazing waterways, you’ll want to come time and again to try them all. However you choose to experience our lakes and rivers, paddling in the Poconos is an experience you won’t forget.
For more information and adventures, visit Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau.