The Clarion River might be one of the best secret fishing spots in Pennsylvania. The river meanders through narrow valleys and hardwood forests for 115 miles in the Pennsylvania Wilds. Its headwaters enter the PA Great Outdoors region in Elk County and flow south through Cook Forest to Clarion and ultimately to join the Allegheny River.
Over the last two hundred years, the story of the river has been one of resource exploitation, degradation, resilience, and recovery. Lumber was the chief industry along the river during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Once polluted, it has experienced a tremendous recovery.
Today, an amazing array of fish swim in the Clarion, while forested mountain slopes teaming with wildlife, intermittent riffles and rock outcrops provide a picturesque backdrop for outdoor recreation. A 52-mile stretch of the river has been nationally designated Wild & Scenic. Adjacent public lands provide abundant opportunities for fishing, camping, hunting, hiking, bicycling, wildlife watching, and picnicking.
The river has thriving populations of trout and smallmouth bass which makes it very popular with anglers. Many of the streams that feed into the Clarion are also stocked with trout each spring as well. One of the best ways to enjoy fishing on the river is by exploring it via canoe or kayak.
Each section of the Clarion River Water Trail has a unique character. The East and West Branches of the river are narrower, swifter, and trees sometimes block the stream, offering great opportunities for experienced paddlers. Paddling here is best in the spring and after rainfalls. Boat and canoe launches and other amenities are available at Elk State Park, East Branch Clarion River Lake and Bendigo State Park. (Note: Passage is not permitted where the East Branch flows by the paper mill in Johnsonburg. The launch at Bendigo is the last take-out before the mill.)
At Johnsonburg, the East and West Branches of the river flow together to form the main the Clarion River. It continues on to Ridgway which is home to several kayaking and canoeing outfitters. From here the river begins to widen and is bordered by state game lands and the Allegheny National Forest. Between Portland Mills and Irwin Run is a beautiful and remote section with three Class 1+ rapids to challenge paddlers.
Below Irwin Run, the Clarion River is bordered by the River Road, which offers 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. The section of the river just below Johnsonburg to Clear Creek State Park is one of Pennsylvania’s best kept secrets for trophy brown trout fisheries.
The river’s character becomes gentler as you near Cook Forest State Park. The section is popular for family recreation. Cook Forest is home to Pennsylvania’s magnificent old growth forest of white pine and hemlock. You’ll find many hiking trails, easy canoe access, and good fishing spots. The Seneca Point Overlook is here too, providing spectacular views of the Clarion River Valley. In the town of Cooksburg, you’ll find lodges, cabins, B&B’s, restaurants, campgrounds, shops, and canoe liveries.
Downstream from Cooksburg to Mill Creek, the river returns to a primitive state with limited access and more challenges. This Wild & Scenic section of the river is bordered by Cook Forest and state game lands and flows into the calm deep water of Piney Reservoir. The Toby Boat Launch near the borough of Clarion is the last public launch on the Clarion River and is popular power boaters on the reservoir.
This lower section of the Clarion River Water Trail, below Piney Dam, is still under development. Local groups are working to establish public access on the 32 miles of river between the Toby Launch and its confluence with the Allegheny River near Foxburg.
For more information on the Clarion River and outdoor recreational opportunities in the region go to VisitPAGO.com or call the PA Great Outdoors Visitors Bureau at (814) 849-5197.