VIEW FROM AN OPEN CANOE
A BOATER’S GUIDE TO SLIPPERY ROCK CREEK FROM KENNEDY MILL TO HARRIS BRIDGE
By: Larry E. Wentzel
Slippery Rock Creek is the whitewater classic of western Pennsylvania.
Free flowing from its headwaters to the junction with the
Connoquenessing Creek at Ellport, the main stem of the Slippery Rock flows
some fifty miles. The watershed encompasses about 400 square miles.
This description covers the whitewater sections beginning at Kennedy Mill and
ending at Harris Bridge. The three sections discussed total eight river
miles and cover more than sixteen class II and class III rapids.
Descriptions are based on normal water volume or advanced-beginner to
intermediate levels in the range of 6? to 2?. In all cases, river levels
refer to the McConnells Mill gauge and reference to the left or right side
of the river is made as the boater faces downstream.
Slippery Rock Creek rises in a series of swamps that are located north and
east of the hamlet of Boyers Pennsylvania. There are two main branches that
start out as very small run outs from various marshlands and small
impoundments east of state route 308. Converging near the town of
Slippery Rock Pennsylvania, the South Branch joins the main stem at the
village of Keisters. With the exception of a few low head dams and a
nasty class III+ cataract immediately downstream from the state route
173 bridge, this section is uniformly flat water flowing past woods,
farmlands, and the occasional summer cottage. That rapid, which is seldom run,
drops 10 feet in 1/10 of a mile (that is 100 feet per mile) in what is known
as Rock Falls Park. Eight and one half miles downstream, Wolf Creek enters
from the north, often providing as much volume as the main stem.
Finally, just above the village of Rose Point, Muddy Creek enters from the
east. While Muddy Creek is dam controlled at Moraine State Park, the dam
there has an overflow spillway and little Muddy Creek above Lake Arthur can
contribute significant volume when conditions are wet. When these headwater
areas are saturated from long periods of rain or following a wet winter,
the water levels in the whitewater sections can change quickly.
For example, in 1981 following the spring thaw, a series of storms dumped
an inch or two of rain on the watershed. Already super-saturated, the
marshes and impoundments could hold no more water. The estimated river
level at McConnells Mill was more than thirteen feet. A similar situation
occurred during the spring of 1989. An unusually wet period caused the
river to stay around two feet. Rain driven spikes to three feet occurred
every week, for several weeks. Severe thunderstorms caused fluctuations up
to four feet. One evening following an exceptionally heavy rain, the level
went to just over 7,500 cubic feet per second. Imagine paddling this creek
in warm weather at those levels. Conversely, when these headwater areas dry
out, it takes a significant amount of local rainfall to affect the stream
flow to run-able levels. During the droughts of 1997, 1998, and 1999, the
river level fell off the gauge. Flow rates often went as low as 50 cubic
feet per second. This equates to stage levels in terms of minus feet.
Major thunderstorms only succeeded in causing the creek to rise to zero,
and then only for a few hours while the ‘bubble’ passed.
There are access points to the whitewater sections at the Kennedy Mill Bridge
- township road 447. Park on either side of the bridge where a pull-off
occurs. The put-in is immediately above or immediately below the dam from
the right side. Here various fisherman trails provide easy access.
If starting below the dam, the carry includes lifting over the roadside
guardrail, negotiating some old barbed wire and sliding down the steep bank.
If starting above the dam, the carry or drag is a few yards through the woods.
This is all private property, however, so please respect landowner rights.
Kennedy Mill is also a gathering spot for local teenagers and serves as a
primary access point for fishermen. Parking can be a big problem.
There have been numerous thefts from and vandalism to cars parked here.
The next access is at the road crossing in the village of Rose Point -
old state route 422. (Note: get a map for this by using
MapQuest and searching for
Lat: 40.9705 Lon: -80.1818) There is controlled parking at the Rose Point
Campground just up the hill on the west side or at the Camper’s Paradise
Campground a little further up the hill on the east side. Parking there
will cost a dollar during the camping season. The put-in is on the right
downstream side of the Iron Bridge. This is also private property.
Lift over or under the guard fence and slide down a short embankment right
next to the creek. In late May 2000, the bridge was closed to motor vehicles.
The road approach to the bridge is through the village of Rose Point -
turn north onto Old Route 422 from route 422 at the Harley Davidson shop.
This turn is west of the route 422 bridge crossing the creek. Downstream of
the old iron bridge a small, unnamed run enters on river right.
If you drive west from the put-in, you will pass over a small concrete
bridge in the heart of Rose Point. From that bridge to the Slippery Rock
Creek, this small creek drops several dozen feet through a seriously
narrow gorge. It is not known if this decidedly class IV gorge has been
run but at the right water level it is possible. On the other side of the
bridge, in the Camper’s Paradise Campground, are the remains of an old iron
furnace. This is also worth a look. While there, say hello to Irene and Phil.
Immediately downstream, route 422 passes high overhead. On the southeast end
of the bridge, there is a small parking area for about six vehicles.
The carry is down a long steep bank on the south side of the bridge -
river left. People still use this although I cannot understand why.
If parking there, take care to not encroach on the land owner that has the
About one fourth mile below route 422, on McConnells Mill Road in McConnells
Mill State Park, is the state park ranger station.
(Mapquest Lat: 40.9651 Lon: -80.1696)
There is ample parking at
this location. The carry is across the field behind the station
(the Park mows a clear path through the field) and down the hill on a
well-defined path. This is a long carry and not particularly easy.
The put-in involves an otter launch from the top of the steep, muddy bank
(this can be accomplished in or out of boat).
Three quarters of a mile downstream is the McConnells Mill Dam.
(MapQuest Lat: 40.9537 Lon: -80.1700)
is on river left upstream of a rope float that extends across the river.
It is suggested that boaters remain upstream of this warning device.
While the seven feet high low head dam can be run, it is not recommended.
In 2000, the Park service posted ‘no boating, wading, swimming’ signs in
regard to the dam. Please observe these warnings, since violations will
just result in more restrictions. A successful run of the dam involves
optimal river levels, the absolute right spot, and a lot of experience
running waterfalls. A mistake will be very costly. Take out upstream -
left where a hiking trail comes down to the creek and a large flat-ish
rock juts out into the water in a large eddy. The put-in is immediately
below the dam, down a set of steps behind the mill. There is a short lift
over a brick wall and a carry/slide over some rocks to the water edge.
This put-in requires caution when the water is high since the moving water
and pulsing eddy are very tricky. An alternate, very low water
(less than 0â€³) carry is around the right side of the dam.
This is a short carry and lift down the rock face.
Caution must be used when approaching the dam (it is only a few feet from
the take-out spot) and while descending the rock face.
The put-in here is into a moving eddy / whirlpool between the dam and several
large boulders. There is very limited parking at the Mill itself, but the
main parking lot is at the top of the hill adjacent the Mill Picnic Area.
It is a short walk up a very steep flight of well-maintained steps.
This is the beginning of the famous ‘Mileâ€. One mile further on is the
Eckert Bridge crossing.
(MapQuest Lat: 40.9406 Lon: -80.1760)
This is accessible from either side of the river,
although the river right side (west) road is closed and barricaded for all
but emergency vehicles. Parking on the bridge is limited to about twenty
vehicles. On a busy day, this bridge could use a traffic cop.
The approach road is a one-lane track that is marginally maintained.
The park has opened a nice lot at the top of the hill (it is a long way up)
to help alleviate parking problems.
Eckert Bridge is the starting point for the Lower Slippery Rock.
The take-out for this ‘bottom’ section is at Harris Bridge three and one
half miles down river.
(MapQuest Lat: 40.9120 Lon: -80.2167)
(Note: Breakneck Bridge over Cheeseman Run is closed, you you have to go
Take-out here on river right immediately upstream
of the bridge where an old roadbed terminates or on river left immediately
below the bridge piling. The river left spot is a much easier take-out
but requires climbing the short bank to the road.
There is plenty of roadside parking and a small parking lot at Harris
Bridge where Mountville Road crosses the river.
If you miss the Harris Bridge take-out (it can happen!) be aware of a low
head dam a few hundred yards downstream. This is an un-runable seven feet
high obstacle adjacent Heinz Camp. The next road crossing is the
Armstrong Road Bridge, one-half mile downstream from the dam.
There is a catch and release fly-fishing area there with a nice parking
lot on river left.
The reported gauge for Slippery Rock Creek is approximately 5.5 miles
downstream from the Mill, near Wurtemburg, where the Van Gorder Mill Road
becomes the Camp Allegheny Road and crosses the river. While there is a
distinct correlation between this gauge and the McConnells Mill gauge,
because of the rapid change in level associated with heavy rain and the
resulting ‘bubble’ effect, the Wurtemburg reading is best used to identify
trends in the flow. In addition, this gauge provides no useful information
at very low or very high levels, except that the level is very low or very
A ‘stick’ gauge is located at the base of the old Mill in McConnells Mill
State Park. This gauge is accurate above -3ft. Because it is located at
the top of a declining riverbed, this gauge is not meaningful below minus
three inches. The Park people read this gauge every morning around 8:00
AM and report it telephonically if you call the Park number.
Another good way to gauge the level is to look at the small rocks that
form a line across the river downstream from the ‘stick’ gauge.
If they are exposed, the level is very low. If an inch or so of water
covers them, the level is okay. If there is a lot of water over them and
the big sloping rock standing out by itself on river right has water surging
up onto its outside face, the river is getting real good.
If that rock is covered, it is very high. If the hydraulic created by the
dam is a huge wave and the rocks at the put-in are covered,
go home and watch cartoons.
There is another painted gauge on the downstream left side bridge pier at
Eckert Bridge. This roughly correlates with the Mill gauge at levels above
The Slippery Rock Creek Gorge was formed when the water of a glacial lake
broke out of its banks and rushed to the Beaver River. Up to four hundred
feet deep and maybe a thousand across at the top, the gorge is heavily forested.
Numerous side creeks enter with several waterfalls that can be seen from the
river or with a short hike. Notable among these are Muddy Creek, Cheeseman
Run (Breakneck), and Hell Run.
The section from Kennedy Mill to just past the 422 Bridge flows through private
property. In addition to the runable Kennedy Mill Dam there are two notable
rapids in this section. They are both at the beginning of the trip and are
followed by a long series of pools and small riffles. There is an angler’s
trail on both sides of the river below Kennedy Mill. These are not
particularly good but can be used to scout the rapids at the beginning of
this section. There is also a great swimming spot at the end of the whitewater
stretch. There are numerous huge boulders strewn along the riverbed, many
supporting hemlock and other evergreen growth. About one mile below Kennedy
Mill, at the end of a long pool and just to the left of a mid-river island,
Muddy Creek enters. An island also splits the mouth of Muddy Creek.
(With sufficient water, you can paddle up the right fork – left as you face it).
Land on the left bank just below the confluence with Muddy Creek. There is a
well-defined trail here that continues up the left side of Muddy Creek and
that leads to a series of waterfalls dropping 68 feet over a one hundred yard
stretch. This is the famous Muddy Creek Falls. The first and biggest drop is
not runable. The remaining drops including a ten-foot ledge have been run in
an open canoe and in kayaks (class IV). Below Muddy Creek the river widens out
and passes over a shoal into another long pool. At the end of this shoal and
downstream of an old bridge pier (danger spot in high water) is a small rock
that forms a nice surfing wave/hydraulic. The old Iron Bridge at Rose Point
is now in view.
The few hundred yards from the Iron Bridge to the 422 Bridge is composed of a
few riffles and moving pools. At certain water levels, some waves become
playable. Just below the 422 Bridge is McConnells Mill State Park.
McConnells Mill State Park is a narrow band of land surrounding the Slippery
Rock Creek Gorge from just below Route 422 to Harris Bridge. Naturally, the
highlights of this Park are the Gorge and the old Mill. However, there are
exceptionally nice picnic areas on the plateau, excellent climbing cliffs in
the gorge, and miles of hiking trails. In addition, the Hell Run natural
area and the Cleland Rock Overlook are also part of the Park. McConnells
Mill is a great destination spot year around.
Just past the Ranger Station put-in (see the sign that reads
on river left the gorge narrows and the Slippery Rock Creek begins its
descent. The ‘top’ Slippery Rock is three quarters of a mile long.
It contains one minor low-water rapid and four major rapids before
terminating in the backwater of the McConnells Mill Dam. A marked hiking
trail follows the left side of the river to Mill road at the old Mill.
Upstream from the Mill, Alpha Pass Trail leads up the left side of the gorge
to Alpha Pass Falls. This scenic highlight is easily accessed from a small
parking area along McConnells Mill Road. There is a sign.
The pool behind McConnells Mill Dam is a few hundred yards long.
I would love to see what the rapids at the bottom of that pool look like.
The steep gorge continues below the McConnells Mill Dam through the
The Mile has been alternately called the ‘Miracle Mileâ€
and the ‘Mighty Mileâ€.
Regardless, when a western Pennsylvania boater says ‘The Mileâ€
he is referring
to the Slippery Rock Creek between McConnells Mill Dam and Eckert Bridge.
In addition to six major rapids, there is the class II put-in rapid with
several good surfing waves, Shannon’s Hole that is a tricky ledge below
Rock â€˜N Roll Rapid, and several class I ledges.
Kildoo Trail follows on both sides of the river between the Mill and Eckert
Bridge. These are both strenuous hikes, although the river left side is
considerably easier. In addition to great class III whitewater, the careful
boater will get to see many fishermen, sightseers, and the occasional unclad
bathing beauty along this section of river. In 1998 and 1999, beaver started
to set up shop in the pools above Eckert Bridge and deer and turkey frequent
the hill sides. This section is also the scene of several drownings
(seconded only by the short stretch above the Mill). A prudent boater will
not be shy about warning tourists of the dangers of slippery rocks and fast
Eckert Bridge serves as the mid-point between the upper Slippery Rock and the
Lower Slippery Rock. The pool here is frequently used to train beginner
boaters and for roll practice. Remember, however, that this is State Park
property and no swimming is allowed.
The entrance rapid for the Lower Slippery Rock begins immediately below Eckert
Bridge. The three and one-half miles that follow contain five major rapids and
a bunch of ledges and surfing waves. In the mid-nineteen nineties the
Allegheny Trails Council completed construction of the Gorge Trail that follows
the right side of the river from Eckert Bridge to the junction with Hell Run
and then follows Hell Run to the Hell Run parking area on Shaffer Road.
This great trail is part of the North Country National Scenic Trail system,
and is a wonderful way to experience the lower gorge. The river widens out
through this section and the sheer nature of the gorge tends to recede
slightly. There are many scenic spots along this section including an ice
cave a few hundred yards from the start and on river right. There is one spot
where the river straightens for a hundred yards and then veers to the left.
The mountainside is directly in front of the paddler at this point.
It is spectacular in autumn and often elicits the remark
‘God, I love this River.â€
The descriptions of major rapids are based on normal river levels between 6
inches and 2 feet. Highlight narratives of river characteristics below and
above these parameters are also provided, mostly to amuse the writer.
Slippery Rock Creek is a class II to class IV run, depending on water levels
and conditions. It is usually runable all year with peak flows in the late
winter (after the thaw) and early spring. By mid-Spring, river levels have
usually stabilized in the 6â€³ to 2â€² range.
Kennedy Mill Section
The Kennedy Mill section can be boated as low as -6â€³ and as high as 5â€².
Below -6â€³ the passages are exceedingly scratchy to non-existent.
Kennedy Mill Dam is 11 feet high. The downstream face is a 30 degree
(more or less) slide about twenty feet long. This is a regular poured
concrete structure with irregular features on the right and left side and a
small lip at the bottom. This feeds out onto several irregularly shaped and
positioned rocks (ledges) that form the bottom third of the slide. The bottom
part contains varying holes, hydraulics, or waves depending on the water level.
The slide can be cleanly run in open canoes at levels over 3â€³.
From 10â€³ to about 2â€² this is a very exhilarating class II drop.
At 4.5â€² a diagonal reactionary wave wall forms at the bottom right and makes a
clean open canoe run very difficult. In addition, hitting that wave is like
hitting a brick wall. It is very unforgiving and the
‘flipping’ action is immediate and absolute.
Kennedy Mill Dam is best viewed from the road bridge.
To run Kennedy Mill Dam, as you approach the lip, line up on the bottom
‘V’ of the center upstream and downstream bridge trusses.
Maintain a slight angle to your strong side and take a stroke as you go
over the lip. Have a brace ready at the bottom, but you probably will not
need it. Eddy out to the right behind the big boulder that forms the
(lower) put-in eddy.
Immediately below the boulder that forms the base for the left side
(east) bridge pier is an eddy. This eddy is tight against the bank and
between the upstream boulder and an undercut downstream one.
This eddy is always there and filled with debris. At levels above 2â€²,
it becomes a whirlpool. At about 4â€², it becomes ‘Dead Cow Eddyâ€.
This is the eddy that an early boater once saw a dead cow.
The cow had no chance of ever getting out of there, dead or alive.
I know this because I was in there once at about 4.5â€².
The river immediately enters a short class I rapid. This contains numerous
small ledges and waves. Downstream is a behemoth rock that splits the river.
Several smaller boulders, some trees, and other flotsam guard the upstream
end of this giant. Go to the right of this rock into good eddies on the
right or better eddies on the left on the downstream end.
Eddy-hop the next thirty feet or so to a point above a chute against the right
bank. This ledge is the start of rapid two. There is a good eddy at the
bottom of the chute on the right. At about one foot, the chute shapes a
great surfing wave that can be attained easily from that eddy. The current
also provides the power to get out of that same eddy. From there, stay right
of center in the main flow. There is a strong advanced ferry move across the
current to a low eddy above the final ledge – very difficult. There is a good
eddy on river right above the final ledge – easy but has a nasty back-door
strainer. There is an easy line over the last ledge by staying right of
center. Beware the hole at the bottom. A better move is to drive to the
center (left side of the main flow) and boof into the left side eddy
immediately below the ledge. This is about a two-foot drop.
The Upper Gorge section, from Rose Point to Eckert Bridge can be safely boated
from minus one foot (not recommended) to 5.5â€²
(recommended for real good boaters only). Because it channel-izes, low water
runs on this section of the river are possible. Three Rivers Paddling Club
has conducted numerous late spring clinics at levels below zero. Somebody once
commented that it is not very exciting but it is better than nothing. Because
it is not drastically steep, high water runs are also possible. Beginner and
novice paddlers should not attempt levels over three feet, however, and very
high water belongs to advanced intermediates and experts. The section above
the Mill has often been paddled at 4.5 and 5 feet and the Mile has been paddled
at levels up to eight feet. The Mile has also been rafted at something more
than twelve feet (we put-in above the wall and the run took about eight minutes).
A hundred yards below the Route 422 Bridge a large rock splits the river
followed by an island. On the right side of the island there is a small
ledge coming off the right bank. This forms a nice class I hydraulic and a
set of excellent surfing waves. Run the ledge on the right into the large eddy
and surf away. In 2000, tree fall from both sides of the river completely
blocked this channel – go left of the island.
Just below the Ranger’s Station Put-In there is a series of small ledges and
boulders that form a two step, class I rapid. This small set washes out
completely over 2â€², but at lower water, it creates a great spot to practice
eddy turns and peel-outs. The bottom ledge forms a neat hole-wave at lower
levels and can be attained from the big eddy at bottom right to the next
higher eddy on the left. This is an easy class I attainment that is great
Downstream and around the next bend comes big rapid number three
(First Rapid Below The Ranger’s Station).
The entry to this rapid is through a low wave train.
The last wave of that is a highly surf-able glass wave.
It is hard to get on, but once you are there, it is great.
Catch the right side eddy above the first ledge drop and do an upstream
ferry onto the wave. The first ledge is a straightforward drop into a
few offset waves. Catch the eddy high left or just a little lower right.
From there, pick either the top or next wave to perform power ferries.
From the left side eddy, attain the top wave that is really a breaking
hydraulic and surf your head off. Peel off and line up for the second ledge.
There is a narrow chute into a dynamic eddy on the right, or keep angled left
and run out between the rocks on the left. From the right side eddy, look
around and you will see a room behind the big boulder on the right.
It is a neat place to be. Being in it creates some interesting challenges
to get through the boulder wall to the right of the final chute.
Rapid 4 (Airport) is just downstream. Named because of the amount of
that is gotten there, Airport is one of the ‘big’ rapids on The Slip.
It is composed of two parts; upper Airport that is a constricted double
ledge requiring complex moves and strong eddy turns and, lower Airport that is
At levels below zero, the upper part becomes very nasty and
tight and the lower part hole disappears. As the level rises, the upper part
opens up and become less technical but that bottom hole gets very big.
Above 4 feet this is a rapid meant for strong intermediates and above.
Enter this rapid to the right of a big rock in the middle.
This same rock forms a wicked hydraulic at higher levels.
Stay tight to the right of the rock angled sharp left and paddle forward as
you pass by the rock. There is a dynamic eddy behind the rock or just paddle
straight through angled left and driving forward. Pass to the right of the
rocks coming out from the left bank that form the bottom ledge.
Beware the big rock that sticks out just downstream on the right.
It splits the stream at that point and you want to go to the left of it.
It is undercut and frequently has a log or two pinned to its upstream end.
The chute to its right is passable but be upright in your boat, and watch out
for a broaching situation. Paddle to the moving eddy on the left.
From that position there is a series of attainment moves that will take you all
the way back to the top. These can be accomplished in an open boat from about
zero to 1.5â€².
From the left side eddy, move across the main flow to behind that big rock
sticking out. From there, you are a boat length above the ender hole at lower
Airport. Line up and go. After punching the hole go left or right into very
dynamic eddies. From there you can set up to surf or ender, do some neat
ferries, or peel out and run on past ‘Runwayâ€
that forms behind the last
small rock on the right. Now that you are in the big pool look over at the
sloping rock on the downstream end of the left eddy after ‘The Holeâ€.
The up stream outside edge of that rock is undercut. Several people have
found that out by being there. In addition, this rock has claimed hundreds of
kayak paddles over the years. To the best of my knowledge, no canoeists have
fed this rock their sticks, yet!
Next up is rapid 5. This is the surfing-est rapid on the river.
There is a single broken ledge at the top and a single split ledge at the
bottom. Above the top ledge are several small waves. The top ledge creates a
phenomenal canoe surfing spot from 3â€³ to about 2â€² and the reactionary waves
that result at higher water are even better. However, the only way to play
on the ledge wave is to be in a small right side eddy just below it, or pivot
on the wave itself. The bottom ledge is really a row of boulders that split
the current. The left side is easiest into a high dynamic eddy – use the wave
face to make the turn.
This is about the point in the run that you will begin to observe sightseers
and anglers. Respect the anglers and put on a good show for the sightseers.
Downstream on the right is ‘Boat Launch Rockâ€.
Paddle around to the downstream
side and drag your boat up the backside of this sloping eight-foot high
boulder. Get back in your boat and otter launch off the rock. Remember about
putting on a show for the spectators.
Next is rapid number six (The Last Rapid Above The Mill). This is a long shoal
curving first to the left and then to the right. There are some neat eddy
moves high up on the right and several waves can be surfed when the level is
right. After the shoal, catch an eddy on the right. This will put you in
line for the last drop that is a ledge chute into a frothy mess. This spot
deserves its own guidebook. A large rock splits the river. With enough water,
there is a clean line to the left of the rock, angled slightly right and past,
or through a small hydraulic at the bottom. The usual line is to the right of
the rock. This narrow chute drops a foot or two into an even narrower wave
train between two very dynamic eddies. As the river level rises, crosscurrents
start to form near the surface and the whole run out begins to surge.
At levels from about 3â€³ to about 1.5â€², a skilled boater can get in there and
work eddy lines and cross currents to exhaustion doing pivots and
figure-eight’s. If you want to learn boat control, this is a great place to do
At higher levels (above 3â€²) this ledge forms the second ‘bigâ€
rapid in the
Gorge. The ledge washes out and a monster hole forms. This is river wide and
deep. Getting in it is easy, getting out requires serious class IV skills.
There is a very narrow line (about eighteen inches) of smooth water that
actually flows over the sloping side of the right side boulder into the very
dynamic eddy on the right. From there, a sneak out the backdoor goes to the
right of that big boulder downstream (if the chute is not blocked by trees) or,
you can make a very powerful ferry across the boiling waves to river left.
Immediately below McConnells Mill Dam there is a line of smallish rocks
extending the whole way across the creek. These distinguish themselves at
low water. This is the start of the put-in rapid for the Mile. A class I-II
set, this rapid continues to just past the Covered Bridge. About half way down
on the left, a nifty wave sets up from about zero to 1.5â€². It is tricky and
tends to push to river right, but it is very surf-able. Just below, and
almost directly under the upstream side of the Covered Bridge is a small
pour-over/wave that creates a good ender spot at 2â€². And, right in the middle
of the river directly below the downstream side of the Covered Bridge is an
irregular wave/hydraulic that is always ready to be surfed above 3â€³.
After a few more small chutes and ledges, including a chilling high water
keeper (above 6â€²) on the left where a four foot wide rock sits out from the
bank about two feet, and a long pool waits rapid number 7. (Chicken Toes).
This rapid was aptly named over twenty years ago for the three toes or slots
between the rocks. Run any of the slots going forward or backward, no matter.
They all drop about one foot, they are all wet, and at certain levels, they
will all flip you. Around 1.5â€² the slots start to close down as the rocks
wash over. About two feet the easy line is center angled right and paddle
right through a (sort of) tongue. At higher water, the wave that starts
forming at 1â€²10â€³ gets big, then bigger, then very big. Eventually, it
Rapid number eight (ZigZag) follows. ZigZag is a double ledge drop starting to
the left of a big boulder that splits the right side. The first ledge is about
three feet wide and a foot high. Angle to the right and take a stroke or two
into the narrow eddy behind the big rock. Peel out to river left, execute an
immediate 90 degree pivot to your right and, angled left, drive down through
the second chute into a big center river eddy. This rapid can be sneaked far
left at levels above 3â€³.
The next rapid is the heart of the Slippery Rock Creek Gorge. (Triple Drop).
At varying water levels, Triple Drop consists of two (very high water) to five
(very low water) distinct parts. It is a slalom paradise from 3â€³
to about 2â€².
At all levels, enter Triple Drop just left of center. There are several eddies
on the left at the very top that can be used to boat scout. In the center and
against the right bank, some micro-eddies require very fast turns or cross
stream ferries. There is a super surfing wave right in the middle of all that
stuff, upstream from the boulder that splits the channel in two. There is an
excellent eddy behind that boulder that may be made from either side.
Immediately downstream is a small broken ledge and offset wave on the right
half. Run through that wave, or drive left through a break in the wave to a
moving eddy on the left against a moss covered bank boulder. From there, peel
out and line up for the next ledge. Here the river narrows as it passes to
the right of a huge boulder sticking out from the left bank. The top of this
boulder is a favorite spot for tourists, and a good place from which to look at
the rest of the rapid. A true bank scout will be performed from the right
This chute is squirrelly at low levels and above 1.5â€². In between, it is easy
class II. There is a strong high eddy on the right and an amazingly powerful
eddy on the left, almost under that giant boulder. The left side eddy extends
downstream and behind the boulder. It is a safe haven. The right side eddy
does not, and is not. If you go right, stay high and tight.
The moving pool below the chute flows right into and around a sizable boulder
on the right. The very narrow chute to the right is runable above 1â€².
It requires a very complex turn behind the rock.
It is a trap at lower levels. Above three feet, that same rock and its sisters
downstream form a lethal hole. The line is to the immediate left of that rock.
This chute (number 2) drops into a ‘bowlâ€
and then over another small one foot
ledge into another moving pool. The bowl is formed by the upstream right side
rocks, a huge angled boulder (undercut) on the right, another monster boulder
on the top left (forms left side of chute 2) and ‘Pyramid Rock.â€
There is a
left turn slot move in front of the pyramid shaped rock into a nice eddy
behind that top left boulder, but the safe line is to the right of Pyramid Rock.
The right side eddy in the bowl is very weird and it disappears at certain
levels. Downstream from the bowl, past the moving pool, is chute 3.
That drop is inconsequential and actually disappears or washes out at extreme
low or high levels. The rock just below that chute and to the left is another
spot that can be used to practice otter launches.
Now let us talk about what happens at Triple Drop when the water gets high.
Around three feet, the top part above chute 1 starts to wash out. There are
some big waves and a hole or two, but generally, it is no big deal. The hole
at the first chute starts opening up and becomes a wave. The hole to the right
of the second chute begins to form. In addition, the pillow on the face of
Pyramid Rock takes on a life of its own. Around four feet, the previous
description is prefaced by the word ‘bigâ€. At five and one half feet,
the entire tone of the rapid changes to ‘hugeâ€.
At five feet and above, you enter Triple Drop through a significant class III
wave train. Chute 1 is gone. Instead, there is a jet of water passing over
the outside edge of the left side boulder. The line is right up against
(and over) that rock. The move is into the eddy that still forms behind that
rock. Instead of looking up at the spectators, however, you are now on the
same level with them. The downstream hole on the right, that the entire river
seems to flow into, is big enough to hold a small bus, and the pillow on
Pyramid Rock is a small bus. Paddling this requires strong intermediate
skills (and an acute interest in the effect of water at forty miles an hour).
It is not very hard, but you must not be upside down or out of your boat.
A swim here will cost you, at least, your boat.
Next up, rapid 10 (The Maze) is a slalom course between two to three foot high
rocks forming a rock garden about fifty feet long. At the end of the rock
garden, the current splits around two mid-river rocks. There is a line to the
far right over a small ledge but most people take the second chute from the
left. This is a narrow offset chute of class I difficulty.
Beware the upstream end of that giant boulder downstream. It is guarded by a
big rock and always holds numerous logs and trees. Go to the left.
Rapid 11 (Rooster Tail & Rock â€˜N Roll) follows. This is also a two part rapid
separated by a short (like about twelve feet) fast flowing pool. For those of
you that tend to paddle straight through a rapid, be advised, there are
thirteen eddy moves in the top part of this rapid above the rooster tail.
Follow the main current through the entrance and drop into a wide chute that
terminates in a large rooster tail right in the center. There is a good line
to the left into a big eddy and a good line to the right into a big eddy.
The right is harder. On the other hand, you can run the rooster tail -hole -
wave. If you do, be ready to set up for Rock â€˜N Roll that is immediately
downstream. Rock â€˜N Roll is a simple chute to the right of or over a mid-river
rock. Run right, angle left, and drop into the run out wave train.
There is a hot eddy move right opposite the mid-river rock, a hot eddy move
left below the rock, and a very neat (below 1â€²) ferry move from left to right
behind the rock. You will see what I mean when you get there.
From the bottom, there is an unbelievable attainment move at 6â€³.
It climbs about three feet from the bottom left, across the diagonal
reactionary wave, and into the top right eddy.
After you totally screw up here, recover in the pool that follows and get ready
for Shannon’s Hole.
The center of the next ledge forms a wicked hole (very wicked at 2â€²).
There is an easy chute to the left of the exposed rocks. Angle right to
avoid hitting the downstream bank rock where all of the current goes, and
take a stroke into the big eddy. Look at the hole. If the level is any
thing over a foot, imagine this. Twelve-year-old Shannon is paddling a
ducky for the first time on whitewater. She is with a large group of
experienced boaters. The temperature is about eighty degrees. The level
is about two feet. Shannon is ‘ace-ing’ everything in sight.
comes to this ledge. Several kayakers proceed to surf in the hole or catch
Enders. Then somebody gets an idea. ‘Hey, Shannon, jump on in thereâ€.
She does, and proceeds to side surf for the next ten minutes. The duration of
this spectacle was not by design. Finally, somebody says
‘hey Shannon, you
can come out nowâ€. We hear this plaintive cry, ‘I can’t!â€
Downstream, a small ledge juts out between the left bank and a large rock.
Run this far left. At levels above 6â€³, the rock garden to the right presents
an interesting diversion.
Number 12 (The Last Rapid Above Eckert also known as the Last Rapid On The Mile)
follows a long pool. A large boulder sits on river right with a narrow flow
going to its right. On the left is a rock garden followed by another giant
boulder that blocks the entire left side. The main flow drops over a right
to left offset ledge to the left of the top rock and to the right of the rock
garden. There is a wave – hole at the bottom that gets much bigger as the
level rises. A big eddy sits behind that top rock. The run out is through a
second wide chute into a third narrow chute, on the right, and a wave train.
As you sit at the bottom of this little rapid, imagine the effect of those big,
flat boulders with about 8,000 cubic feet per second of water flowing over them.
Probably, all you can imagine is monster holes and huge, crashing waves – right?
Now imagine this; a four foot wide tongue of absolutely smooth water right
through the middle of all that mess. Yep, it is there, it is awesome, and it
is a hoot!
The three and one half mile long Lower Slip contains ten noteworthy rapids and
ledges. These are the entrance rapid, the first big ledge, ZigZag Rapid Number
2, Second Big Ledge at Walnut Flats, Jane’s Ender Rapid, the big ledge below
Jane’s Ender, the long rock garden, Penn (Pin) Ultimate Rapid, Hell Run Rapid,
and the last ledge above Harris Bridge. These ledges and rapids are all class
II in nature, with very avoidable rocks and holes, and an occasional pour-over.
In addition, depending on the water level, there is numerous other waves and
This section can be run as low as -3â€³, again not recommended except as a bird
watching trip. The Lower Slip has been successfully run in an open canoe at
levels exceeding 7,500 cubic feet per second. I do not know what that is in
feet – I was too busy watching trees floating down the river to worry about
gauge levels. The optimum level for this section is between two feet and four
and one half feet.
The entrance rapid can be seen from Eckert Bridge. It is a simple slalom
course of ledges and waves that can be eddy-hopped and surfed the whole length.
This is a good place to play when all your friends go to West Virginia.
There is a long recovery pool and trails on both sides, to just above the
first bend where Cheeseman Run enters on the left.
Downstream about a quarter mile the river cuts sharply left in front of an
island. On the right side of that turn, extending two-thirds of the way
across the channel, a shallow ledge and a neat hydraulic lie in wait. Go left.
Immediately downstream, check out the neat back channels in the big boulders.
A few bends later is rapid number 14 (ZigZag Rapid Number 2). A diagonal line
of rocks splits the channel, which goes straight ahead on the left and cuts
right on the right. At the downstream end of this line, a two-foot high
chute sits between the last rock and a large boulder on the left. This is a
straight, unobstructed drop. Catch an eddy on the left. The second part of
this rapid is an irregular, offset diagonal wave at the bottom of a fast
channel wide chute. A strong eddy is at the top left above this wave, but
requires a dynamic ferry to exit. Two succeeding right side eddies sit just
above and next to the wave. Using these will result in a bone dry run at most
About a half-mile further, in the area of Walnut Flats on the right, a small
ledge runs out from the right bank. At lower levels, it is insignificant.
Starting about 2â€², you can hear it calling you from far upstream. At 4.5â€²,
the hole is big and powerful. It is also completely safe unless you consider
a wet face to be unsafe.
Following the rest of this pool (The Flats) a small creek (Grindstone Run)
comes in from the left and the river constricts toward the right as it passes
the sediment shoal on the left. There is always a Great Blue Heron feeding in
this area, so keep your eyes open. The resulting wave train signals that rapid
number 15 (Jane’s Ender Rapids) is right around the corner. Jane’s Ender
starts with a series of reefs (ledges) on river left. There is an easy wave
train down the right one-half. At the bottom of the wave train, catch an eddy
on the right or the left. Jane’s Ender drops over a short ledge that hides a
big hole-wave on the left and a smaller deep hole-pour-over (Jane’s Ender)
on the right. Run center between these holes to an eddy along the right bank.
At normal levels, this is class II. The danger with this rapid is the top left
where a grouping of boulders catches every tree that floats by and creates an
ugly (and big) strainer. That whole mess is badly undercut. Immediately
downstream, the river drops over a second reef into a series of standing waves.
The ‘famous surfing waves’ form above four feet.
Two hundred yards further on, an unnamed creek enters from the right. The silt
shoal formed there pushes the river left where it flows over a shallow reef
guarded in the center by a nice rock. The chute between the rock and the left
shore creates a fantastic surfing wave that is wide enough for two to three
After some more pools, and rapid 16 – an unnamed class II rock garden
(at 1 foot and higher), and another pool you will come upon rapid number 17
(Penn (Pin) Ultimate Rapid). Here, a large flat (usually dry) slab sticks out
one third of the way across the river from the right side. From the left side,
and just slightly downstream, another ledge forms a pour-over with an
interesting wave set on its outside – right – end. Between these ledges is a
chute. The sides of the chute are small, irregular reaction waves.
The bottom of the chute heads straight through a narrow gap between two rocks.
The left side rock is called Pin Ultimate Rock. ‘Pin Ultimateâ€
is a remarkably
accurate description of the events that unfold in this place. Scout this rapid
from on top of the right side slab. To run this drop, line up just left of the
right side slab. Angle left and paddle forward hard. Aim for that gap and
trust that you will make it. An alternative line is to the right of the left
side hydraulic and in to the eddy behind the pour-over.
(There is a good picture of this rapid, from below the Rock, in Mary Shaw and
Roy Weil’s Canoeing Guide to Western Pennsylvania).
From the eddy behind Pin Ultimate Rock peel out to river left and work around
the left side of the bottom rocks. One hundred yards farther on is the start
of the last rapid in this section.
Rapid 18 (Hell Run Rapids) starts with a weird little cork screw wave smack
in the middle of the channel. It is formed by the break between two diagonal
rock ledges. At very high water, it is like looking into the pipeline of a
breaking ocean wave. Go right. From the short pool behind the Corkscrew to
a hundred yards or so above Harris Bridge, this rapid is non-stop class II
action with just enough class III moves to make it interesting. Start center
and work right to the right of three very large mid-stream boulders. There
are dozens of eddies and surfing waves. About half way down, on the right,
you will see the mouth of Hell Run. It offers safe haven, a place to take
a breather and a very pretty view of this little creek. Downstream from there,
on the far right side a wild diagonal ledge drops sharply into a right side
eddy. A quick ferry to the left will put you in line for a few more waves
and the final big eddy on the left. At levels over 2.5 feet watch out for
some very nasty pour-overs in the center and left center below Hell Run.
When the Slip gets big, more than six feet, Penn Ultimate and Hell Run combine
to form one very long class III rapid. While the water at Penn Ultimate washes
out all of those rocks, it is moving very fast. Upstream from the Corkscrew a
monster wave forms on the right side. That wave is kayak country, although a
short open boat would probably survive. From below the Corkscrew, a wave
train runs right down the middle. At eight feet and up these waves get bigger
than six feet high. It is like riding a roller-coaster. You paddle up the
face, teeter at the top for a moment, then blast down the back. The problem
is that the last wave drops right over that first big rock in the middle.
An eddy turn from the right side into the backwash of the pour-over will
result in a very exciting ender, even with a fourteen-foot open canoe.
Right above Harris Bridge is the final play spot. This very long ledge offers
room for several boats to end surf. It is quite a sight to see a half dozen
kayaks jostling for space with two or three open boats.
With the exception of a few dozen undercuts, most of which are easily
avoidable, an occasional tree, and a few broaching possibilities Slippery Rock
Creek is a relatively safe place to boat. The real hazard here is high water.
When the creek goes above three feet or so it gets very fast. In addition,
numerous large holes form that will definitely beat up anybody who is in them.
A swimmer will find the experience very unpleasant and the probability of lost
gear is quite good. The other hazard is cold. This is a trout stream, after
all. The water is cold until well into summer.
For many years, boaters have maintained a great relationship with the park
service and The Slip has remained a free and open river. This is due, in part,
to the efforts of local paddling groups like TRPC and the Keelhauler’s Canoe
Club and the good grace of Park management. Like most good whitewater runs and
recreational areas, however, McConnells Mill is beginning to get crowded.
There is a lot of pressure from parking and multiple user activities. It is
the obligation of every boater to act responsibly, and courteously, and to
obey Park rules and good common sense. In other words, keep a positive image.
If we continue to work with the park people, they will continue to work with us.
And, for goodness sake, do not run the ‘Mill’ on a crowded Sunday