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Best of the Ohio Valley - Rivers, Waterfalls, Swimming Holes

Meadow Run in Ohiopyle State Park, PA. Photo by Mary Reed.

Moving water – whether it’s flowing, falling, riffling, foaming, steaming or smashing – that rush of the earth’s energy is what energizes our lives. August is a great time to hit the cool water by boat or straight up. Dive in to your favorite water destination or let us help you find a new one.

(Say this in your best Lost in Space voice): WARNING! WARNING!

Number 1: All of these places can be dangerous for paddlers, swimmers and even casual interlopers when water levels are high. Do not surpass your skill level. Always look before you leap, whether literally or figuratively. Number 2: Make sure to follow all rules and regs in these places. That means don’t paddle, jump, swim or fish where you’re not allowed. When you break the law, you jeopardize access for the rest of us, and that’s not cool. Number 3: Wear a personal flotation device (PFD), a.k.a. life jacket. Over July 4 weekend, three people drowned in Indiana. None were wearing life jackets. Number 4: Save the alcohol for aprés swim.


Ohio River. Despite its problems – pollution, bad development and a series of dams that have made it essentially one lake after another – the Ohio is still one of the granddaddy rivers of North America. Try paddling the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge. A few hearty souls attempt to float its 981 miles every year. And why not – who’s in?

Allegheny River, PA. Around the Buckaloons Recreation Area, there are 85 miles of the Allegheny designated a national wild and scenic river. Flatwater canoeing here includes island camping options in the Allegheny National Forest.

Clarion River, PA. A Pennsylvania Water Trail, half of the Clarion’s 100-plus miles have earned national wild and scenic river designation. Good scenery, good fishing, good paddling.

Little Beaver Creek, OH. Another wild and scenic river – where can you imagine seeing bald eagles and black bears in the same destination in Ohio? This is it.

Sugar Creek, IN. Read all about it.

Blue River, IN. Just lovely. The Blue River features caves and sinkholes and generally some of the state’s best scenery.

Red River, KY. An inspiration to Daniel Boone, the guy who wrote the song Red River Valley and paddlers alike, the part of the Red that flows through the Red River Gorge is a state wild river.

Green River, KY. Another Kentucky wild river, the Green is long (about 370 miles) and eminently navigable. Known to many as the above-ground portion of Mammoth Cave National Park.

Big South Fork, KY. It’s a national river and you’ve gotta do something to earn that. In this case, maybe it’s how thoughtfully the Big South Fork accommodates class I to class IV paddlers. Or maybe it’s just the amazing scenery and solitude.


Ohiopyle Falls, PA. The icon of Ohiopyle State Park, Pennsylvania’s most visited. Are you ready to run the falls this August 23 during the Over the Falls Festival? That’s the one day a year they’re open to kayakers.

Blackwater Falls, WV. A classic, if not the classic (see it in the photo gallery). Efforts are still underway to get this placed upgraded to national park.

Cumberland Falls, KY. A Kentucky icon. These are the second largest falls in the East, behind Niagara, and purportedly the only place in the western hemisphere where you can see a moonbow. While you’re there, be sure to take Trail 9 for an excellent hike to the lesser known but truly sweet Eagle Falls.

Cedar Falls, OH. Actually part of the Old Man’s Cave Upper and Lower Falls/Cedar Falls/Ash Cave waterfall triumvirate. All accessible on what is perhaps the buckeye state’s best hiking trail, the 5-mile Grandma Gatewood Trail in Hocking Hills State Park.

Falls of Hills Creek, WV. The Falls of Hills Creek Scenic Area in West By God Virginia doesn’t have a waterfall, it has three falls – upper, middle and lower falls, which are 25, 45 and 63 feet tall, respectively.

Yahoo Falls, KY. Kentucky’s tallest waterfall is just a trickle in the summer, so consider it a gateway drug into all the things you can enjoy in the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.

Tunnel Falls, IN. Located in Clifty Falls State Park, named after, um, Clifty Falls. Check ’em both out while you’re there.

Cataract Falls, IN. The largest in the state by volume, with a second set of falls downstream and a covered bridge upstream.

Muddy Creek and Swallow Falls, MD. Both located in Swallow Falls State Park, the 53-foot Muddy Creek Falls are great for enjoying and photographing, the smaller Swallow Falls are runnable by (expert) kayakers.


Meadow Run, PA. In Ohiopyle State Park; now this is a waterslide. You can check out some amateur but fun videos of this on YouTube.

New River, WV. How do you choose just one swimming hole in the New? You don’t. But start with the swimming hole at the tail end of Lower Keeney Rapid in the New River Gorge, accessible only by kayak or raft. Tributaries of the New have excellent swimming holes as well (hint: Wolf Creek).

Seneca Rocks swimming hole, WV. While technically not in the Ohio River watershed, the swimming hole in the North Fork (of the South Branch of the Potomac River) is just a few miles as the crow flies from our watershed – and this spring-fed, rock-lined swimming hole rocks!

The Cascades, Red Creek, WV. In the heart of Dolly Sods wilderness are The Cascades, a natural water slide in Red Creek. Very popular, so bring your bathing suit, not your birthday suit.

Gauley River, WV. Paddle this class V river and you’ll be swimming all right! Ha ha!

Blue Hole, Big Sandy Creek, WV. Just above the confluence with the Cheat River, a visit to this big, beachy swimming hole is considered a required course for WVU students.

Ohio River, OH. Just downstream from the Racine Locks and Dam on the Ohio side is the Mother of All Rope Swings. Climb into a tree stand in a sycamore and launch from there. And we do mean launch.

Pool Point Bridge, Breaks Interstate Park, KY. Did we just say mother of all rope swings? Nevermind. This is it. Rocky jumpoff point meets rope dangling from the railroad trestle above. On the Russell Fork.

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