Portage upper Ohio around dams?

I live just north of Pgh and have been through the locks several times in power boats…I assume that a 'yak or canoe won’t be allowed thru even if rafted to another larger boat…so are there portages at the locks? All of them or some? Where would I find out where they are located?


You can lock through
The US Army Corps of Engineers, Pittsburgh District has a link about locking through. You can read all the requirements there. I believe you will need a rather longish rope to tie off during the process.

Act like you are a big boat …
Here is the basic info:


If you live in/near Pittsburgh, every year Venture Outdoors does a couple paddles through the locks on the lower Allegheny. You can learn the basics of locking through on those paddles. It’s no bid deal.

Most of the dams/locks offer no viable/practical/realistic opportunity for portaging. The banks are very steep.

Pgh. Lock and Dam
I just guided Mimi Hughes(The 54 year old lady that is currently swimming the whole 981 mile length of the Ohio River) from the point in Pittsburgh to East Liverpool Oh. I scouted the three dams on our route to find/make trails around the dams. At the first dam below Pittsburgh we had to climb a 20’ bank, walk 300 yds. down the railroad tracks and climb down a 20’ bank to get back in the river. Before we got to the second dam word came from Washington DC that the head of the Corp of Engineers had heard of her epic journey and sent word to all of the dams along the Ohio River to help make her journey as painless as possible. We had a radio to contact the Lock Master when we were approaching the dam. Mimi would swim up to the Lock wall where the Lock Master would be waiting. She would climb up the steps that are built into the wall, walk to the down river side and climb back into the water. They had the upper gates open and I paddled in and was lowered down. I would meet Mimi and off we would go to the next dam. She swims 20 miles a day in 8-9 hrs.

Locking Thru
I have been wanting to do this trip for a couple of years. I am a wimpy paddler and wanted to do it with a motor on the back so it would not take so long. I was guessing 3 days. I have been up and down thru all 8 locks in a powerboat, water skiing between each dam. Barge traffic gets priority over pleasure craft. There are two lock chambers, one large, one smaller. The long distance Tows usually have 16 barges. That is longer than either lock chamber so they must be divided and locked thru separately. These long distance Tows drop off and pick up barges as they go. Smaller Tow Boats shuttle these barges to their landings. They use the smaller chamber of the lock. So if you get to the dam at a bad time you could wait for a couple hours. Most of the time it takes me about 20 minutes from the time I arrive until the doors start to open. When you arrive you must pull on a rope at the end of the outside wall to signal that you wish to lock thru. You must then wait in a position that the Lock Master can see your boat from the Command Station. This position is outside the outermost wall. They get mad if you hang out in the pathway to the doors. You must spot the lights for the small chamber and wait until it turns from red to green before entering the pathway into the chamber. Lock workers will guide you to whichever wall they want you to hug. You must have a rope at least 100’ long that you hold onto each end and loop the middle over the hook that they lower down. NEVER tie this rope to your boat or you could end up hanging against the wall. I have seen power boats this way. You must stay tight against the wall as you go down paying out line as you go. When the water stops rushing out you must stay in position and hold your rope until the doors are open and the horn blows. Imagine a tooth pick in the toilet as you flush!!! It will be scary the first time. It may be better to portage around. If the timing is right I may be able to go with you.


Just don’t have a bomb-like device
sitting openly in your boat.