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Ohiopyle State Park: The danger zone

Sunday, September 24, 2000

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The lower section of the Youghiogheny River in Ohiopyle State Park, Fayette County, is a haven for whitewater enthusiasts: More than 2 million have run Dimple Rock rapid since the park opened in 1971. Since 1976 when park officials started keeping complete records, eight of 17 drownings have occurred at that site, including three this summer.

Watercraft: Inflatable rafts are the most common watercraft seen on the Lower Youghiogheny. One and two-person inflatable kayaks have grown in popularity in recent years for those who want a closer-to-the-water experience. If rafts are considered by some to be the tractor-trailers of the river, inflatable kayaks are the sedans. (Daniel Marsula, Post-Gazette)

International scale of river difficulty

Rapids are rated Class I through Class VI. Dimple Rock is rated a Class III or IV, depending on water level.

Class I - Moving water with a few riffles and small waves. Few or no obstructions.

Class II - Easy rapids with waves up to 3 feet and wide, clear channels that are obvious without scouting. Some maneuvering is required.

Class III - Rapids with high, irregular waves often capable of swamping an open canoe. Narrow passages that often require complex maneuvering. May require scouting from shore.

Class IV - Long, difficult rapids with constricted passages that often require precise maneuvering in very turbulent waters. Scouting from shore is often necessary and conditions make rescue difficult. Generally not possible for open canoes. Boaters in covered canoes and kayaks should be able to Eskimo roll.

Class V - Extremely difficult, long and very violent rapids with highly congested routes that nearly always must be scouted from shore. Rescue conditions are difficult, and there is significant hazard to life in event of a mishap. Ability to Eskimo roll is essential for boaters in kayaks and canoes.

Class VI - Difficulties of Class V carried to the extreme of navigability. Nearly impossible and very dangerous. For teams of experts only, after close study and with all precautions taken.

Guided and unguided paddlers

Number of paddlers (primarily rafters) on the Lower Yough from 1978 to 1999 on guided trips conducted by the four state-certified commercial rafting companies in Ohiopyle and on unguided trips in which people rent or bring their own equipment - rafts or other watercraft such as inflatable kayaks, paddles and life jackets.

Most people who rent equipment can do so from the town's four commercial outfitters - Laurel Highlands River Tours, Mountain Streams, Whitewater Adventurers and Wilderness Voyageurs - and Youghiogheny Outfitters.


37,359 guided
29,638 unguided


53,629 guided
52,944 unguided


50,926 guided
45,063 unguided


39,622 guided
32,786 unguided


50,148 guided
56,633 unguided


54,221 guided
47,707 unguided


53,919 guided
42,516 unguided


58,717 guided
53,598 unguided


56,302 guided
45,965 unguided


57,728 guided
43,144 unguided


50,422 guided
47,701 unguided


65,848 guided
52,855 unguided


59,669 guided
52,598 unguided


55,119 guided
44,009 unguided


62,459 guided
39,455 unguided


62,740 guided
51,310 unguided


54,512 guided
42,001 unguided


57,969 guided
45,730 unguided


60,717 guided
46,692 unguided


54,859 guided
50,410 unguided


61,419 guided
48,564 unguided


Ohiopyle State Park


54,922 guided
42,405 unguided

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