My best friend in college competed in the Kayaking slalom in the Olympics. Sadly, he didn’t medal, but he was good. He taught me a lot and instilled my love for the raging waters of Tennessee and West Virginia.
We’d spend our summers tackling different rivers, camping out, sharing stories and dreaming about life; it was a grand time. Flash forward to today, and I’m a travel writer. Fortunately, I can still satisfy my love for the water by helping you guys, my readers find the best rivers to navigate, not simply for kayaking, but canoeing, paddling, and fishing. That the focus of this article, the rivers, and waterfalls of West Virginia, enjoy.
To satisfy my sense of adventure traveling and simultaneously enjoying nature, my first recommendation is to take your trips in September and October, when the waters are brisk and the foliage golden, it an experience you won’t soon forget.
The rivers mentioned below can be used for assortment of water activities, not only kayaking, so give a read, get up, off the couch and hit the great and beautiful outdoors. There are rivers everywhere, but in West Virginia, they seem to flow like gifts from the gods, scenic, clear, smooth and often raging, a variety that allows everyone, from young to old, seasoned paddler to the novice, to enjoy their majestic beauty.
NOTE: The list below is not given in order or preference or scored for level of activity, simply a list of the most beautiful rivers I’ve encountered on my journeys.
The first is the Middle Fork River in Upshur County, North-Central West Virginia. You could call this a river for the people, since small boats, kayaks, and rafts can call the river home. The rapids are extreme, but they will bring a rush of excitement and the quiet pools time for contemplation.
The part of the river that is easily navigated is 35 miles in length containing both rapids and quiet spots that attract fly fishermen. There are outfitters located nearby and since the river is so famous, call ahead or bring your gear. A kayaking paradise, the river contains rapids from class 1 to class 4.
Next is the Buckhannon River, one of the most scenic and pleasant rivers in WV. Water sports enthusiasts travel across the country to float and paddle this picturesque flow. Winding through quiet forests, this is a float or paddle through dreamland. There are ample spots to fish and anglers only offer praise as they are pulling muskies, smallmouth bass, carp and rock bass from the waters. This is a perfect river for families with waters fast enough for excitement, slow enough for a day without mom’s worrying and picturesque enough to fill a social media account with plenty of pictures.
Third on the list is the Big Coal River
This isn’t a river for big boats, likely you’d wouldn’t want to try floating a bass boat with an Evinrude outboard, but it’s perfect for canoes, rafts, and Kayaks. This is coal country when you float the Big Boal; you’re floating through history and coal mining stories. If the trees could talk, they’d speak of the men and women who labored long and raised families on a meager living. The river flows north, and the rapids make your time exciting. Likely you’ll start your journey in Fosterville, which begins a 7.5 mile stretch to the take-out in Racine. Your float passes almost entirely through private land, so paddle safely, be respectful of property rights and leave no trace of your passing.
Fourth is Tygart River flowing through the Tygart river valley, and it’s a Kayaker’s dream. No matter the time of the year, or even the dryness of the season, the river flows long and strong, being one of the major drains for the area. Nicknamed “the last water in West Virginia,” the usual put-in point is the Philippi Covered Bridge at the intercession of U.S. 119 and U.S. 250 and have a great float.
If I could choose only one river to float, it would be the Cranberry River in Nicholas County. This river is spectacular, filled with wildlife, rapids, quiet pools and if you come in the fall, colors that will ignite your passions and carry you away. Running through the Monongahela National Forest, the river is home to an abundance of trout, so should you have the proper license, catching your supper is certainly possible. The best launch spot is in the Nicholas County boat launch in Woodbine Recreation Area.
Last but far from least is the Cheat River, which is a lake and home to the more traditional water sports like skiing, wakeboarding, and sunning on the beach, this is the river and lake you need to visit. Located near West Virginia University, you’ll find families, fishermen and college folk, all gathering to enjoy the clear waters. Motorboats are welcome, and there are ample amenities nearby.
West Virginia is graced to have an abundance of rivers, lakes, and waterfalls, drawing visitors from around the world and catering to every water inspired fancy. As a travel writer, I’ve been able to visit almost all of them, including the waterfalls listed below.
These waterfalls may not rival Niagara, but they are a perfect spot for those who want an adrenaline-filled afternoon kayaking over them, or sitting on the shore and watching it happen. That’s your choice to make but here is my pick of the best waterfalls to choose.
Valley Falls, Tygart River
We mentioned the Tygart in our section above about rivers but there are waterfalls also, and they run, no matter the season or weather. This section of the river is classified as a beginners route, but in my opinion that depends on the flow, so be sure to check local conditions before you commit, since once your kayak tips the edge, there is no turning back. Rapids are classified from Class II to Class IV, so you’re in for a wild but manageable trip.
Tomko Falls, Upper Blackwater Falls – Class V
This is a challenging trip, and although the drop is not as steep as some, these falls are considered some of the more challenging around, make certain your skills are sharp on this one. The run is 2.5 miles, and there are plenty of rapids and steep drops, as well as quiet eddies to plan your attack.
Falls at Leivasy, Brushy Meadow Creek
Wow…. Going to say it again, wow, this is the wild ride, and it maxed my skills. I can only say, don’t make this run unless you are up to the task and only you can answer that one. Right from the start, you’ll be in class III rapids, but then the river wakes up, and you’re catapulted to class IV, and when you get to the falls, things happen quickly, and when you commit, you’re catapulted across the falls, and the adrenalin flows. Like a kid on a rollercoaster, if you made it to the end, you’re likely to say, “Let’s do it again.”
Sweet’s Falls, Gauley River
If you’re good, you can expect cheers from the crowd as you get over the 14-footfalls. This one takes concentration and skill and is no place to learn the ropes, you better know them by heart. The rapids are Class II to Class V, and they pound continually.
WHAT TO AVOID: The right bank with an abundance of shelves. The BIG rock just past the falls which the current attempts to drive you into.
HISTORY NOTE: The falls are named after John Sweet, who ran them for the first time in the 1960’s
Fall Branch, New River
WARNING: No eddies, no time to think, just paddle and survive.
If you feel the “Need for Speed,” then this is the river for you. Even with two ten footfalls, the river doesn’t slow much and concentration is the name of the game as the rapids range from Class II to Class IV. When you get to the end of this one, pat yourself on the back, you’ve proved you’re an expert.
Hominy Falls, Hominy Creek
Kayaking any waterfall is challenging, but these are perfect if you’ve got some good time on the water, but are not yet ready for the big ones. These are wide and shortfalls, and it’s pretty easy to stay centered, just watch out for the trees just after the falls. For the smoothest ride, stay to the right side.
This is a long run lasting about 12 miles with the 6 miles after the falls Class II, so you can relax a bit and enjoy the surroundings.
I can’t say enough good things about the waters of West Virginia; they offer something for everyone, no matter your skill, no matter your passion, this is an adventure-filled journey that you’ll want to do again and again. One important thing to note, especially if you are USA based, you may need specialist