Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — June 2013

Paddling the Frankstown Branch

by Dr. Stan Kotala

Winkleblaech Mountain Trail

Paddling the Frankstown Branch · Photo by Stan Kotala

A great way to cool off in summer is to be on the river, and we Pennsylvanians are blessed with many miles of streams suitable for canoes and kayaks. One of the best in our region is the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River. This article will describe a five-mile trip along that river between Alexandria and Petersburg in Huntingdon County.

The put-in for this trip is at the Alfarata trailhead of the Lower Trail. This trailhead is near a bald eagle nest on Tussey Mountain, so you are likely to see our majestic national bird on this trip.

Not long after you begin your paddle, you will float under the Rt 305 bridge in Alexandria, passing the Main Street Cafe on your left. Keep that in mind for a post-paddling meal!

Watch for great blue herons, common mergansers, Canada geese, mallards, and wood ducks, all of which can regularly be seen on this stretch of river.

About a mile downstream of Alexandria, you will paddle under the Alexandria Pike bridge. Note the sycamores, large trees with smooth mottled lightly-colored bark. These trees have many hollow branches that serve as nesting places for wood ducks and screech owls.

Winkleblaech Mountain Trail

Paddler and golden retriever enjoying the Frankstown Branch · Photo by Stan Kotala

After paddling a mile beyond the Alexandria Pike bridge you will see the Inn at Edgewater Acres on a large grassy area on your right. Feel free to beach your kayak or canoe here and stop in for a drink or a meal, or just to stretch your legs on the facility’s gorgeous grounds.

As you continue your journey, look for rough-winged swallows and cliff swallows catching insects over the stream. Both species use the bridges as places to build their nests. A mile after passing Edgewater Acres, you will come to the River Road bridge. Immediately after floating beneath it, observe the Little Juniata River on your left, as it joins the Frankstown Branch here to form the Juniata River.

Because of a hydroelectric dam a few miles downstream, the river at this point slows to a crawl and widens considerably. Soon you notice steep hill on your right. This is the Petersburg Limestone Cliff Biological Diverstiy Area, so designated because of the rare plants found on the alkaline soils of this landform.

Be alert for the inlet of Shaver’s Creek on your left. You will have to paddle up this inlet and under a railroad bridge to the take-out at the boat launch just downstream of the Route 305 bridge, adjacent to the Petersburg Volunteer Fire Company.

If you go: From State College, follow Route 26 to Route 45 in Pine Grove Mills. Take Route 45 to the intersection with Route 453, where you will turn left and then left again on Rt 22. Travel east on Rt 22 for a short distance and bear left onto Main Street, which you will follow for about a 1/4 mile and then turn right into the Rails-to-Trails parking lot which will be on your right. There is no formal launch, but it is just a few yards from the parking lot to the stream. To get a vehicle to the endpoint for the shuttle, turn right from the parking lot, back onto Main Street. In Alexandria, Main Street will become Route 305, which you will follow to the Petersburg Volunteer Fire Company, your end point.

Dr. Stan Kotala is the Endangered Species and Wildlife Chair for the Moshannon Group of the Sierra Club.