Ohio River

Pittsburgh to Pennsylvania/Ohio border    40.0 miles

Class           Grad                    Size (Area/Volume)                  Scene/Poll             Level

    A              Pool                 Huge (19,500/33,040)                  D/C                          
                                                          Sewickley                                               Dashields
                                        Huge (23,487/ ) Pa State Line                                               

Topographic Maps: Pittsburgh West, Emsworth, Ambridge, Baden, Beaver, Midland, East Liverpool North

County Maps: Allegheny, Beaver

Other Maps: A set of detailed navigation charts is available from the Government Printing Office, toll-free at (866) 512-1800, Superintendent of Documents, PO Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. http://bookstore.gpo.gov (2004)

Description: This is a wide, turbulent, commercial waterway. Any section of this river is an industrial trip with steel mills, chemical factories, railroad operations, and large structures of many types along the banks of the river. Towns and cities are continuously interspersed between the industries. Records show that the Ohio River is the busiest inland body of water of its size in the world. Large boats and barges run almost continuously. The Ohio is badly polluted and smells foul in places. It is best not to go ashore where the water forms a stagnant pool, but to seek a better spot. [Reported 2004]

Difficulties: The Ohio is for experts of a different type. A knowledge of seamanship and how to handle a canoe in heavy waves is important here. This river may be too turbulent to cross during the day in open canoes. Thermal winds and large barge tows combine to create ocean-like swells which do not look formidable from shore but can swamp a canoe if not expected, or handled improperly. The river is calmer in the mornings or evenings.

Don’t expect to pass Neville Island using the left or “Back” channel; about two miles in, the Emsworth Back Channel Dam blocks all navigation, with no locks and no access areas for carrying around.  Note that two of the access points listed below are in the back channel, and can only be approached by paddling upstream from the downstream end of the island.

Tows (barges lashed together and, despite the name, pushed from behind by  a powerful “towboat”) are moving faster than they look, sometimes almost silently. They need lots of room to maneuver. Stay well clear of them, and even from a distance, beware of the large wakes they can generate: waves that can easily roll over an unwary canoe.  The towboat also shoves a heavy jet of current out the back, which should be approached with caution. Some have additional propellers that can squirt  straight out the side. Not only are tows hard to maneuver, they are slow to turn or stop. This means that by the time a towboat captain sees a canoe, it is too late for him to react. In addition, the barges themselves block the captain's line of sight far in front of the tow.

Know when you are approaching a dam and stay well away from it because strong currents near the dams pick up speed without notice. Plan to be on the same side of the river as the lock. Cross at the earliest time that it is safe and convenient. Consider using a bicycle flag to make the canoe more visible to the thousands of power boats.

There are three large dams with locks in the Pennsylvania section of the Ohio. These locks are all double passage locks, with a large chamber along the shore flanked by a smaller one on its river side.  Small craft are usually put through the smaller lock. 

To pass through a lock you will need to have a 60‑foot rope, minimum of 3/8 inch thick available for each boat. Follow the lockmaster's instructions. He may have you tie up to another boat already going through, or he may have you pull your canoe up onto one of the barges, or he may have you paddle into the lock and hang onto a line that is already in place, or he may loop your line over one of his tie-down points and expect you to hang on that way. Remember that the water level will drop (or rise) and you should not tie anything to this line or the sides of the lock.


Shuttle: Use a road map. The locks on the Ohio are named unlike the Allegheny and Monongahela locks which are just numbered. Going down­stream, the locks and access areas are as follows:


Access Point                             Owner/Operator       River mile

Pittsburgh Point                      State Park (1,2)           0.0 Right

Heinz Field                               Public                            0.2 Right

Emsworth Lock and Dam     Corps of Engineers   6.2 Right

Back Channel Dam                 No access                                                       6.9  

B&L Marina                              Commercial (3)           8.9 Left

Groveton Boat Club                Commercial (3)           9.2 Left

Sewickley - Chestnut Street  Borough                       11.7 Right

Dashields Lock and Dam     Corps of Engineers   13.3 Left

Leetsdale                                    Pa Fish and Boat                            15.1 Right

Rochester                                   Pa Fish and Boat                            25.1 Right

mouth of  Beaver River          No access                     25.4 Right

Captains Quarters Marina  Commercial

    (¼ mile upstream on Beaver River; west bank)

New Brighton Access            Pa Fish and Boat

    (2 miles upstream on Beaver River; east bank)

Monaca Access                        Pa Fish and Boat       25.7 Left

Montgomery Lock and Dam                                        Corps of Engineers 31.7 Left

mouth of Little Beaver Creek                                                            39.5 Right

    (Access ¼ mile upstream, on west bank)

State Line                                   No access                     40.0

Chester, West Virginia           Public                            43.0 Left

East Liverpool, Ohio              Public                            43.5 Right

Point State Park                       State Park (1,2)           0.0 Right


Note 1)   Has five to ten foot vertical walls

Note 2)   No automobile access near the water's edge

Note 3)   South or mainland bank of Neville Island back channel. Water access only coming upstream from below Neville Island


Gauges: Since this is a huge river, it should be runnable all year but can be too high, especially in the spring. It will be too high whenever the river is reported as too high for recreational boating.

Normal Wet Period: No available statistics on seasons. In the spring it will often be too high. In late summer, the lockmaster may make you wait until there is a collection of pleasure boats at the lock to save water. Further, at the lock, commercial traffic takes precedence over pleasure traffic.