The Laurel Highlands is a gorgeous area of southwest Pennsylvania, just east of Pittsburgh, and there’s so much to do here. I went on a hosted 3-day girlfriends’ getaway with two of my friends and we had a blast with some really unique experiences.
One of the big things on our itinerary was white water rafting, and this is something I’d never done before, never really saw myself doing, and there were definitely some nerves involved.
I’ll tell you all about it below, but the short version is that I absolutely LOVED it and highly recommend pushing yourself out of your comfort zone to try it.
Where Can You Go White Water Rafting in PA?
Ohiopyle is a really cute town, located in the beautiful Ohiopyle State Park. There are fun general stores and unique restaurants in the town, but the clear draw of the area is the Park.
With tons of outdoorsy activities to do, like biking, hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, and much more, there’s something for everyone. And yes, there is white water rafting!
There are a bunch of different white water rafting vendors in the area. We went with White Water Adventurers, which I highly, highly recommend. It was a great experience from start to finish.
In fact, the top floor of the business was our lodging during the trip, courtesy of Ohiopyle Vacation Rentals. They have tons of great properties in the area.
The Youghiogheny (pronounced yock-eh-gain-ey) River, or Yough (yock) for short, runs through Ohiopyle State Park and this is where we rafted.
White Water Rafting Ohiopyle
The first thing we did was sign a waiver. Yes, there’s some risk in white water rafting, but personally I felt totally safe the entire time.
They’ll let you know the risks (simple things like, don’t take your favorite pair of sunglasses, be aware that you could crack the face of your smartwatch, etc.), and get you suited up in a helmet and life vest.
Once we had the safety talk and had our gear on, we headed over to the water. White Water Adventurers is so close to the entry point, that we literally carried the boat over.
Before I tell you more about the actual rafting, let me give you a few tips to prep for your trip. First, you are obviously going to get wet. Like, soaked, wet. So dress accordingly.
How to Prepare for White Water Rafting
I wore a bathing suit with a skirt bottom, and a rash guard shirt on top, and Keens. Go with water shoes, or shoes that you can get wet. You absolutely need shoes, and no flip flops or anything loose that might slip off. Wedging your foot into the raft is part of what keeps you in the boat, so good footwear is important.
If you don’t have a rash guard, you could go with a t-shirt and shorts, but just know that you’ll get soaked.
As noted above, don’t bring your best sunglasses or expensive watch. They actually recommended that we not wear sunglasses at all, but I have to have them in bright light, so I brought the cheapest pair I could find in the back of my closet, and I didn’t lose them.
Finally, wear sunscreen. The sun is bright, reflecting off the water, and you don’t want to get burned.
What about a camera? If you have a GoPro, you can likely bring that. Ask wherever you book your reservation, but White Water Adventurers had some helmets with a GoPro attachment on top. You can see it on my friend Shannon’s helmet in the pics below.
If you want to bring your phone, do so at your own risk, and absolutely put it in one of these waterproof pouches worn around your neck. My other friend Fadra brought her phone in a pouch to get a few pics, and it was totally fine – stayed dry and didn’t get lost or damaged.
They do have photographers waiting at one location as you make your way down the river and go through one of the rapids, and you can purchase those after your trip. Ours were $50 for about 11 photos. Totally worth it for these memories!
The pics of us rafting in this post are from that batch, and here’s a hot tip that we used over the summer when I took my family rafting in Gatlinburg, TN: Whoever sits in the front of the boat is going to get the most wet (though everyone will get plenty wet), and is going to be most visible in these pictures.
If you know you want pics and you’re riding with strangers, try to sit near the front. Our boat only had myself, my 2 friends, and the guide in it, so clearly we were all very visible. But when we went in TN, I think there were 8 in a bigger boat, and some of the people in the back, well…they didn’t purchase the photos.
What Class Rapids is Ohiopyle?
We got into the water at a really calm section, and our guide (Ryan – he was AMAZING!!) gave us the lowdown on how to steer and paddle. He called out instructions the entire way and knew exactly how to guide the boat through each rapid.
He’d say things like, “Forward, three,” and that meant you paddle forward three times. Really simple and easy to follow, and we never had to guess what we should be doing to stay on course.
The River is not a bunch of crazy rapids one right after the other. You’ll go through a rapid, and then have an area of calm, peaceful water. Of course, the rapids are the exciting part!
Can Children Go White Water Rafting?
So how scary is this, and is it something you should do with your children? The Yough has 3 sections to it: Upper, Middle, and Lower. Each section has different a different class of rapids.
I knew nothing about classes of rapids before this trip, but basically rapids are ranked depending on a variety of factors that make them easy or difficult to navigate. The Middle Yough includes the most mild rapids, Class I and II. This is the perfect section to take your small kiddos on and enjoy a leisurely day on the water.
The Lower Yough includes Class III and IV rapids, and this is where we rafted. It’s just enough rapid to be adventurous without being scary. When I took my family white water rafting in Tennessee last summer, we went on a Class III and IV section of the Pigeon River, too. My kids were 12 and 15 at the time and they were totally fine and had a blast.
The Upper Yough is the most wild ride, with Class IV and V rapids. This is a little too much for my comfort level, and our guide said it’s best to have some experience before braving that section.
How Long is White Water Rafting in Ohiopyle?
There are a few different options for your rafting trip. Each section of the river is a certain mileage, but they do offer a couple of shortened trips, too.
We rafted about 7 miles of the Lower Yough and it took maybe 3 hours from start to finish. We also had a lunch packed for us, and pulled over along some rocks to get out and eat. I totally felt like I was on Survivor and had won a reward at a challenge!
White water rafting was so much fun. I like the outdoors and some adventure…to a point. I was pretty nervous about doing this and stepping outside of my comfort zone, but I am SO glad that I did.
My first thought when we were done is that I had to do this again with my family. The guides and experience at White Water Adventurers are top notch, and the Yough is a beautiful river. Highly, highly recommend adding this to your Laurel Highlands itinerary!
After your rafting ride, transportation is provided back to the rental place, and you’ll want to go clean up before carrying on with your day. Our rafting adventure was early in the morning, which made it a little bit chilly, but gave us the rest of the day to have more fun.
Ohiopyle State Park Hiking
While you’re visiting Ohiopyle State Park, you have to check out some of the hiking trails, too.
There are trails for all levels, and tons of photo opps with some really gorgeous natural features, like Ohiopyle Falls behind me in the pic above.
Get a list of must-see spots along the trails, and a map that notates which trails are easy, moderate, and difficult to plan out what you want to do and see while you’re there.
Waterfall Hikes in PA
A waterfall hike is my favorite. There’s just something amazing about this scene in nature, isn’t there?
This is Cucumber Falls, a 30-foot waterfall nestled in the trees.
There’s a parking lot that’s not too far from here, so you wouldn’t really have to hike to take in this view, but the entire hike was really beautiful, so I’d recommend it if you’re able.
Natural Waterslides in Ohioyle State Park
The first day we arrived in Ohiopyle, it had rained pretty hard for a couple of days. We walked over to the Natural Slides and it was just GUSHING with water. Obviously no one was sliding down it.
A couple of days later, we went back after and the flow had decreased enough that people were sliding! I’d probably be banged up for a few days going down this, but the older kids and some daring adults were having so much fun with it.
Even if you don’t slide, definitely check this out on your trip. It’s so cool!
VISIT LAUREL HIGHLANDS
Visit Go Laurel Highlands to learn more about what to do, where to stay, and where to eat in the area! I had one of the best meals of my life at Out of the Fire Cafe in this area, so be sure to go drool over those pics and add a stop to your itinerary.
These two gorgeous Frank Lloyd Wright homes are a must-see in the area, too.