Inside My Lower Yough Rafting Experience

Inside My Lower Yough Rafting Experience

Lower Yough Rafting:  What is this river really about?

I have rafted a bunch of rivers over the last 3 decades, in the southeast mostly, but some in Maine, Colorado, Chile, and Costa Rica. I had never experienced the Youghiogheny River (Yough – pronounced yawk, for short) and really wanted to see what it was all about. As is so common in the river-running world, there is one river – named the Youghiogheny, and there are three distinct “sections” on the river. These are named the Upper Yough, Middle Yough, and Lower Yough. These might as well be named the Yough, the Sough, and the Mough (go with it and say yawk, sawk, and mawk!) as they are wildly different rivers!

My sister had recently moved to Pennsylvania and this was a great excuse to head up to Wilderness Voyageurs to experience their Yough “rivers” first hand.  (Shameless plug for Wilderness Voyageurs – these guys were the first commercial rafting company on the entire east coast and they showed us they know their stuff in spades during the weekend.) My sister and her partner agreed to meet me and my partner in Ohiopyle for a weekend of adventure. This is typically what we do, but NOT what my sis does. Their idea of adventure is a nice round of golf followed by bloodies over lunch, rounded out by ample chill time and maybe a great movie adventure that evening. WE, on the other hand, like to keep moving each day, most of the day! We rafted Saturday and biked the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) trail on Sunday. (That’s another blog post – the GAP trail biking. You simply have to ride along the GAP if you go to Ohiopyle!) We decided to do the Lower Yough because it’s bigger and more exciting with Class 2,3 and maybe a 4 at high water, whereas the Middle Yough is Class 2-3 and a great family float trip. The Upper Yough is wickedly serious intensity as it’s a solid Class 4-5 run. My sis has rafted once and her boyfriend never – so we were sticking with the Lower Yough. My partner kayaked it. He’s a savvy river runner with decades of experience…

lower yough river - wilderness voyageurs

Me (Julie) pretending to be a Nat Geo famous videographer on the way to the put-in.

It rained and rained and rained all of June in the mid-Atlantic. Did you notice? It was still raining into July. The gods were favoring us though and on Saturday July 11, 2015 it was a gorgeous blue-sky-and-puffy-white-cloud-day with high water. Uh – huh – high water. Like 5 and 1/2 feet. Normal flows on the Lower Yough in July are below 3 feet, I am told. So, even though I am pretty experienced at rafting and even white water kayaking in my younger days, I am nervous. I am nervous for me and my sis and her boyfriend. After all, I am the one that talked them into this adventure weekend!

lower yough rafting ohiopyle

Allison (sis), Michael, Julie (me) hamming it up before the trip starts.


Trip Talk: aka “Pay attention to what the guide says” – it’s important!

We’re on the 9:30am trip, which usually gets off at 2 or 3pm, with a stop for lunch on the river. We are told at the trip talk that we’ll just run the river and have lunch back at Wilderness Voyageurs since the lunch spot is under water. Uh – ok. We do all the trip talk prep, get equipment, and ride the bus a whopping 50 yards across the bridge over the Yough (really!) and get out  to put in our rafts right below the pulsing, plunging Ohiopyle Falls, smack in the middle of this awfully cute town. (It calls itself a borough – which feels right – don’t ask me why.)

Lower Yough rafting

Uber cool wave face shot – this looks MUCH bigger when you are in the raft!!!

We jump in the rafts, practice our strokes, and boom – we’re OFF on the high water.

See for yourself what it was like!  Get inside the raft with this short go pro video clip of our rafting experience at high water on the Lower Yough.

lower yough rafting - wilderness voyageurs

I think our guide Mel loves her job – can you tell?

It was AWESOME!  You know how river guides tell you that high water just means its that much more fun? And I’m thinking, yeah right – until I fall out… You’re a 21 year-old-hard-body raft guide who does this stuff for a living – I am a savvy business gal with 2 sons almost your age. In fact, OMG, I could be your mother!

Well, this river was absolutely beautiful at high water – and was a fast run with lots of big waves, a few pounding rapids, and nothing overly technical to manuever around except two rapids at the end that were indeed solid class 4’s at that level. The river, like all rivers, (no- make that most, we’ll see it ain’t so on the Upper Yough – next) has rapids followed by some calmer spots where we could relax, enjoy the fantastic views, watch a heron follow us down the river for a bit, and marvel that humans really do jump into vinyl craft and paddle plastic sticks through white water with such grace and pure zest.

ohiopyle rafting - wilderness voyageurs

This river is beautiful! We got to look around and see everything in the calm sections.

My sister and her boyfriend loved the trip. Tips for beginners – don’t sit in the very back of the raft next to the guide. It’s much harder to stay secure and you’ll get bounced around more.  My sis did, for sure. Did you hear me warning her to hold on as we came through a couple of rapids in the video?!

We can’t wait to come back and raft the Lower Yough at other water levels. At high water, there is a guide in every raft, and you very much want this! At lower water levels, you get some choices: fully guided (what we did), guide-assisted ( 1 guide for about 3-4 rafts so enthusiastic guests can choose to paddle their own boat down the river with a guide instructing them nearby), and rentals (you are on your own!). Another tip: Don’t do rentals without a guide unless you have experience –  you want your family members to be still talking to you at the end of the trip.)

This was an unexpectedly beautiful river, a very fun rafting run, and something that most folks could easily do without needing any prior rafting experience. My sis and her partner are proof of that. As someone who has kayaked some really big rivers in her studly 20’s, this river was tons of fun for me, too!! Wee ones definitely don’t belong on high water trips – but Wilderness Voyageurs will make sure of that!  Go on the Middle Yough for kids as young as 5 years old.

Now – ready to compare this Lower Yough trip to the Upper Yough?

Coming up next, Inside My Upper Yough Rafting Experience. (and hold on!)

(This blog post was written by Julie Thorner, our marketing partner who helps with our website, emails, brochures and other stuff.  This was her first time on the Lower Yough river, so we asked her to tell us what she thought. She’s in love with her GoPro and couldn’t resist filming her recent high water trip, too.)