Schuylkill Canal Park to Betzwood Access
Difficulty: Moderate. Travel time: 2.5 to 4 hours, plus shuttling of vehicles. Water Level at USGS gauge #01472000 (Pottstown): Min. 1.1 ft; Good 3.0 ft.
Although this stretch of river is mostly slow-moving flatwater, there are some features – one Class I+ rapid in particular – that do require some river-reading and boat control (More on that below).
Your put-in is in Schuylkill Canal Park (RM 36.3), one of the “jewels” of the Schuylkill River Water Trail. This beautiful setting features restored and fully-operational Lock 60 from the Schuylkill Navigation days. On special occasions, kayakers and canoeists have been able to “lock through,” thanks to the Schuylkill Canal Association lock-keepers. (NOTE: Lock 60 is temporarily out-of-commision because of excessive silting in the canal above the lock). Also here is a handsome, restored locktender’s house and tranquil Oakes Reach, the 2.5-mile section of watered (and paddleable!) canal that connects Lock 60 to the historic village of Port Providence. Many enjoy the “Lock 60 Loop,” a 2.1 mile downriver run and a return back up the canal (see “Lock 6o Loop” in the “Out and Back Trips” list).
Where you begin this trip can be a difficult decision. On one side of the park’s parking lot is a well-maintained gravel ramp into the Schuylkill River. On the other side is a floating dock for access to the canal.
• You can launch directly into the river and paddle past resurgent, vibrant Phoenixville hiding behind the riverside trees on RR, or
• You can enjoy your first 2.1 miles in the shade of the canal, easing by ducks, turtles, fishermen, hikers, and cyclists … slipping under bridges and gliding past canal-era homes, a popular restaurant & watering hole, and an SUP/kayak livery. At the end of this peaceful stretch is Longford Park and a grassy 0.1-mile portage to the river.
Be aware that the most active feature of this trip lies less than a mile ahead. The remnants of an old industrial dam at RM 33.3 create a tricky Class I+ rapid with a splashy drop. The best route through this rapid is to approach from center left, then go diagonally (left to right) through the left center opening in the dam. (See a detailed “action map” of this feature by clicking/tapping on its hazard icon on the main map.)
After that wake-up, the river is mostly flat and calm again as you paddle past the mouth of the Perkiomen Creek (RM 32.3, RL) and into the outer reaches of Valley Forge National Historical Park (on both sides of the river). The take-out ramp at Betzwood Access (RM 28.3) is on RL right after Catfish Island and right before Sullivan’s Bridge (Valley Forge pedestrian/bike connector).
(For more than these excerpts and website provide, see A Paddler’s Guide to the Schuylkill River Water Trail.)