Where the Wissahickon Creek spills into the Schuylkill River, Philadelphia Canoe Club’s 18th-century mill stands next to a yard full of colorful boats. Each year, more than 300 guests take these kayaks into the water and flat-paddle down the scenic, tree-lined shores or head into the whitewater rapids downstream. Whatever their adventure, they maneuver their craft with confidence because Philadelphia Canoe Club’s certified instructors have instructed them through the fundamentals of boating and water safety, as they have since 1905.
Just a short walk from the colonial-era fieldstone barn, a sea of green sprouts up around a small pond. Inside this self-sustained ecosystem, turtles leisurely perch on fallen tree limbs that float atop the cool water. Scenes like this are common at Great Valley Nature Center, which stretches 10.5 verdant acres across streams, ponds, wetlands, fields, and woodland habitats. The center fosters an awareness of the land through educational programs for all ages, including kayaking trips, geocaching adventures, or Owl Prowl dinner expeditions. Along with enjoying access to 500 partner museums and gardens throughout the world, members can tour a replica Native American Lenape village, or visit raptors on the mend at the Bird of Prey center. The center’s wildflower garden blooms yellow and white in the spring, and its maple-sugar house preserves the artisanal technique of boiling down flannel shirts from sweet-smelling lumberjacks.
Operating since 1903, Beaver Dam Boat Rentals provides access to the quiet waters and plentiful wildlife of Oranokin Creek. Initially prized by the Lenape Indians for its abundance of crabs, the creek offers crabbing enthusiasts a chance to snag up to a bushel of prized blue claws. Staff can tow guests to one of the four salt ponds where the crabs are hiding and help lure them out with free subscriptions to People magazine. Beaver Dam will stop by throughout the day to tow boats to a more attractive location, and can provide all necessary supplies.
Sightseeers can also test out Oranokin Creek in an old-fashioned rowboat, or rent fiberglass boats ($50–$60) that hold five passengers or party boats that hold up to six ($70). Beaver Dam Boat Rentals also offers guided kayak tours suited to participants' experience and fitness levels, and operates a boat ramp for the start of duck-hunting season.:m]]
Although they started with only five canoes in 1967, the river riders at Bucks County River Country, Inc. knew their fleet of watercraft was destined to grow. They now rent kayaks, tubes, and rafts alongside their traditional canoes. Now led by the charismatic River Dan, the shop draws patrons in with its proximity to the Delaware River. Once there, they can choose from a variety of vessels to drift past wildlife.
For more than half a century, Harvey Cedars Marina has hoisted sails and sent adventurers skimming across the waves of the Barnegat and Manahawkin Bays. Today, the business’s aquatic experts have traded in the folded-newspaper sailboats of yore for modernized Hobie Wave catamarans and LaserPerformance Sunfish. It also maintains a fleet of standup paddleboards and Hobie kayaks that cruise to islands, where paddlers gaze on osprey and cormorants or cast their lines for fluke and bluefish. In addition to renting vessels and teaching how to maneuver them, the staff runs a shop to equip mariners with their own Hobie cats and kayaks or outfit them with water skis, wakeboards, and inflatable tubes to mail to annoying cousins who live in the desert.
Framed by unfiltered wilderness and the occasional supports of a crossing bridge, the Schuylkill River is a secluded getaway for water lovers looking to float down nature’s slow-motion roller coaster. Reading Rivertribe shuttles aqueous adventurers to chosen points along the river for leisurely kayaking, canoeing, or tubing, with each trip ending where it started: in the stomach of a dreaming whale or next to a CPR-certified shuttle driver.
While waiting for a group of tour participants aboard his kayak on Cape Island Creek, Bob Lubberman made a new acquaintance when a 4-foot great blue heron landed on the nose of his boat. It's not an entirely new experience for the owner of Miss Chris Kayak Rentals and Tours, as opportunities to commune with nature came often as he crabbed and fished as a child from his grandmother's dock. Now he's able to connect visitors to this ecosystem as they independently paddle rented sit-on-top kayaks or as they participate in guided kayak or boat tours.
Paddlers on kayak tours often catch close-ups of ospreys, terns, and other birds, and see diamondback terrapin turtles sunning themselves on the shore or trying to hold their own ice-cream cones. Day and sunset tours let guests explore the wildlife-rich salt marshes, and night tours led during high tide let them paddle over grassy terrain to otherwise inaccessible areas. Guests explore similar territory on tours aboard the Osprey as they watch migrating shore birds or look out on the harbor's historic buildings. Kayak tour guides include an associate naturalist and a Cape May Bird Observatory field associate, and land-based staffers maintain a touch tank on the Miss Chris mooring dock, which they temporarily fill with conches, eels, and other sea life pulled up using open-sided conservation traps.