From blockbuster movies and music festivals to fireworks displays and thrilling amusement park rides, there are seemingly more summertime entertainment options than there are vacation days and weekends available to enjoy them.

But some of the most memorable fun you might experience this summer is a little mellower than all of that. Instead of merging into the heavy flow of traffic leading to a stadium concert, you could be easing your kayak in the flow of the current in one of the county’s many places to paddle and be enjoying a relaxing day on the water.

There are many different types of kayaking experiences in Lancaster County, ranging from waterways perfect for beginners to others better suited for experienced kayakers looking for a challenge.

The Susquehanna River is the most obvious site for kayaking. The river provides the border between Lancaster and York counties and on the Lancaster side runs southeast from Conoy Township to Fulton Township. Whether you’re an extreme kayaker looking to paddle the 464-mile trek from Cooperstown, New York, to Havre de Grace, Maryland, or a beginner looking to paddle around the low-key, lake-like sections of the river, the Susquehanna has it all.

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Kayakers make their way around Muddy Run on Sunday, July 8, 2018.

We spoke with Devin Winand, a 37-year old kayak instructor at the Wrightsville-based Shank’s Mare Outfitters, about the Lancaster County kayaking scene and some basic paddling tips and information.

Winand — whose parents opened Shank’s Mare more than 40 years ago —has been kayaking nearly his entire life.

“I started paddling around in my one boat probably around 5 years old or so and had certainly been out on the water prior to that,” he says.

Shank’s Mare offers various kayaking experiences, from beginner-level classes to intensive five-hour courses covering everything from paddling techniques to rescue skills, as well as guided tours ranging from birdwatching trips to trips to see Native America petroglyphs. There are also leisurely hour-long guided shoreline paddles with live music afterward on the porch on select Friday nights in the summer.

“I wrap up lessons by saying that kayaking should be just as much about playing in the water and practicing falling out of your boat and getting back in your boat as it is actually going out and paddling,” Winand says. “It’s a water sport. You’re meant to get wet.”

Susquehanna Kayaking

A kayak race on the Susquehanna near Columbia.


As chill as an afternoon kayaking on the water sounds, there are some serious safety concerns. Like any outdoor sport, the powerful and unpredictable forces of nature can play a role, and kayakers should be aware of weather conditions, dangerous sections of the river and, in some very rare cases, prepare to defend themselves against rabid beavers. But mostly, safety requires some common sense, planning and proper equipment


No, this isn’t an electronic document file — a PFD, or personal flotation device, is a must for kayakers of all skill levels. Winand says he wears his lifejacket every time he gets on the water. He’s paddled with some of the top kayakers in the world and they always wear lifejackets.

“You don’t get into a car accident and then put your seatbelt on, you don’t fall off your bike and then put your helmet on, so why would you fall out of your kayak and then put your life jacket on?” Winand says.

Proper kayak

Not every kayak is going to be able to handle every condition,” Winand says. “A lot of people get themselves into trouble with that, because they think a kayak is a kayak is a kayak.”

Any good outdoor outfitter, including Shank’s Mare, will be able to help you decide what sort of kayak fits the type of experience you’re looking for.

Put-ins and take-outs

Kayakers need to know where the public access put-ins are located. Shank’s Mare and other outfitters sell maps with all the put-ins and take-outs from Harrisburg to the Maryland line

Winand says, “If you’re on the river are you going to do single-access — meaning you are going to put-in and take-out at the same spot. Is the current going to allow for that? If it’s a stretch of river where the current is high enough that you’re not going to be able to paddle back upstream, you would have to do a shuttle for two locations, a put-in and a take-out. That’s something that you’re going to want to look into and, beyond that, given conditions for that day.”

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Bob Wenger admires the fall foliage while kayaking the Octoraro Reservoir in October 2016.

Weather report

Again, when it comes to outdoor adventure sports, Mother Nature doesn’t always play fair. Knowing the weather report can help you determine what kind of kayaking you might be doing — or if you should reschedule.

“The wind might be blowing 20 miles per hour and white-capping out there,” Winand says. “This time of year, water temperature is a concern. The water temperature is not quite 60 yet, so it’s still pretty chilly... for somebody to end up in the water and not be prepared or dressed appropriately or not know rescue techniques to be able to get themselves back into their kayak and out of that cold water in a timely fashion.”

Be honest with yourself

“People just really need to be honest with themselves,” Winand says. “And that’s looking at their physical ability, their equipment’s ability and what the conditions are. If you’re looking at all three of those pieces and there’s something that doesn’t seem like you’re quite up to it, then it’s probably not a safe situation.”


A proper efficient paddle stroke is going to go a long way in your enjoyment of the sport.

“The most efficient way to paddle is to be sitting upright so you can engage your core and use both arms with every stroke,” Winand says. “You get a better all-around workout. You can travel further without tiring as much as if you’re just depending on one arm at a time."