The Lehigh River, a tributary of the Delaware River. It is 103 miles long and located in eastern Pennsylvania. Parts of the Lehigh River, along with some of its smaller tributaries, are a designated as Pennsylvania Scenic Rivers.
The Lehigh flows through valleys in between ridges of the Appalachian Mountains. Its upper section is characterized by several whitewater rapids, and supports a wide range of recreational activities including but not limited to whitewater rafting, kayaking and canoeing. Its lower section forms the soul of the Lehigh Valley, a historic anthracite coal and steel-producing region of Pennsylvania.
The river rises in the Pocono Mountains, in several ponds in southwestern Wayne County, around 15 miles southeast of Scranton. It starts to flow southwest, through southern Lackawanna County, through Francis E. Walter Reservoir. Near White Haven, Middleburg, it then flows south, following a zig-zag white water course through Lehigh Gorge State Park down to Jim Thorpe, then southeast past Lehighton. Southeast of Lehighton, it flows through Blue Mountain in a narrow valley aptly named the Lehigh Gap.
From the Lehigh Gap, the Lehigh winds and flows southeast through Allentown, where it is then joined by the Little Lehigh Creek. Then northeast past Bethlehem, where it merges with the Delaware River in Easton, which forms Pennsylvania’s border with New Jersey.
Lehigh River History
The Lehigh River starts in the marshes and bogs of the Pocono Mountains near the village of Gouldsboro. The elevation of this marsh headwater region is about 2,200 feet above sea level, and the Lehigh River drops approximately 1,000 feet within the 100 mile trip to the Delaware River. The Lehigh River watershed is 1,360 square miles, and is part of the Larger Delaware River watershed.
During the 1800’s, the Lehigh River was an vital waterway through the Lehigh Valley to transport lumber, coal, cement, and more to the Philadelphia area. The Lehigh River was actually privately owned at one time by the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Co., making it the only privately owned river in the United States at the time. Portland cement was manufactured along the banks of the Lehigh River in the town of Coplay, and the once famous Bethlehem Steel plant was also located along the Lehigh. The forests that thrived along the banks of the Upper Lehigh River helped make Pennsylvania one of the largest lumber producing states during the 1800s.
The Lehigh has evolved into a recreational and tourism attraction for hikers, fisherman, paddlers, mountain bikers. It offers plenty of whitewater thrills, scenery, and historical value. The wildlife you may encounter may include but not limited to: osprey, turkey, deer, black bear, hawks, great blue heron, beaver and muskrat.
Paddling the Lehigh River
The Lehigh River is a popular class 2 & 3 paddling river in Pennsylvania, and is considered to be the training waters for potential class 4-5 kayakers. The section running through Lehigh Gorge State Park is full of kayaking activity in the spring, and during scheduled Francis E. Walter dam releases during the summer. There are more than one boat launch points on this section of the river.
Lehigh River water levels often rely on scheduled releases from the Francis E Walter Dam, so be sure to check water levels before planning your trip. Also double check before you leave, as sometimes Lehigh dam releases can get cancelled. When flows run below 250 cubic feet per second, the Lehigh River will be very low, and many parts are not even deep enough for boating. At 250 to 1,000 cubic feet per second, the river becomes more suitable for boating. Above 1,000 cubic feet per second, the difficulty level becomes somewhat greater and higher skill levels and better equipment may be necessary. At levels above 5,000 cubic feet per second, only expert boaters, in kayaks, closed canoes or very large rafts should dare attempt the river. Life Jackets are, of course, required.