Letterkenny Reservoir

A swan stands sentinel at dusk near the Letterkenny Reservoir boat launch. The reservoir is one of five local venues available for flatwater paddling. 


Editor’s Note: This is a column on area watersheds by Blyden Potts and guest columnists to spread awareness of the area’s tributaries and the efforts of area volunteers to keep them clean.


Generally speaking, flatwater paddling is less exciting than paddling a creek, but can still be lots of fun. Lakes are good places to learn the basics of a canoe or kayak. They also have reliable water levels in the summer when many creeks tend to run too low.

Some people have asked me to suggest venues for flatwater paddling. Here are five local options.

Laurel Lake at Pine Grove Furnace State Park, only 19 miles from Shippensburg. The lake is small, just 25 acres, just big enough to paddle around. About half of it is very shallow. It has a fun back channel to explore. There is a boat rental that rents sit-on kayaks, open to 7 p.m., and the park recently added a kayak dock. These features make it an excellent place to try kayaking if you are a newbie. Proximity to the beach and picnic area allow you to make it part of a larger outing. They sometimes have tours or introductory classes. Keep an eye out.

Cowans Gap State Park offers similar features to Laurel Lake, with more space and a larger lake (40 acres), but is 40-45 minutes away.

Long Pine Run Reservoir, just north of Caledonia State Park. Fourteen miles from Shippensburg over the hill, 20 if you go around. A J-shape lake of 150 acres. There is plenty of room to paddle about, or up and down the lake.

This lake also hosts introductory kayaking classes from time-to-time. Long Pine does not offer much in the way of coves or shallows, however, there is a tiny stream inlet. At peak fall foliage, the trees are pretty. It is a very popular place on weekends. So much so it can be difficult to find a parking space. Food is not allowed.

Letterkenny Reservoir. A 58-acre lake, just 12 miles from Shippensburg. The landing area has limited space, so after you unload, drive your car back up the hill to park and walk back down. Letterkenny feels remote. It is nestled between the hills, and can be a show at peak fall foliage. There is a small shallow area at the upper end to explore. It is also possible to paddle up Conodoguinet Creek a ways above the reservoir.

Opossum Lake, northwest of Carlisle. A 47-acre lake, 21 miles from Shippensburg. The lake has several bays and coves which offer opportunities for exploring. Other lakes are up in the hills, surrounded by woods. Opossum is nestled in rolling farm country with only a buffer of woodland around it. The lakeside park offers opportunities for a picnic or a hike around the lake. Opossum Lake is also a great place for catching panfish.

Carlisle Dam at North Middleton Park, 24 miles from Shippensburg. This is not entirely flatwater; there is usually a slight current in the top half mile. During high water events, there can be a substantial current. It is a 4-mile lollipop trip down to the dam and up the back channel. Features include the Carlisle Cave and paddling under “Carlisle Venice” footbridges on the back channel. Exercise caution as you pass near the dam.

Other lakes to consider, with interesting features but significantly further away, include Meadow Grounds Lake near McConnellsburg, Gifford Pinchot State Park by Dillsburg, and Shawnee State Park west of Bedford.

Go first thing in the morning or in the evening to avoid the heat of the day and direct sunlight, and give yourself the best chances for wildlife viewing and for a perfectly still, glass-like water surface.

Go with a friend. Wear a hat and a Personal Floatation Device. Bring a water battle, and don’t forget sunscreen and bug repellent. If you go late, know what time the sun sets, twilight ends, and how long it takes to load your boat and gear.

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