Follow along as Alliance staff member, Laura Todd, paddles all 444 miles of the Main Branch of the Susquehanna River with her father, Mark. Starting in June 2022 in Cooperstown, New York, the pair began kayaking down the river to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay at Havre de Grace, Maryland. This series will follow their journey over the next year as they paddle the longest river on the East Coast, sharing Susquehanna facts, photos, and reflections from the trip along the way.

Click here to read more about the trip and to see Laura’s gear list.
Click here to read more about the first leg of the trip, Mile 0 to Mile 109.
Click here to read more about the second leg of the trip, Mile 109 to Mile 225.

Day One – May 24, 2023

Mehoopany Private Access to PFBC West Falls Access
23 Miles – RM 225 to RM 248

Back at it! Today was another beautiful day on the Susquehanna in the Endless Mountains Heritage Region. This area has been my favorite so far on my paddling trek. Most of the time it has been very quiet and peaceful. The steep slopes rising up beyond the river are majestic, and most look pristine with very little development. This section of the North Branch of the Susquehanna was named the 2023 River of the Year by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers. A helicopter flew over us towards the island up ahead, paused, and sprayed out a brownish solution before flying away. We learned through a quick search that this effort was through the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Black Fly Suppression Program. By black flies, they mean gnats. The spray used to control the larvae is Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti), a naturally occurring soil bacterium.

We saw a young bald eagle (possibly a two year old) vigorously chasing a great blue heron, but it didn’t catch it. Later, we saw a doe along the shoreline that appeared to be ignoring us and either eating grass or grooming itself. When it stepped forward, we saw the tiniest fawn we had ever seen. It could not have been more than a few days old! It slowly followed its mother into the woods. By the time we stopped looking at the baby deer, we saw another doe with a fawn that was just as small as the baby we had just seen. We ended our day at the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission’s West Falls Access, which is across the river from the beautiful Buttermilk Falls.

Buttermilk Falls

Day Two – May 25, 2023

PFBC West Falls Access to PFBC Hanover Township Access
22 Miles – RM 248 to RM 270

Unfortunately, this area of Pennsylvania experienced a number of coal mining disasters, including the Knox Mine Disaster in 1959. It may be difficult to see in the photo, but there is evidence of acid mine drainage on the left side of the river bank below the trees. While all the stones next to the river are typically gray, these are bright orange. This orange color is a result of the oxidation of sulfides. A turkey also flew in front of us on the river on this day, which was quite the surprise!

Day Three – May 26, 2023

PFBC Hanover Township Access to Nescopeck VFW Launch
20 Miles – RM 270 to RM 290

This section of the river also contained the biggest rapids we faced so far. Here’s an action shot of my kayak, Tequila Sunrise, forging through. After we made it through the rapids, we paused at a nearby boat ramp so to break out the bilge pump. This was the first time I got water in the cockpit of my kayak and I wanted to take a few minutes to dry off!

Day Four – May 27, 2023

Nescopeck VFW Launch to Catawissa Boro Access
22 Miles – RM 290 to RM 312

A bee on a kayak

I scooped this little bumblebee (Bombus impatiens) out of the water, where she had been drowning. She climbed on the end of my paddle and hitched a ride on my forearm for a while before I managed to get her to sit on my map to dry off in the sun. She flew off a few minutes later to one of the river’s many islands.

I also believe that I saw a North American river otter (Lontra canadensis) under the West 34th Street Bridge in Berwick, PA!

Day Five – May 28, 2023

Catawissa Boro Access to Adam T. Bower Memorial Dam Access
22 Miles – RM 312 to RM 334

This day was a pretty grueling one, I won’t lie! It was hot, with very little wind and decreased water flow due to the Adam T. Bower Memorial Dam (the world’s largest inflatable dam), located just below the confluence of the western and northern branches of the Susquehanna River. The reservoir created by the dam is called Lake Augusta – it was definitely a popular place to spend Memorial Day weekend! There were lots of boaters and jet skiers out enjoying the water that day, although we did have to paddle through their wake.

Two people standing in front of a dam

My dad and I in front of Adam T. Bower Memorial Dam. Featuring my kayak leg tan! Trip 3: Complete.

Overall, this section of the Susquehanna was pretty straightforward. I definitely appreciated not having to portage around any dams or obstacles until the very end of the trip. Despite water levels being low, we were still able to knock out a steady number of miles each day. It has been interesting to see how the Susquehanna has changed the further downriver we go. We saw a lot of wildlife in this section, however, we’ve also started to see how humans’ relationship with the river has changed as well. There is much more development closer to the river, and subsequently, more flood management structures like levees to protect the nearby towns. I can’t believe we only have one more trip left to reach the end of the Susquehanna when it meets the Chesapeake Bay in Havre de Grace, MD. My dad and I are looking forward to getting back on the river in September to finish our final paddle towards joining the 444 Club!

If you’re interested in learning more, join us on July 27 at noon for an Ask the Alliance, live talk session all about long-distance kayaking. Learn about planning, preparing, and paddling in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Register now!