Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — May 2010

Moshannon Creek: The Lower Gorge

by Gary Thornbloom

lower Moshannon Creek

The lower Moshannon Creek provides peace and beauty, but is not a stream for novices. · Photo by Gary Thornbloom

Moshannon Creek is a stream you can enjoy paddling without disturbing fishermen. The stream is dead — a legacy of coal mining in Clearfield and Centre counties. It runs clear, devoid of life, rocks stained red, and peacefully beautiful on its flow toward the West Branch of the Susquehanna.

Beginning at the Route 53 Bridge, just west of the village of Moshannon, the stream drops through a narrow gorge. Although downstream from the white water of the Red Mo racecourse, a race held annually for the past 43 years, the stream even here has few slow sections, few pools, and several challenges. The stream demands your attention and your respect, and with many barely submerged rocks, it is not a stream for beginners.

Of special note is a large rock that is colorfully, but aptly, called Killer Rock by local paddlers. It is located a little over half way to the mouth. It is river left, on the outside of where the river bends to the right. The rock is undercut and at some water levels the current takes you straight into and under the rock. There is plenty of room and water to pull over and to walk your boat along the right side of the stream!

Killer Rock in Moshannon Creek

Killer Rock (background) demands respect and attention from all paddlers. · Photo by Gary Thornbloom

As you float north you leave roads and road noise behind. For the next five miles, it is only water, rocks, and trees. That is what makes this outing special. State Game Lands protect about one half of this, but there is no such guarantee for the other half.

In mid April, Amelanchier canadensis, outlined with white blossoms, is scattered streamside as well as on the mountainside. The tree goes by the names Serviceberry — its blossoming coincided with the when pioneers could dig graves for winter deceased, Shadbush — it blossoms when the shad used to run, and Juneberry — its berries ripen in June. None of the common names capture the subtle springtime beauty of these graceful, spare trees with sprays of white that brighten the awakening woodland.

Streamside, the banks are often thick with rhododendron and hemlock. Majestic white pines dot the mountainsides. You can usually paddle the stream in the spring, but it would take some heavy rain in July to be able to float through a spectacular display of flowering rhododendron.

The water’s high acidity provides perfect cranberry habitat. The low-growing plant with feathery green leaves and distinctive red berries carpets large areas streamside as well as on cobble and sand bars that stretch into the stream. A notable and easily located patch is at the mouth, river right, where Moshannon Creek joins the West Branch. This is also the site of an Indian village, but you will be hard pressed to locate any evidence from that time when humans lived more gently on the land.

After the final rapid, which can be a roller coaster in high water or a series of rock obstacles in low water, Moshannon Creek pushes you out and onto the West Branch of the Susquehanna.

Millers Landing is on the far shore. Now a place of summer homes, this was once a settlement where men driving rafts of white pine would stop for the night, as well as one of the one hundred and seventy rafting points that made up the mental map of nineteenth century river pilots and crews.

The mile long Karthaus railroad tunnel is further back in the mountain behind Millers Landing. The tunnel saves three and one-half miles from the longer trip that would have been required to follow a bend in the river that outlines what looks, on a map, like the finger of a peninsula. Carved in stone at the tunnel entrance is the year 1901. While the West Branch is beautiful, our human imprint is clearly visible along the river.

Three miles paddling the Karthaus Straight Water and you will arrive at the boat access area on river right and just before the Karthaus Bridge. Downriver State Game Lands again border the river and, as on Moshannon Creek, once again the natural landscape is let be. Karthaus to Keating is a trip for another day. And it is even better as a several day camping trip.

Paddling Moshannon Creek is a delight for anyone with the experience necessary to read the current and the rocks, a delight for anyone seeking to explore Pennsylvania woods and waters, and a delight for paddlers looking to enjoy a day on the water.


Gary Thornbloom is the Chair of Sierra Club Moshannon Group, and can be reached at bearknob@verizon.net