Sections range from intermediate to expert level rapids.
Time To Complete
Plan to be out on the Meadow River for most of a day.
Spring and Winter
The Meadow is highly susceptible to the whims of nature. She runs when it rains a lot.
Of the three main waterways in the region immediately surrounding the New River Gorge in southern West Virginia, the Meadow River is indisputably the hidden jewel. It doesn’t have a thriving whitewater rafting industry plying its waters like the New. The Meadow has neither a “season” nor a “fest,” like the Gauley. And even among local paddlers, it’s not entirely uncommon to learn that several of your best paddling buddies have never run the Meadow.
This is especially perplexing, since, of those three rivers, the Meadow is as good or better than both the New and the Gauley. It is hands down the most underrated stretch of whitewater river in West Virginia.
What Makes It Great
The Meadow River consists of three sections—the Upper, Middle and Lower, or in order of difficulty from easiest to hardest, the Middle, Upper and Lower. All three have a creeky personality about them and all three can feel like a creek or more like the Gauley, depending on how much water is flowing.
The Middle Meadow is a perfect intermediate run at class III/IV, but it swells to solid class IV and a bit beyond when Spring rains bring volume. Below 1300 cfs, it’s veritably filled with chutes and boofs. Above 1600 cfs and things begin to get fast and pushy.
The Upper Meadow sits a full step above the Middle in difficulty with a 2.5 mile section in the center of it that is so non-stop, it is known simply as “the Rapids.” In the Rapids, there are no pools. None. Zip. Zero. Not even one. Not even a small one. There are eddies a plenty for weary paddlers to rest, but if you’re trying to read and run this section, be aware that the Rapids is a continuous string of consequential, rapid-fire decision making. More so at levels around 1600 and higher. What makes it even more wild is that the Rapids begin like somebody flipped an on switch... and then end like somebody else flipped it back.
And then there’s the Lower Meadow. With rapids with names like Take Me Home Sweet Jesus, it’s safe to say “hairy” is a bit of an understatement. Actually, the Lower Meadow isn’t the most difficult piece of river in WV by a long shot, but the consequences never end, and virtually all of them are especially consequence-y. Think of it as a fight for your life, and you won’t be far off from the truth.
Who is Going to Love It
The Meadow is not a beginner’s river. Intermediate and advanced paddlers, however, will be thrilled with whichever section of the Meadow River they choose to run. Not only is the Meadow upper crust in terms of quality of boating, but in remoteness and scenery, too, the Meadow is unparalleled in the immediate vicinity. Aspiring Meadow River boaters must keep an eye out for flows, though. She’s especially subject to nature’s whims—sometimes rising suddenly out of nowhere and then crashing back to a trickle just as quickly.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The Middle and Lower Meadow run much of their lengths through land managed by the National Park Service, so all pertinent regulations apply. Do not expect regular river patrols, as you might see on the New and Gauley. Actually, don’t expect any.
Put-ins and take outs are tricky. Officially the Upper Meadow begins in the town of Rainelle, but if you put in there, the drive is long, as is the nine-mile section of flat water you have to push through to reach the Rapids. Honestly, your first time, go with somebody who has been before. The Middle Meadow begins in Nallen, WV and ends under the Highway 19 bridge, where the Lower begins. Finish out a run on the Lower Lower Meadow by continuing past the mouth and running to Mason’s Branch on the Upper Gauley.