Beltzville State Park lies an hour’s drive south of Scranton, down the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. On the map, it’s a brilliant splash of blue amid green mountains (or what pass for mountains in PA). This is an aquatic park: the hiking trails and shore-side recreational opportunities are few compared to the expanse of lake that greets you. And really I can’t speak to anything shore-side, because I arrived on a Friday morning and immediately put the Tarpon in the water.
I got a bit of a late start and spent the drive worrying that I was missing out on a killer sunrise from the water. But it turns out that the fates were with me; the Beltzville Lake valley was socked in with fog, thick like soup, as thick as I’ve seen it in years. No matter when I had arrived, there’d have been no sunrise here!
I launched from the Preacher’s Camp boat launch, on the southern shore, and paddled through the fog almost directly across the lake to begin the 1.35 mile journey up Wild Creek Cove, a notch cut into the hills that’s made up of a long series of north/east angles that finally ends at Wild Creek. On the map, there’s a waterfall marked just beyond the end of the cove, and I was able to paddle all the way to the footbridge for the trail leading to it, and although I could hear it, I didn’t get to see it this time.
Instead, I was utterly entranced by Wild Creek. You see, my favorite kind of paddling is on small rivers or large creeks, where the water is relatively shallow and clear, where the course is full of turns and bends, and where I can feel nature in close around me as I explore. And Wild Creek is exactly the kind of paddling I love most.
The water was so clear, so pristine and crisp… I had the sudden, wild desire to tear my clothes off and lay down in it, just to be part of it. (I didn’t, for the benefit of anyone who may have wandered by.)
Here in NEPA, the water is dark almost without exception. The lakes are tannin-stained, the rivers clouded with sediment. It’s rare to be able to see down into the water more than 3-4 feet, and in some places I cannot even see the paddle blade while it’s submerged mid-stroke.
Beltzville Lake is, in contrast, clear to some depth, where it becomes a charming green as the light filters out. And up in Wild Creek there were holes in the creek that were easily deeper than I am tall, and I could see straight to their bottoms as if there were only a pane of glass in between. It was gorgeous, and I had a hard time pulling myself away.
But there was a lot of lake I wanted to cover, so eventually I paddled back down the cove, under a sky finally clearing of fog, and managed to grab several photos before it vanished completely. I paddled east, towards the lake’s source, covering another 2.15 miles before I reached a road bridge over Pohopoco Creek, which had by then distinguished itself from the lake it feeds. Like Wild Creek, Pohopoco Creek was shallow and clear, lined with rounded river stones and jagged bedrock shelves.
I was able to paddle up Pohopoco another half-mile or so, before it became too shallow and I turned back, bobbing downstream with the slow current, paddling only to keep my course.
One of the best things about Beltzville State Park is that, although the lake is open to boats of unlimited horsepower, the whole eastern end of the lake, starting about a quarter-mile west of the Preacher’s Camp launch, is limited to no-wake speeds. The western end of the lake, where it grows widest behind the dam, is fair game for the gearheads who want to turn and burn, but the eastern end is quiet and peaceful, reserved for paddlers and fishermen, of which I saw many.
I actually paddled west past the launch, to just beyond the no-wake line, to explore a pair of coves on opposite shores, before finally paddling back to the launch and coming ashore. It was noon and the day was growing hot, the light gone flat, and after logging just shy of 10.5 miles, which I believe is my new longest distance paddling in still waters.
Beltzville is lovely in the morning light, with the last fog burning off it. I can only imagine that it is even more so in autumn, when the hillsides are aflame with color. I’ll definitely be going back. After the local lakes, it’s refreshing to be out of big, clear water like that. And there’s plenty more to explore!
Come planning to paddle for several hours. Pack a lunch and maybe bring a friend. There are numerous gravel beaches along the shore where you can pull in and take a rest, relax, and just watch nature’s show.