Potomac, Laurel Fork of North Fork of South Branch - Route 642 to confluence with Straight Fork

Potomac, Laurel Fork of North Fork of South Branch, Virginia, US/West Virginia, US


Route 642 to confluence with Straight Fork (Laurel Fork)

Usual Difficulty II-III+ (for normal flows)
Length 9.5 Miles
Avg. Gradient 80 fpm
Max Gradient 80 fpm

Laurel Fork of The Potomac

Laurel Fork of The Potomac
Photo of Ron Molinas by Mark Anderson taken 11/03

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-01605500 3.75 - 6.50 ft II-III+ 00h14m 2.98 ft (too low)

River Description

This is a wilderness headwaters run in the Potomac River watershed that offers the chance to paddle through a near-pristine setting. Though the whitewater is continuous, there are no rapids that exceed Class III at a medium level. The primary risks are strainers - we portaged 12 times in October, 2003 - and low hanging rhodedendron along the banks and in some of the braided channels. Familiarity with small creek running will definitely make for a more enjoyable day, as this run borders on an advanced ranking despite the relative ease of the whitewater.

Located primarily in Highland County, Virginia, this creek confluences to form the North Fork in Pendleton County, West Virginia at the community of Hardscrabble. The takeout is at a bridge over the creek at CR 19. The northwest side of the bridge seems to be the best place to park. The putin is 40 minutes away in Virginia above the Laurel Fork Special Management Area. Putin just off CR 642 about 1/4 mile south of a bridge crossing the Laurel Fork at an unposted roadside campsite. For the shuttle route consult your West Virginia and Virginia Gazetteers.

The Run:
After you put in you will immediately be in fast Class II water, which is standard gear for the creek. It's fun floating, however, with lots of small slides and chutes. The morphology is open, like most of the streams in this area of the watershed. In the first few miles, the creek picks up to mild Class III only occasionally. There are a few braided channels. Generally, you will want to find the biggest channel and get into it, even if that means climbing over a tree. The rhodedendron along the creek are absolutely huge. Though beautiful, they can make a portage a hands-and-knees crawl under the bushes. Occasionally, the skill to grab said rhodedendron comes in handy when you can't find an eddy.
About halfway through the run you will encounter the first solid Class III rapid near where Christian Run spills in on river right. This ledge drop with a hard right turn marks the beginning of a mile or so of good fun Class III river running. The last drop is a III+ with a mean hole that requires some boof-skills. After this section, it's back to Class II with the occasionally III. Near the end of the run, we encountered a sketchy channelized section. Pay careful attention here, as we scrambled to stop above one set of strainers in very fast water.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2010-11-07 14:06:42


Rapid Descriptions

icon of message No rapids entered. If you know names, and locations of the rapids please contact and advise the StreamTeam member for this run.

User Comments

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April 9 2012 (2479 days ago)
x (1)
On March 28th 2009 I encountered approximately 15 strainers between the Rt 642 put in and the Vance
Run take out. There are several strainers before the Bearwallow Trail intersection a couple miles
in, most of which can be seen from far enough away to have time to stop. Below the Bearwallow trail
intersection (you'll see a small wooden signpost on the left bank of the stream where the first
tributary enters from the left), strainers are infrequent until the final mile or so of river.
There are three strainers to watch for after Bearwallow: First, there is a hemlock across the
stream immediately after a sharp left hand turn. At runnable levels one can paddle over this
strainer on the right, but the landing is in shallow water. Do not get sucked under on the left.
Approximately 2-3 miles downstream (it will go fast) you'll pass a curved tree crossing the river
which can be paddled under on the left or over on the right, no problem. Shortly after that, but
out of sight, is a huge log jam. Pull out above the log jam on river right on a small gravel bar
that may be submerged at higher water levels. There is a narrow, sketchy passage on the right where
I cleared some wood. About two miles below this strainer the woods open up to a big meadow shortly
after a nice cliff on the left. There is a long gravel bar descent ending in a hard right hand
turn. There is a tree in the channel at the bottom of the final drop, which is not visible until
you're in the gravel bar approach. It is not too hard to paddle through the branches. but don't run
it if there's any chance of flipping. Finally, in the last mile Laurel Fork braids like crazy and
there are a bunch of frustrating and dangerous strainers. This part would be particularly dangerous
at higher water levels--we ran it near the minimum so taking out at the last second wasn't as hard.