Located south of Huntingdon off of Route 26 and appearing like a splotch of blue cradled by the dark green hills which surround it, Raystown Lake is both Pennsylvania's largest man-made water body and the only one where houseboats can be rented.
Created between 1968 and 1978 by the US Army Corps of Engineers to provide flood control for the Susquehanna Valley, hydroelectricity, and recreation, the narrow, zigzag-shaped, 28-mile-long lake, emulating the Raystown branch of the Juniata River which feeds it, covers 8,300 acres and offers 118 miles of woodland shores.
Occupying land first discovered by Native Americans, it sports a significant, once-exposed archaeological site designated Sheep Rock Shelter, a sizable, overhanging ledge near the present-day Susquehannock
Campground originally used for tribe and animal protection.
Excavating the site before the reservoir was expanded during the 1960s, researchers from Juniata College and Pennsylvania State University unearthed a 6,000-year-old skull and bones from a Native American woman, along with knives, pottery, and spearheads.
The rolled earth-and-rock dam which created the lake, with a 1,550-foot base width, a 24-foot top width, a 1,700-foot length, and a 225-foot height, created what could be considered Pennsylvania's "crown jewel," enabling Allegheny Electric Cooperative's powerhouse to provide hydroelectricity to 8,500 homes and Huntingdon County to establish tourism as its second-largest industry after agriculture with more than two million annual visitors.
Although it has considerably evolved since its inauspicious beginnings as a collection of cottages for boaters, the area's shores and hills, because of US Army Corps of Engineers regulations restricting development, still sport their natural guise, wearing coats of thick trees and retaining the indigenous wildlife which depends upon them.
A Mecca for nature-lovers and sports enthusiasts today, it offers an array of leisure activities for both day and extended-stay visits, prerequisite to whose understanding and enjoyment is a look inside the Visitor Center perched on a ridge and affording pristine views of the azure lake it represents.
Dispensing information, directions, and brochures, it offers a glimpse of conditions 6,000 years ago through its interactive, paleontology exhibits, as well as interpretation through displays entitled "Building and Operating a Dam," "Raystown Bygone Days," and "Generating Electricity."
Huntingdon County Visitors Bureau and US Army Corps of Engineers Ranger and Reserve Staff offices are located on its lower level. Audiovisual presentations are given in its multi-purpose room and a gift shop sells drinks, snacks, books, and souvenirs just beyond the entrance.
Lake- and surrounding wilderness-related activities are numerous.
Swimming, for example, can be enjoyed at one of two Corps-managed beaches located within the Seven Points Recreation Area. The first, the appropriately named Seven Points Beach near lake mile marker 9 on its west side, is subdivided into a 200-by-600 foot buoyed area with a concrete bottom and a 100-by-150 foot one with a sand base primarily used by children. Its facilities include a shower and changing house, picnic tables, playground equipment, and the Lighthouse food concession. The Oak Picnic Shelter is located on a peninsula across from the beach.
The second swimming facility, Tatman Run Beach, is located on the lake's southern end and features a 200-by-700 foot buoyed area, along with a change house, a playground, picnic tables, grills, and a boat launch.
Boating itself can be done at any of seven Corps-managed launches-Snyder's Run, Aitch, James Creek, Tatman Run, Shy Beaver, Weaver Falls, and Seven Points-the latter of which, bordered by the Tuscey Mountain ridges and located off of Bay Drive, offers a paved, three-lane, 40-foot-wide boat launch with capacity for 119 trailered vehicles and a modular courtesy floating dock. There is neither a limitation on boat size nor horsepower on the lake, but there are no-wake zones to preclude disturbances of wildlife viewing and fishing.
Fishing itself can be accomplished at a variety of areas, including from rocky points, shallow bays, coves, and right in the middle of the lake from a boat, and might yield smallmouth, largemouth, or striped bass, muskie, walleye, crappie, stripers, perch, carp, brown trout, lake trout, or Atlantic salmon.