The Pocono Mountains provide an outdoor haven to adventurers in the New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey areas. Located mainly in Pennsylvania, but covering counties in all three states, the Poconos are home to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, among many other natural attractions.
With its sprawling floodplains, this area abounds with wildlife and bird watching opportunities, if you can remember to keep an eye out while you’re taking in the beautiful sights along the rushing rivers in the area.
The Poconos have two main river systems to provide you an adrenaline-filled whitewater rafting day: the Delaware River and the Lehigh River. The Delaware is a major river system in the Eastern U.S. and begins as two branches in the Catskill Mountains—the western at Mount Jefferson and the eastern at Grand Gorge. The branches meet in Hancock, New York and flows down to Delaware Bay on the Atlantic Ocean.
Whitewater rafting on the Delaware River in the Poconos is not an experience to miss—with low, rolling mountains, wide sections of river that narrow into heart-pounding rapids, and forests and flatlands that are home to many animals, it’s hard to go wrong in this spot.
A tributary of the Delaware, the Lehigh River is not to be considered second-rate. In fact, part of the Lehigh is designated a Pennsylvania Scenic River. And with plenty of rapids, it offers incredible whitewater rafting experiences.
Best whitewater rafting in the Poconos
Now that you have the lay of the land, let’s talk about what each of these spectacular rivers can provide you on your adventure whitewater rafting in the Poconos.
The Delaware River is the boundary between New York and Pennsylvania, and tour companies that operate on the Delaware are located on both sides of the river. The section of the Delaware River that runs through the Poconos provides class I to class III rapids. The Delaware has great options for paddlers of all skill levels, and there are numerous calm spots that make great picnic areas.
For more intense rapids, check out the Lackawaxen whitewater run. Lackawaxen is a popular choice because it runs when there are dam releases from the hydro-electric dam on Lake Wallenpaupack. This is a good option for visitors to the area who are looking for a whitewater trip in the Poconos that isn’t dependent on natural water flow.
Lander’s River Trips has a great selection of whitewater trips on the Delaware River for all skill levels. Their website is also a good resource for whitewater rafting in the Poconos in general—check out the river map on their website or the Google Maps version.
The section of the Lehigh River that stretches through the Pocono Mountains includes class I to class III rapids. Families, or those looking for a more relaxing float day, will find many options available on the Lehigh. If you’re looking for more adventure, book on a dam release day! The Francis E. Walter Dam is located in Bear Creek Township, Pennsylvania, and is an embankment dam that governs water flow on the Lehigh. Similar to the Delaware, the dam release days allow for reliably higher water flow, giving more experienced or adventurous paddlers a bit of an extra rush.
Pocono Whitewater is a great tour company in the area that offers a wide selection of unique whitewater trips for seasoned paddlers and families. Check out their Pirate Rafting tour for an especially memorable family trip whitewater rafting in the Poconos. Keep your camera handy for this pirate-themed whitewater tour—there’s even a pirate ship raft! With a riverside barbecue lunch included, this is a perfect day of family-friendly rafting on the Lehigh.
If you like the family-style idea but can’t fit the Pirate Rafting tour into your schedule, have a look at Pocono Whitewater’s Family Tours—another exciting option that will suit all skill levels, and paddlers as young as four.
Take advantage of one of the most beautiful state parks while you’re in the area, and experience some heart-pounding whitewater in Lehigh Gorge State Park. This spot is home to awe-inspiring 900-foot canyons, roaring class III whitewater, and gorgeous surrounding scenery. Your best option for seasoned guides in this area is Jim Thorpe River Adventures.
What time of year to go
Head to the Poconos between May and Labor Day weekend for whitewater rafting season. This is a very popular tourist spot, in addition to providing wilderness adventures within easy driving distance for many residents of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, so plan your trip accordingly if you’d like to stay away from the crowds. Most whitewater rafting companies in the Poconos have weekday deals, so this is a great option if your timeline allows.
What do you wear whitewater rafting in the Poconos?
Whitewater rafting tours don’t require any specialized personal gear. While you can bring your own PFD or paddle if your tour company allows, they’ll provide all the gear you need. Wear athletic clothes that are comfortable and allow for movement and you’ll be set.
Depending on the time of year you’re rafting, you may need to wear layers, a long-sleeve shirt or pants. As with any paddling activities, sticking to wool or other non-cotton fabrics is best. Cotton takes longer to dry than other fabrics and doesn’t keep you as warm when it gets damp. As a base layer, outdoor clothing with some stretch will be the most comfortable for you—think hiking shorts, swim trunks or board shorts, and tops that will fit well under a PFD.
For trips that involve a pickup and ride back after you’re out of the river, consider wearing a bathing suit under your over layer—you’ll be happier and more comfortable if you dry out faster! If you have longer hair, pull it back to ensure it’s not in your face when you get wet, and bring an extra hair tie just in case. For footwear, always wear closed-toed shoes that buckle or tie on. You don’t want to catch a toe on a stick or have your foot cut by a rock. You can wear neoprene water shoes or sandals with a covered toe. If you don’t have anything like that, runners will be fine as long as you dry them out properly after.