Up Penn's creek with a paddle

Robin Mann

Courtesy Joan Wilson


By Pat Reilly

In the heart of our state, just east of State College in Centre County, lies Penns Valley.  Wider than most in Pennsylvania’s ‘ridge and valley’ region, Penns is blessed with an abundance of limestone. Four small but paddle-worthy creeks rise up from caves and limestone springs, make their way through fertile farms and small towns, and converge at Coburn poised to change character and become one mountain creek.

At Coburn, Pine and Elk creeks team up with Penns Creek, recently swollen by Sinking Creek, and together they cut a gap in expansive Seven Mountain and become a fitting vehicle with which to explore some beautiful Pennsylvania mountain scenery.  The change below Coburn is abrupt. Not only does the scenery undergo a transformation, but the water livens up too with constant riffles and small rapids. Thus the norm for the next 15 miles to Weikert is established—mountains and woods, riffles and rapids—and it makes for a darn nice paddle trip—a true Pennsylvania classic.

Camping in this mountainous stretch is a worthwhile idea since much of the land is state forest. Poe Paddy State Park, featuring creekside tent sites, is a perfect halfway point.
The heaviest rapid of the trip is right at the park, but don’t be intimidated—Penns has only the simplest of rapids, small and straightforward. There is nothing on the creek that exceeds a class II; just good clean fun water for experienced paddlers in open canoes or recreation kayaks.

The creek loops back and forth around a couple of mountains near Poe Paddy. A rail trail on the left bank stretches as far as Weikert and tunnels through one of the mountains near the park.  In summer the tunnel is used as a shuttle. Kids tube from the park on a mile-long scenic loop around a mountain, and then hike the rail trail ¼ mile through the tunnel, over a trestle and back to the park. The park, the trail, the tunnel, and some lovely overlooks on the mountain tops, one known at Penns View, make spending some time out of your boat an attractive option--and the fishing is great too.

With all that limestone spring water, Penns is a popular trout stream with a national reputation for its ‘green drake’ mayfly hatch that occurs in mid to late May.  When the largest of mayflies start rising from the creek bottom, the trout are driven into such a frenzy that fishermen from out of state travel to Penns Creek for the green drake hatch.  During the hatch, you might want to avoid the stretch of water below Poe Paddy, which is ‘special regulation’ and gets fished especially hard.

The change from mountain creek back to valley stream is gradual and begins as you approach the town of Weikert, the first take out since Poe Paddy.  Below Weikert many fishing cottages border the creek as do the quaint little towns of Glen Iron, Millmont, and New Berlin.  The riffles gradually diminish and are pretty much gone by Glen Iron.  The scenery steadily opens up with rolling hills and agriculture replacing mountains and woodlands

The magic level for the popular trip below Colburn appears to be 2.6 feet on the Penns Creek USGS gauge, which is located at the town of Penns Creek.  Any lower than this and you’ll be doing lots of scraping.  Current USGS gauge readings can be found online at waterdata.usgs.gov/pa/nwis/rt.

For more information on Penns Creek and its tributaries, read Ed Gertler's Keystone Canoeing and check out the River Tales online.

Pat Reilly is a well-known river and canoe expert and has served as the Chapter's outings chair.

Published March 2006