Jack’s Narrows and Raystown Lake: Deepest gorge and biggest lake in Pennsylvania
By Abbe Hamilton
Did you know that Pennsylvania’s deepest gorge AND biggest lake can be found within an hour’s drive of State College? Jack’s Narrows and Raystown Lake are two superlative features of Central Pennsylvania’s landscape, and they’re calling your name this summer.
You may have passed through Jack’s Narrows on Route 22 between Mapleton and Mount Union. There is a vertical drop of almost a third of a mile between top of Jack’s Mountain and the surface of the Juniata River below. This spectacular water gap has served as a highway far longer than Route 22 ever existed. For millennia, travelers have used Jack’s Narrows to move between the mountains by foot and boat. It’s an area rich in history, folklore and abundant opportunities for adventure!
One of the most unique ways to experience Jack’s Narrows is by boat. In 2018, two new community river accesses opened in Mapleton and Mount Union. The two access points in the communities’ respective Riverside Parks contain launch platforms and ramps, plenty of parking and even overnight camping. The launch platforms can be used by canoes, kayaks, paddleboards or inner-tubes for a gentle 3.3 mile float. Check in with Rothrock Outfitters in Huntingdon for river maps and equipment rentals or to secure a shuttle. History buffs can explore Jack’s Narrows by retracing the steps of the gorge’s namesake — Jack Armstrong, who met his end in a 1744 confrontation with the region’s Native Americans here in a dispute over a horse. You can also investigate remains of the Juniata Division of the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal, which are still visible throughout the gorge, or by climbing the popular Thousand Steps trail — following a daily commute path built by quarrymen in the 1930s. Speaking of hiking, the trails through Jack’s Narrows are part of two excellent distance hikes: the 84-mile Standing Stone Trail, and the 1,600-mile Great Eastern Trail.
Just west of Jack’s Narrows is Raystown Lake, the largest lake in Pennsylvania. You’ll notice it on maps by its distinctive serpentine shape and impressive length — it’s about thirty miles end to end. The lake shoreline is almost entirely undeveloped, and you’ll be surprised at how remote you feel floating in a cove or looking out over the lake from one of the trails along its shore. Raystown Lake is the freshwater striped bass capitol of the Northeast United States. It boasts the current Pennsylvania record for a freshwater striped bass, a whopping 53 pounds and 12 ounces! On the west side of the lake, Seven Points Marina is currently the largest (947 wet and dry slips) full-service marina in the state. The marina's rental fleet includes fishing boats, ski pontoon boats and 15 houseboats. Make a weekend out of it — the Raystown Lake region boasts more than 3,000 campsites. When you’re not on the water, explore the adjacent Trough Creek State Park, or take a spin on the world-class (but beginner-friendly) Allegrippis mountain biking trails.
Jack’s Narrows and Raystown Lake are just two treasures of many in the rugged and beautiful landscape just south of Happy Valley. Visit the Huntingdon County Visitors Bureau for further inspiration and tips for exploring this historic and varied region.