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North Hills Monthly

A New Way to Enjoy the Water: Renting a Houseboat on Raystown Lake

Jun 30, 2019 12:35PM ● By Vanessa Orr

The slide on the back of the Juniata

Even before reaching the Raystown Lake region of Pennsylvania, I learned a couple of interesting facts: first, that the Raystown branch of the Juniata River runs south to north because of topography, and second, that despite the fact that Raystown Lake spans 8,300 acres, you can’t see it until you’re almost in it.

This second fact is important because if you’re like me, you’ll start thinking that you must have made a wrong turn somewhere because seriously—who can’t spot a whole lake? It’s quite surprising to wind your way through the forest-lined mountain roads to finally come upon such a stunning sight hidden deep within the Alleghenies of central Pennsylvania.

One of the best ways to see the lake, and to enjoy a relaxing getaway, is to rent a houseboat and spend time exploring the coves and winding waterways that make up the area. Even a first-time boater like me can get the hang of it, though I’ll admit it’s pretty intimidating the first time you’re left on your own to steer a 54’ craft.

Seven Points Marina has been renting houseboats for years, and their crew takes you through each step, though I suggest you take notes because it’s a lot of information to remember when you decide you need to stop and you can’t quite remember how. The marina has a fleet of 15 houseboats in all sizes, including some that are dog-friendly, and the boats are pretty roomy, so you can spend time with your whole family, or bring a group of friends for a fun weekend.

On the Juniata, we had four bedrooms, along with a very comfortable living room, kitchen and back and front decks; there was also a hot tub on the roof and a two-story slide! While it was a little chilly when we visited in April to play in the water, I can just imagine how much fun it must be to spend a hot, sunny day sliding into the lake.

To rent a houseboat, you have to watch a 30-minute video and take a short test, most of which is pretty self-explanatory. There are people who choose to just rent the houseboat and stay at the dock, but I think they may be missing out—there’s something about waking up in a secluded cove, drinking a steaming cup of hot chocolate and watching the fog rise off the water that truly defines getting away from it all.

You don’t have to spend the entire time on the boat, either. You can dock it on shore—you just run it aground and tie it to a couple of trees. Seriously. There are numerous hiking trails that are well-maintained and easy to follow, and the area is also home to the Allegripis Trail system, which turns 10 this year. The area is a haven for those who like single track mountain biking with 36 miles of trails, as well as for those who like to fish—there are 17 varieties of fish at the lake, including striped, small- and largemouth bass.

If you can pull yourself off the water long enough, there are some unique things to see on land, too. Huntingdon, a short drive from the lake, is a hip little “maker” community, where you can see art just about everywhere, including on a public art walking tour, in restaurants like the Stone Town Gallery and Café and Mimi’s Restaurant and Martini Bar (such good Mediterranean pasta), and at Juniata College’s Museum of Art. 

I love that the work of 40 local artists is displayed at the Stone Town Gallery, so you can do a little shopping while waiting for your sandwiches, crepes or scones. Owners Caroline Gillich and Deb Tumlin have turned what used to be an accountant’s office into a community gathering place where you can get breakfast and lunch every day, and dinner on Friday nights accompanied by live music.

Another unique place to visit is the Isett Heritage Museum, with more than 40,000 historic artifacts from cars to toys, to radios and TVs, and even barbed wire fencing. Amassed by Melvin Isett, now 97, this collection of everything that he’s found interesting over the last 70 years is an astounding trip back through time. I can’t count the number of times I said, “I had that when I was little!” or “I remember that from my grandmother’s house!” The best way to see the museum is to take a guided tour; our docent had all sorts of fun stories about the collection, including the antique urinals.

It’s also well worth your time to take a trip up to Lincoln Caverns & Whisper Rocks, two stunning walk-through caves that feature flowstones, stalactites, calcite, crystals and more. The formations in these caves are truly impressive, especially considering that they’re still standing—the caves were discovered during the construction of Route 22, and it’s a miracle that they weren’t destroyed.

I really enjoyed the one-hour tour of these irreplaceable natural wonders and learned a lot that I didn’t know about history, geology, cave life and conservation. And the fact that the cave remains at a comfortable 52 degrees during the summer months makes it an even better place to visit on those hot humid days.

Despite spending four days at the lake, I feel like I barely touched the surface of all that there is to do in the area. The good news is that, because of its location, the lake doesn’t get under 70 degrees until after September, so there’s even more time to visit in the shoulder season.

To learn more about the Raystown Lake Region, visit https://www.raystown.org or call 1-888-Raystown.