Twice a year, once in the early spring and again in late October or early November, the tranquil Tohickon Creek in Upper Bucks County is turned into a kayakers’ paradise. Water from Lake Nockamixon is released from the dam and creates Class 3 and 4 rapids that attract kayakers and canoeists from throughout the Northeast. Most launch their boats from Ralph Stover State Park and the run ends in Point Pleasant where the creek meets the Delaware River.
While the water release from the dam starts at about 4:00 AM, it takes several hours to get to the park. The creek itself is in a deep gorge so that it is both dark and cold in the early morning hours and most people seem to wait until a more civilized hour before hitting the water. From 9:30 to 3:00 things get quite busy. This is a helmets and vests run and everyone that we have seen seems to take safety seriously, if you discount the two people in the gorilla suits that were there in the fall of 2008. Even the dogs that frequent some of the rafts have life vests and we have even seen one with a helmet.
Because of the timing, the water and the weather can be very cold and the boaters are well advised to take precautions against hypothermia. Then, on the other hand, it can be quite warm. The fall run for 2009 saw the temperatures hit the mid 70’s on Sunday. Water levels can also vary significantly, which can change the nature of the run from challenging to very challenging and potentially dangerous for those without good self-rescue skills. Even on calm days, you are assured of seeing more than a few people get into some trouble and you will see a number of boats go floating by sans their former occupants.
From a spectator and photographic perspective, the best place to position yourself isn’t at Ralph Stover State Park, but rather at the Tohickon Valley Park, which is downstream and on the other side of the gorge. To get there from Ralph Stover, go into Point Pleasant and head north on Rt 32. Just past the general store on the left and before the church is Cafferty Road. Turn left and go up about a mile or so and you will see the park entrance on your left. Park in the lot and then begin the 1/2 mile +/- trek down to the creek on the paved road/trail. It is an easy walk down, but what goes down must go up in this case and you’ll be breathing hard on your return trip.
If you are photographing the boaters, you have access to much of the creek bank and, in some places, can get onto rocks in the creek itself. You’ll want a mid-telephoto (70-200 mm) and will find that a 300mm comes in handy from certain spots. Wide angle shots tend to fall a bit flat since most of the leaves are down for the fall run and are not yet out for the spring.