The headwaters of the world-famous Gauley River have tons of fantastic whitewater runs, from the mundane to the hairy. Smack dab in the middle of that field is the Middle Cranberry River, a steep and fun section that will engage intermediate boaters, and maybe even keep an advanced paddler guessing a few times.
What Makes It Great
A river in the middle of nowhere, with a bike-friendly gravel road alongside it, and campsites up and down the road? What’s not to love? Add an engaging section of Class III/IV-water with almost non-stop action and you get one of those rare classics—the Cranberry River.
This underrated whitewater run in the middle of the Monongahela National Forest is full of blind drops and technical maneuvering. As a bonus, the Cranberry River dishes out almost non-stop action, peppered with enough boogie water and small pools that you can rest almost as often as you’d like. But at an 80-feet-per-mile gradient (100 maximum), don’t take it lightly. What appears easy can quickly turn complex, and that tendency to be tricky characterizes most of the run.
The Cranberry picks up almost right after the put-in with Class III rapids. At moderate flows (4.5-5.5 feet), the only rapid that really warrants serious consideration is S-Turn, a technical Class IV about 3 miles above the take-out. As previously mentioned, S-Turn is not the only blind drop, but don’t worry too much, it’s relatively easy to scout the rapids from the shore.
There is some wood in the water from fallen trees, so scout out the river before you get going.
Who is Going to Love It
Intermediate boaters who want to edge into triple-digit steepness will appreciate the Cranberry. Paddlers who like to be challenged in route-finding will also find the Middle Cranberry engaging and pleasantly surprising. Boofs and chutes abound, but don’t take clean landings for granted.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
To get here, head north out of Richwood, WV, on State Route 39. Less than a mile after leaving downtown, bear left onto Cranberry Road and begin a long, steep climb into the forest. Gain the ridge and merge onto Country Club Road, then take an immediate left onto Public Road 76, following signs toward the NFS campgrounds. That road will eventually take you across the Cranberry River, then parallel it. This is the shuttle road.
Cranberry is a top-level weekend destination, with pay campsites all along the gravel road that parallels the stream. To top it off? The boating is right there!