A night to remember: Sleeping in a tree house on a river island

Cindy Ross

A tree house on an island in the Susquehanna River brought the writer and her husband back to nature during their visit. (Columbia-Montour Tourism)

Last night, I did not want to go to sleep. I wanted to lie on my cot and think about where I was: 10 feet above the ground, in a tree house built around a maple tree on a long narrow island in the middle of the Susquehanna River.

My husband, Todd, and I had the whole wild place to ourselves, joined only by wildlife. During our evening walk, we saw white-tailed deer and beavers skimming the river’s surface. The point of the island revealed the footprints of some great blue herons and multiple couples of Canada geese. According to the owner of the island, Chris Ehmer, of Susquehanna Outdoor Adventures LLC, there also was a nesting pair of bald eagles nearby.

Ehmer purchased three long narrow islands on the North Branch of the Susquehanna, not far from Bloomsburg, Pa., many years ago. Initially, he kept them for himself and his circle of close friends and family. Recently, he felt moved to share the treasure, and developed one of the most unique outdoor experiences in the Mid-Atlantic.

When we arrived, 10 tiki torches encircled our tree house and a welcoming campfire was blazing. Besides Ehmer’s two (soon to be three) tree houses, a cabin is available for rent and there is a large tent camping area. A large communal area in the center of the island hosts unforgettable outdoor concerts a few times each summer. The 3.5-mile-long island is a sanctuary, with amazing stands of old growth hardwoods and mowed grassy paths.

After a delightful evening around the campfire, my husband and I turned in. While he fell immediately into a peaceful sleep, I lie in my sleeping bag and breathed in the freshness and earthy smell of the river. A freight train lumbered by on the shore, and I stood up to see a magical sight of the locomotive’s headlamp cutting through the darkness and illuminating the track ahead and the long stretch of river. 

When all became quiet again, North American toads shrilled. Pairs of honking geese flew overhead, their great wings flapping as they called to their mates. Lying in that tree house on the island made me feel as though I was in the mighty Susquehanna.

Wake in a tree house

Come morning, light streamed through the large screened windows. One of the largest choirs of birds I ever heard sang their hearts out, sounding truly joyous over the start of the day, and we shared their sentiments exactly. 

We finished off our adventure by having Ehmer shuttle us above his islands as we floated the current back down to his takeout, spotting the majestic pair of bald eagles along the way.

Guests can arrange their own paddles and reserve a spot, or, better yet, have Ehmer take care of everything. Large groups can rent the entire island for reunions or private parties and Ehmer can deliver everything, including ice and dinner. In fact, he has even been known to deliver milkshakes at 10:00pm in his jon boat if a guest has a craving. 

Canoe Susquehanna, another outfitter based on the West Branch of the Susquehanna, also offers guided river trips that are both fun and educational. You can learn about the region’s history, which includes Native Americans, settlers, river towns, and more.

If you are looking to make it a weekend along the river, you can traverse the River Rat Brew Trail, central Pennsylvania’s only craft beer trail. 

Most of the trail breweries are in close proximity to the river. Enjoy fine craft beers and spend the rest of the weekend paddling the beautiful Susquehanna.

Learn more

Columbia-Montour Tourism: itourcolumbiamontour.com

 

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