The water makes bell-like music when your oars dip. A wind whooshes by like a giant pulling in breath. On the shore, a deer lingers in the sun, and tiny yellow-green leaves flutter in the wind as fast as hummingbirds' wings.
That was my experience in a kayak on a recent Sunday on Lake Arthur in Moraine State Park, Butler County. Though the season may be nearly done, it dies with a flourish. Whether you want to fish, bird-watch, take pictures of pristine nature, savor solitude or get closer to your family, these last few weeks before mid-November are some of the best.
"Right now is the perfect time to float down a river, with all the fall foliage happening" says Rob Walters, membership director of Venture Outdoors. The nonprofit group rents canoes and kayaks at three locations around Pittsburgh, including under the Sixth Street Bridge on the North Side, which is open on weekends until the end of October.
The choice of a kayak or a canoe depends in large part on what you'll be up to on the water. Both crafts are extremely popular.
"I'm an avid fisherman," Walters says. "I fly fish. Fly fishing out of a canoe is a little easier than fly fishing out of a kayak. But regular spin fishing out of a kayak is quite easy. It's one of the biggest growing outdoor recreation sports right now. You can get into a lot of places where you don't with a regular motorized boat. "
"There's no area of kayaking that is not growing," says Paul Egbert, owner of Wind and Water Boatworks in Butler. "Kayak fishing is the hot spot. Canoes are making a comeback in Western Pennsylvania. Especially the solo canoes."
For the average rower, a kayak takes less effort to propel, says Dennis Tubbs, an outreach and education coordinator for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. A kayak is more stable in the water.