Cigar Aficionado

Whitewater rafting can be a river roller coaster or a gentle float through nature’s glory. Either way it’s some of the best wet fun going.

We put in below the Ohiopyle Falls on southwestern Pennsylvania’s Youghiogheny River. Six of us, looking sharp in bright blue helmets and  red life jackets, paddled a rubber raft with a guide at the stern. Then we were flying—or when my father fell in, more like swimming.

For more than a mile, we churned through a train of rapids spilling over rocks or shooting in the air. Somewhere as we shot downstream, my father slipped over the side. I grabbed his life jacket and pulled him back into the raft. He looked like a drenched dog after a bath, but none the worse for the plunge. We returned to paddling and never stopped smiling and shouting.

The Yough (pronounced “Yock”) is one of the East’s most accessible and varied scenic whitewater rivers. Intrepid boaters can run some Class V+ rapids on the Upper Yough that will test the mettle of even the most skilled whitewater paddlers. For those who prefer their surf smooth, the middle stretch of the river will cradle a rafter along through the state’s deepest gorge. “You’ll get wet but you won’t fall in,” says Jim Greenbaum, general manager of White Water Adventurers, an outfitter that has been running the Yough for more than 40 years.

We chose a four-hour run down the Lower Yough. Together with about 15 other rafts we formed a flotilla, bucking and bouncing through Class II to III rapids. For seven or so miles, we rode standing waves, some strong enough to toss us into the air, as the river spilled through the beautiful Laurel Highlands of the Southern Allegheny.

The clean, cold, dam-controlled trout river has plenty of water for commercial outfitters like White Water Adventurers to run it every day from early spring into late fall. Coast-to-coast and around the world, you’ll find other whitewater river rafting outfitters offering wet and wild adventures, from West Virginia’s overwhelming Class VI New River to the granddaddy of them all, three weeks paddling through the awe-inspiring Grand Canyon. But tame, family-friendly scenic floats are also to be had far and wide. Melting snow makes spring rafting particularly exciting. Gentler conditions usually exist in the late summer.

It’s a participatory sport and paddling might distract you from the beautiful scenery, but there’s no more fun way to get out in nature and beyond your usual routine. And don’t forget to bring along dry clothes. You’re bound to get wet.

River rafting has its risks. Ask an outfitter about their safety record. If you have a chance, check out the quality of their equipment. If the life jackets look worn out or the boats aren’t self-bailing, consider an alternate service.

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