Jim Dietrich Park to Kerper’s Landing

WARNING [8/3/22]: New Strainer Hazard at Kelly’s Rapids (river mile 79.8). A tree has fallen into the upper third of the Class II+ rapid on RR, causing a hazardous strainer in the swift current. Until this fallen tree has been removed, please do not attempt to run this rapid. Avoid this area entirely, portage RL, or paddle RL channel (if there is enough water).

Difficulty: Difficult. Travel time: 2.5 to 4 hours, plus shuttling of vehicles. Water Level at  USGS gauge #01470500 (Berne): Min. 4.9 ft; Good 5.4 ft.

This trip is rated “Difficult” because of Class II+ Kelly’s Rapids at RM 79.8. Except for that feature, this trip would be rated “Moderate” because of the numerous Class I and I+ rapids in this entertaining stretch of river.

The newly-upgraded Jim Dietrich Park canoe launch is a short drive down a dirt lane beyond the park’s athletic fields and parking lots. You’ll start your paddle on a 1.6-mile stretch of flatwater, beginning at the cliffs on RR called the “Palisades.” Until 1999, when the newer of the two 19th-century Felix Dams was breached by a high-water event, this area was a lake. You will paddle past bungalows and homes with majestic decks and docks on RL, way above the current free-flow water level. These homes were built to enjoy motorboating, fishing, and even championship water skiing in the impounded water behind the former dam. Continuing on, you will pass Epler’s Access (RM 82.0, RR), one of the more-active PFBC boat launches during that time, before you come to the first bridge of the day (US-222).

Just ahead is the first red-diamond caution of the day, a series of three Class I+ rapids (RM 81.7), caused by the remnants of the two old Felix dams. The best route is diagonally (left to right) in the left center of the center channel and then RR to exit. (See a detailed “action map” of this feature by clicking/tapping on its hazard icon on the main map.)

Next up is Kelly’s Rapids (RM 79.8), a “double-diamond” (extra caution) rapid on RR that includes a surf wave and a strong eddy. To completely avoid theses rapids, there is a short, steep, primitive take-out on RL, just upriver of the rapids, and a 0.1-mile portage through Kelly’s Lock Overlook Park to the quiet water below the rapid. (Part of the old lock wall remains as the overlook perch.) A “kinder, gentler” on-water route through Kelly’s is RL of the islands, but lower water levels often make this option unpaddleable. For paddlers with the skills, the Class II+ water on RR is a blast! WARNING: As of 8/3/22, a fallen tree is blocking this channel and has created a dangerous strainer in the swift current. Please disregard the following navigation guidance. Do not run this rapid until this hazard has been removed: To run the rapid, enter in the center of the river to avoid shallow water on RR, then head for the right channel around the islands. Hit center or left center of the channel. A successful run through these big, splashy drops and waves will leave you wanting more. And many do just that. This area has been a popular “playground” for whitewater enthusiasts for generations. (See a detailed “action map” of this feature by clicking/tapping on its hazard icon.)

After Kelly’s, you’ll work your way through a succession of Class I and I+ rapids, past the Carpenter specialty steel company, and under 4 bridges before passing Tulpehocken Creek (RR), one of the Schuylkill’s largest tributaries and the feeding stream of Blue Marsh Lake (about 8 miles upstream). Confluence Point on RR is a convenient spot to rest and stretch the legs, albeit a noisy one with four-lane US-422 just across the creek!

For another mile, as the riverside scenery becomes more urbanized, you’ll encounter several more small rapids and pass under 4 more bridges before your RL take-out at Kerper’s Landing (RM 75.5), just above the old dam.

(For more than these excerpts and website provide, see A Paddler’s Guide to the Schuylkill River Water Trail.)