Whitewater Rafting the Lower Youghiogheny River in Ohiopyle
By Michelle Goetzinger October 06, 2019

I can’t wait to share with you this story of our recent whitewater rafting trip down the Lower Youghiogheny River in Ohiopyle.  Below the story is a short list of other things to check out while you are in the area!

Quick Stats:

    • About an hour from Pittsburgh
    • High Action and Adventure!
    • Unique shopping after
    • Good hiking nearby
    • Recommended group activity


Growing up, my husband Marty, went on a yearly whitewater river rafting trip along the Lower Youghiogheny River.  Starting around 12 years old and going to about 16 years old, he and his friends would wake up around 4:00 AM for their yearly trip and start the 3-hour trek from Erie to Ohiopyle.

These were really special trips for him that have led to seeking adventures on a variety of rivers such as the Cheat River in West Virginal (he says to try the dam release in the early spring) and Clear Creek in Colorado which is some of the toughest water he has navigated with tips that can tackle top Class V rapids.

This past year our youngest finally become old enough to take on the Lower Youghiogheny and we all piled into the car to make the trip from Pittsburgh to Ohiopyle (only about an hour trip).  I can tell you that she was VERY excited to be going on this adventure which she knew would be fun and also contained a fair amount of danger.  (NOTE: people have been seriously injured and even died on this river.  Please take every precaution to be safe prior to your trip.)


For this trip we chose to go with the same rafting company that my husband used as a child himself, Laurel Highlands (http://pycoi.com/LaurelHighlandsRafting).  We had wanted to go for the Fully Guided tour which is between 5-6 hours & includes a riverside lunch, but they were fully booked for the day.  Instead, we opted for the Premium Guided tour which ended up being terrific as the group was much smaller (I think we had a total of 4-5 rafts) and each had their guide which made navigating the river much easier.

Let me quickly add that we thoroughly enjoyed our guide.  While it was her first year on the river, she was very personable and made the trip fun and comfortable for all of us.  Between the guide, my husband’s experience, and the local kayakers dotting the river, I felt really comfortable that had we run into any issues there were enough people and resource to mount a solid rescue.

Other than getting a guide in your raft, my only other recommendation would be to get a group large enough to fill up your own raft.  On the day we went, Laurel Highlands was running 6-people rafts and we were a group of 3.  This meant sharing the raft with a few folks we didn’t know.  While this wasn’t a problem (they were very nice!), I think it would have been more fun to have a group of 6 friends working the river together.


The river needs to be above 2.5 feet and we went down just over 3.5 feet which means it was a fast ride!  We were on the river for about 3 – 3.5 hours total.  Because the river was so high we had little problems navigating areas like the ‘Rock Garden’ which in lower water can cause rafts to get hung up sliding over rocks cropping out of the lower water.

Our on-water experience went very smoothly.  Between my husband’s experience and having a guide in the raft we had no major problems.  We did lose a raft-mate on the very first rapid because he did not have his feet secured under the inflatable crossbars in the raft.  It was a bit scary as he fell out down river (i.e. the direction we were going) and very close to the raft which meant the raft was basically pushing over him.  Additionally, he got stuck on the next rock and couldn’t get free, so he ended up being submerged while the raft pushed up against him and into the rock.  It was scary for him and once in the boat it took a few minutes before his adrenaline calmed back down.  As scary as that first fallout was, we didn’t experience any others throughout the day.

One of the more memorable moments was jumping off a rock about 15-20 feet high and into the river.  The climb up the rock was slippery and there was a suspect, little wooden bridge between the two different rocks to get to the top.  Once on the top, we carefully made it to the edge of the rock and took the plunge.  This was a ton of fun and we did it a few times before moving on.  Other than the bridge between the two rocks, this seemed like a safe side adventure to our whitewater rafting trip.

Check out this video (it’s not mine, but is of the rock we jumped off of!)



As you reach the end of you day on the river your guide will simply have you paddle to the takeout spot.  Once on the riverbank, you will work as a team to bring your raft to the top of the hill where you will find transportation ready to take you back to the Laurel Highlands Tour location.

Back at the base there are facilities to change and even get a quick shower to rinse off the river.  While at the base you can also purchase hats, shirts, and photos of your adventure.  (See the main picture to this post, it is one of the photos the tour company took while we were on our adventure.)


Depending on the time of your trip, you should take a few moments to checkout Ohiopyle.  There are a few different retail shops (mostly river related gear) and a few restaurants.  We choose to check out a restaurant with a small outside seating area.  Being Vegan, it wasn’t super easy to find food, but I was able to get a “clean” salad after a long discussion that cheese and eggs are not vegan ?.  My daughter and husband were happy with their chicken sandwiches.

There is also an amazing amount of hiking in the area.  We really enjoyed an easy hike to Cucumber Falls.  In the past, we have gone wilderness camping in the area taking 20-30 mile hikes over a long weekend.

Overall, there are so many reasons to take the day trip and start exploring the Laurel Highlands!    If you have any questions about the area or want to know more about our own experiences – just ask!


Michelle has been working in real estate since 2006, first as an investor and then as an agent. I know and love Pittsburgh!  Its charm, vitality, and people invigorate me and I’ve been championing it for years.

My philosophy is people first. I’m not trying to earn your business. I’m out to help people sell their houses or get into the best home for them. My experience has shown me that when you’re looking out for people’s best interests, the business comes.

Pittsburgh. Your City. Own It. 

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Michelle Goetzinger

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