When the noonday sun begins to broil the cityscape, it's high time to get away to a river, lake or creek. The coolest, least expensive and relaxing way to do it is to pick up a paddle and push off in a canoe, kayak or raft – even an inner tube will do! Don't have one? There are plenty of area outfitters that will rent, instruct, transport and get you going. Here's where. –Jay Lloyd
BUCKS COUNTY RIVER COUNTRY
2 Walters Lane
Pt. Pleasant, PA 18950
At Bucks County River Country, you'll find one of the oldest, established river outfitters in the region. A canoe for two rented here nearly 40 years ago got me started and kept me rolling on the river—the Delaware that is!—during many pleasant afternoons. Today, the fleet has expanded beyond canoes and includes kayaks, rafts and tubes. The program also takes in a variety of skill levels, from zero to expert. You'll be shuttled (along with your craft) up the river to a point that's timed for a two to four hour run back to Pt. Pleasant, but keep in mind that it could be considerably shorter if the river is running fast after a rainstorm.
Because the demand for kayaks and tubes is high on hot summer weekends, it's a good idea to make advance reservations by calling 215-297-5000.
What it costs: Weekend rates range from $26 to $48, depending on the watercraft and distance you plan to travel. The shuttle is included. For all prices, click here.
Getting there: From Philadelphia, take Route 95 North to New Jersey. Take exit 1, the Trenton/Lambertville exit. Then take Route 29 North through Lambertville into Stockton. Turn left to cross the bridge into Pennsylvania. You will see the Stockton Inn on your right and Meil's (Meal's) Restaurant on your left. After the bridge, turn right onto Route 32 North. Continuing on Route 32 North, bear right at the stop sign in Point Pleasant (across the cement bridge). Turn right onto Byram Road. You will see signs for River Country. Caution: There are frequent road closings near the river. Check with River Country for updated detours.
SCHUYLKILL RIVER OUTDOORS
131 N. Main Street
Monacacy, PA 19518
Crystal clear water and a pristine setting is what you'll find where the Schuylkill River flows through rural Berks County. Here, Schuylkill River Outdoors provides tubes, rafts or kayaks and transports you upriver. Their trips are designed to put paddlers on the water for a relaxing one to five hours; you pick the time you'll spend floating or paddling back to the base camp.
This section of the river is known for calm, clean water that's ideal for swimming or paddling in, and picnicking along the banks or on small islands is do-able and beautiful. Wildlife sightings are frequent, and bald eagles are often spotted. This is a place to leave the cell phone behind and enjoy friends, family and nature.
What it costs: You can spend between $10 and $40 depending on the length of your trip and the craft you pick. For all the prices, click here.
Getting there: From Philadelphia, take the Schuylkill Expressway West to Route 422 West. Follow 422 for about 28 miles to Monocacy Creek Rd. Turn left on Monocacy Creek Rd, and then make another left onto Main Street and follow the signs.
NORTHBROOK CANOE COMPANY
1810 Beagle Rd.
West Chester, PA 19382
Paddle or float down the historic Brandywine Creek all the way to Chadds Ford and the Wyeth Museum in a canoe, kayak or tube from Northbrook Canoe Company. The typically gentle-flowing Brandywine traverses some the most scenic landscapes in Chester County and travels just beyond the Delaware border. The longest trip offered from the Northbrook base camp is 6-1/2 hours, and it carries you along from Northbrook to Thompson's Bridge. Depending on the current, the popular Chadds Ford run should take close to 5 hours.
If you've never taken the paddle plunge, shorter floats—including an hour-long one from Embreeville—are available. It's a good chance to try out a new activity on a (usually) lazy stream. Reservations are always a good idea to avoid disappointment. Just call 1-800-898-2279.
What it costs: Transportation back to base camp or a launching area is provided here at an extra cost (ranging from $5 to $30, depending on length of trip and equipment). Rental prices range from $18 for a 1 hour tube run, to $80 for a 6-1/2 hour canoe passage. Kayak rates fall in the middle. Look up all the prices here.
Getting there: From Philadelphia, take the Schuylkill Expressway to King of Prussia and pick up Route 202 South. Take the Route 3 exit for West Chester, then follow signs for Route 3. From Rt. 3 West, go into West Chester and straight onto Gay Street. Turn left onto High Street, and cross over Market Street. Make a right onto Minor Street; Minor Street goes straight into 842 West. Follow 842 to Northbrook Road. Turn Right onto Northbrook Road (disregard the "Road Closed" sign) Continue one mile down the hill. Parking is in the field to the left, just before the railroad tracks.
USS PORT PROVIDENCE FLEET
264 Canal Street
Port Providence, PA 19460
If you're looking for a laid-back float into tranquility, then shove off into the Schuylkill Canal at Port Providence, near Phoenixville. You'll share the canal with ducks, geese, turtles and an assortment of wildlife, away from civilization and on water as calm as a mill pond. Canoes and kayaks (no tubes or rafts!) are launched from a spot that made our "Top Suburban Outdoor Dining" list, Fitzwater Station, which means that when you return, you don't have to look far for a cold brew and some pub grub! One recommended canoe and kayak run takes you two miles down the canal, then a portage over to the Schuylkill River and a paddle back to the Port Providence home base. There is no shuttle required, and the "loop" takes a little over 2 hours. Longer passages are possible near Valley Forge, with a return via shuttle.
What it costs: Basic rates are $35 a day for kayaks and $40 for canoes on trips that don't require a shuttle. For those that do, rates are slightly higher. Check out prices and passages here.
Getting there: From Philadelphia, take the Schuylkill Expressway West to King of Prussia. Pick up route 422 West and follow 422 to the Phoenixville/Collegeville exit. Make a left at the end of the exit ramp to go towards Phoenixville. You will now be traveling on Pa. Route 29 South. Follow Pa. Route 29 South for about 2 miles to the intersection at Walnut St. (Produce Junction). Make a left onto Walnut St. and follow that road until you come to a place where you can either bear left or make a right turn. Make a right onto Canal St., and Fitzwater Station is ahead on your right.
COUNTY AND STATE PARKS
If you've just bought a canoe or kayak and are looking for a lake to begin paddling in, state and county parks make ideal launching sites.
Montgomery County maintains Deep Creek Lake at Green Lane Park. Deep Creek is one of three bodies of water at the park available for boating, fishing and swimming. Boat rentals (including kayak and canoe rentals) are also available.
Nockamixon State Park, near Quakertown in Bucks County, holds one of the region's largest recreational boating lakes. The lake covers 1,450 acres and features a marina for boat owners, who keep their crafts on the lake all season. Boat rentals are also available, with single kayaks available for $15 an hour, and canoes at $20. Rental prices for a variety of boats can be found here. Look for park information and travel directions here.
Rentals are also available at Marsh Creek State Park, near Eagle in Chester County. Canoes and kayaks go for $20 an hour with multi-hour discounts. Check all rental prices here. For all park information, click here.
A few tips:
Life jackets are generally included with rental crafts. Some operators insist they be worn, while others don't. It's a good idea to wear them.
Wear sneakers or footwear that you don't mind getting wet. Chances are, you'll spend some time in the water, and you don't know what's on the bottom. Wear a hat, a t-shirt and shorts or a bathing suit. You are likely to get soaked.
Leave valuables behind. If you take a small amount of cash and a camera, make sure they're in waterproof pouches.
Finally, carry a water bottle, some sunscreen and a bug repellent.
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