Kerper’s Landing to Gibraltar Bridge
Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult. Travel time: 2.5 to 4 hours, plus shuttling of vehicles. Water Level at USGS gauge #01471510 (Reading): Min. 2.5 ft; Good 3.2 ft.
This trip is rated at “Moderate” difficulty during “Good” water levels, but higher or lower conditions can increase the difficulty (see below).
Often overlooked because of its urban starting point, this section is a favorite of many Schuylkill River adventurers. It is an active stretch of 20+ Class I-II rapids of varying degrees of complexity that a paddler with good river-reading skills and boat control will find both challenging and enjoyable. It is also a place of rich history and surprising scenic beauty.
The paved canoe launch ramp at Kerper’s Landing allows you to carry your boat right down to the RL end of the old rock dam (RM 75.5). You can walk a few paces downstream to put in just below the dam or you can launch from the gravel beach and paddle upstream a bit to set up for a smooth run right down the middle of the breach in the dam.
Before leaving Reading, you might want to stop for a quick canal-history lesson at Jackson’s Landing (RM 74.6 on RL). And just below Jackson’s, you will most certainly want to linger a bit to admire the effort and enthusiasm of the local high school kids who, in the name of school pride, have made their mark on the “Painted Rock” in the middle of the river (RM 73.9).
By now, you’ll probably notice that your surroundings have changed dramatically. First-time visitors to this section often remark on how beautiful, clean, and remote it feels here (And you’re still within city limits), thanks in part to your first look at the Neversink Mountain Preserve on RL. (More on that later.) The river has now begun a 5-mile S-bend that will take you under arrow-straight US-422 three times on its course.
Right after you pass under the 3 bridges at RM 73.5 (US-422, Schuylkill River Trail, and railroad bridges), paddle through the far RL channel around Yost Island to avoid the shallows near the outflow culverts of the Fritz Island Wastewater Treatment Plant. This facility has had a few problems in its 130+ years of service to the people of Reading, but the effluent is now well within standards (usually).
Just ahead at RM 72.6 on RL are the walls of Twin Lock 49 (all that remains of the Little Reading Dam of the Schuylkill Navigation canal system). Even though these locks often look open, do not attempt to paddle through them. The current in them can be strong and unpredictable and the bays and exit area are often littered and jammed with hazardous debris. Stay in the main (center) channel of the river to pass by the locks. (See a detailed “action map” of this feature by clicking/tapping on its hazard icon on the main map.) If you want a closer look at these fine examples of lock-building, peel out of the rapid after passing the locks and check them out from their downriver end. Also, right across the river at the end of this feature is Lock 54, the eastern terminus of the Union Canal. (Sorry. Lock 54 is not visible from the river.) The Union Canal was built to connect the Schuylkill River to the Susquehanna River in central Pennsylvania, but poor design, construction, and management doomed it after a short, relatively-unprofitable existence.
The rocky (sometimes knotweed-choked) beach near the former Poplar Neck Park on RL at RM 71.7 (now privately-owned) is a good place to stop to stretch your legs and plan for the tricky stuff just ahead:
1) You will first need to weave through a series of Class I+ rapids under the Poplar Neck road and railroad bridges. Best taken center and then RR.
2) Next is the low-head wing dam that diverted river water into the former Titus Generating Station (RM 71.3). It is easily run through the RL opening. (See a detailed “action map” of this feature by clicking/tapping on its hazard icon.) To avoid the dam, you can portage RR. It’s a short carry, but footing is a little rough.
3) And right after the wing dam comes the “Pinning Rock” in Reilly’s Rapid (RM 71.2) under the Schuylkill River Trail Bridge. The Pinning Rock is so named because this conical rock formation (actually 2 or 3 rocks) has caught more than one unsuspecting river traveller. At low water it is clearly visible and easily avoided. At high levels, it is deep enough underwater that it is not a problem, just a big wave. At certain medium levels, however, it becomes a pour-over rock that is difficult to detect from upriver and hard to avoid if you are on the wrong track through the rapid. The best route through this hazard is to approach from RL and stay in the far RL chute. (See a detailed “action map” of this feature by clicking/tapping on its hazard icon.)
After all that action, it’s time to relax and reflect. As you go RR by the rock island at RM 70.7 and begin that sweeping right-hand bend, Neversink Mountain looms ahead. The miles of hiking and mountain biking trails in this county preserve were once the lanes, roads, and railroads for grand, turn-of-the-20th-century, mountaintop resort hotels. Visitors from Philadelphia and beyond would come by paddleboat or train for the cool breezes, dancing, and elegant social life. The Klapperthal Rail Station, atop the RL riverbank near the island you just passed, was a stopping-off point for throngs of these tourists.
The top of the rapid at RM 69.8 is the site of the former Big Reading Dam of the Schuylkill Navigation and, later, a hydro-electric plant that powered the Neversink Mountain Railroad. This was the first electric railroad in America operated by water power! To run this rapid, enter RL and ride the long, splashy wave train on the RL side of the first three islands. Then exit by turning to the RR side of the last island. The Exeter Scenic Trail on RL, that follows the river for the next 2 miles, is a key feature of the re-purposed Schuylkill River Project impounding basin there and the eastern gateway to the Neversink Mountain trails.
Your take-out is ahead on RL, just before Gibraltar Bridge (RM 67.4). A 130-yd, gradual uphill carry puts you in the parking lot of the Exeter Scenic Trail.
Right across the river is a Berks County park that features the Beidler homestead and gristmill ruins and the beautifully-restored Allegheny Aqueduct. It’s a National Historic Place worth a visit after your day on the river.
(For more than these excerpts and website provide, see A Paddler’s Guide to the Schuylkill River Water Trail.)