Laurel and Dry Forks of the Cheat River (WV)

Location: West Virginia, USA
Length: 34-50 miles
Days: 2-3, with much longer options available
Class: I-IV
Craft: kayak, raft
Season: Rain dependent, most likely to run Feb – May
Permitted: No
Gauges: Shavers Fork at Bowden; Dry Fork at Hendricks
Map: click here
Additional Info & Guidebooks:  Laurel Fork; Dry Fork

The Dry Fork of the Cheat has three lovely daughters. In this analogy, the Laurel Fork of the Cheat River is the middle child to her more sinister sister, the Shavers Fork, and her more tempered sister, the Glady Fork. Boaters paddling the Laurel Fork will enjoy remote wilderness and ledgey class III with a class IV waterfall all the way to the confluence with the Dry. The solitude along the Laurel Fork is uninterrupted and once on the Dry Fork, a small community of homes at Jenningston is followed by roadside paddling (albeit a tiny, seldom-used country road) all the way to Hendricks, which is barely noticeable thanks to fun, bigger water class III-IV throughout.

Rafting the waterfall on the Laurel Fork of the Cheat. Photo by Art Barket.
Rafting the waterfall on the Laurel Fork of the Cheat. Photo by Art Barket.


The nomenclature of the many forks of the Cheat River are worthy of a 3-credit college course, but here are the cliffs notes: The Glady, Dry, Shavers, and Laurel Forks all rise near Cheat Mountain and run parallel, heading north, for many miles. The first two to merge are the Laurel and the Glady, and the Laurel Fork commands naming rights. Soon after that, the Laurel joins the Dry Fork, and the river continues as the Dry Fork. Just before Hendricks, the Blackwater joins on the right, and the stream is given a new name, the Black Fork. Continuing past Hendricks, the Black Fork finally meets the Shavers Fork in Parsons, a grand union because at that point the whole thing is called the Cheat River, which flows to its confluence with the Monongahela, headed for Pittsburgh, in Pt. Marion, PA.

The author has not paddled the section of the Laurel Fork above Rt. 33, but the description of the reach in Wildwater West Virginia suggests 16 miles of wilderness class I beginning at a National Forest campground. Below Rt. 33, the remoteness begins immediately and a touch of antiquity is added as the stream serpentines through rotting bridges and piers left from the logging industry. Ledge drops make for a fun run until a waterfall with a variety of lines appears after a left bend. Portage on the left or give it a go, and then the fun continues with countless ledge drops of 3 – 6 feet. Once on the Dry, the flow is more than doubled but the lines are wide open through to Hendricks.

A ledge drop on the Laurel Fork of the Cheat.
A ledge drop on the Laurel Fork of the Cheat.


A trip starting at the Laurel Fork Campground will be fully immersed in the splendor of the Monongahela National Forest, where camping is where you find (or need) it. No permits are required for river users, just jump on in and leave no trace. After the Dry Fork confluence and passing through Jenningston, the river left bank is in the National Forest, but camping is sparse on the steep canyon wall. There are commercial campgrounds beginning after Hendricks.

Shuttle & Logistics

Launching at the Laurel Fork Campground should be considered a bonus day and driving the gravel Forest Service roads to get there could be sketchy with ice, snow, or mud when the Laurel Fork is running. Launching at Rt. 33, below which is the best whitewater, and shuttling to that point from any point downstream is done on well used paved roads. The following sections and rough mileage should help facilitate a trip as short as two days, or much longer.

Section Mileage Whitewater Notable Drops
Laurel Fork Campground to Rt. 33 16 miles
Rt. 33 to Jenningston 14 miles III – IV 10-foot waterfall
Jenningston to Hendricks 20 miles II
Parsons to Rowlesburg 36 miles Flatwater
Rowlesburg to Albright 14 miles II – III See Cheat River (WV)
Albright to Cheat Lake (Ices Ferry) 20 miles III – IV See Cheat Canyon on American Whitewater

One can extend their trip onto the Black Fork and then the Cheat River but it will involve a considerable amount of flatwater on the Cheat River Water Trail before Rowlesburg in order to get to the well-known Narrows (II/III) and Canyon (III/IV) sections. See Cheat River (WV) for a guide to paddling that section.


There are no gauges for the Laurel Fork but nearby gauges offer some guidance. Look for flows well above 400 cfs at the Dry Fork and above 500 cfs on the Shavers Fork before taking the gamble. If the Laurel Fork is too low, the Shavers Fork may still be an option because it has a larger watershed and, if it’s not too late in the season, it gets meltwater from Snowshoe Ski Resort’s man-made snow.

On the Water

Get a copy of Wildwater West Virginia for details into these runs and, as always, watch for strainers. For solid class IV boaters, the only drop on the Laurel Fork worth a look is the waterfall, which is an obvious horizon line. Once on the Dry Fork, the run opens up to bigger water so watch for holes.

This article was contributed to by Matt Pascal.

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