Exploring the hidden river in Manayunk’s backyard by kayak

Hidden River Outfitters is offering kayaking tours of the Schuylkill river every Sunday through September.

I represented Newsworks and hit the water last week on a bright Sunday morning to explore the Schuylkill from the Manayunk Canal, toting my handheld camera to capture some footage from the river. I had never kayaked, but I’ve rowed – on the rowing machine at my gym. I figured kayaking along the Manayunk canal would be a relaxing way to ease into a lazy Sunday.

Well, I was wrong. Kayaking isn’t really difficult, I’m just terrible at it. While the rest of the group, including many first-times kayakers like myself, drifted effortlessly up and down the river, I spiraled in place. The few times I paddled straight were to the shore until I hit shallow water, and had to push my kayak off with my paddle against the rocks only to do it again in the other direction.

But I saw cranes flying over the water, heard the song of birds and bullfrogs in one of the few places in the city where the sounds of nature are louder than the urban ambience of cars, helicopters and sirens.

Hidden River Outfitters tour guide Jason Mifflin says about half of the people who take to the river on their guided tours are first time kayakers.

“It’s an equal mix of local people and people from outside the area,” says Mifflin. “One of my favorite things is people saying they’ve been in Philly their whole lives but they’ve never been on the Schuylkill.”

Mifflin, meanwhile, has lived in Roxborough most of his life and grew up swimming in the Schuylkill during his childhood. Since then, he says the river’s biodiversity has flourished, and he’s credited organizations like the Manayunk Development Corporation, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council and Destination Schuylkill River for improving the river’s vitality.

“I’ve been on the river on a daily basis for six years and I see there are more and more fish moving up into the Schuylkill,” says Mifflin. “In the 50s they were all catfish living in the river. Now there are 50 types of fish.”

The Hidden River Outfitters tours are held at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. every Sunday. They cost $65 and include a breakfast or lunch at the Manayunk Brewery on Main Street. 

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.