Big Sandy Creek - 3. Rockville to Jenkinsburg Bridge (Cheat River)

Big Sandy Creek, West Virginia, US


3. Rockville to Jenkinsburg Bridge (Cheat River)

Usual Difficulty IV-V (varies with level)
Length 5.8 Miles
Avg. Gradient 79 fpm
Max Gradient 110 fpm

Matt Pascal after Wonder Falls

Matt Pascal after Wonder Falls
Photo by Jeff Macklin taken 11/29/07 @ 5.5

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-03070500 5.00 - 7.30 ft IV-V 00h22m 5.89 ft (running)
Good range for all

River Description

For a Go Pro helmet cam video of Wonder Falls, Zoom Flume, Little Splat, and Big Splat, go to


For those coming from the West, there is now a better road that goes South to Rockville from Morgantown Road. Turn under I-68 at Laurel Run and follow to the NEW put-in parking lot. See the Keel-haulers' map.

From the East or South, you can still head south from Bruceton Mills(I-68) or north from Albright on WV 26 to Valley Point (just about 6 miles from either direction). Look for the turn-off to Hudson Road (WV 15), take it west for 4.8 miles, and turn right down towards the river. Continue another couple miles (bear left at the next fork) to the bridge across the river. This access ends with a mile of rutty, muddy road to the Rockville Bridge and parking is limited on busy weekends. Those who don't have good 4WD often carry or drag their boats down to the bridge. To reach the takeout, head back up to Hudson Road and continue 2.3 miles west down to the Cheat River at Jenkinsburg.

Charlie Walbridge pointed out on 2005-05-04:
"Mountain Streams and Trails, the new owner of the Jenkinsburg Access, asks that private paddlers running the Cheat and Big Sandy use the Upper Parking Lot during Cheat Fest Weekend. The Lower Parking Lot must be kept clear for outfitter trucks and buses. Vehicles parked there make maneuvering these big rigs difficult or impossible. (This is good advice for any high-traffic weekend.)
"So please park right and give a big THANK YOU to any MS&T employees you see on or off the river!"
Another option if you don't want to torture your car's suspension is to call Glenn Miller (304-379-3404), whose shuttle service is reasonably priced and very convenient. Show up on time, and whatever you do, don't stand him up! Glenn is a famously nice guy, and he and his service deserve respect.

Run Description

The Big Sandy is becoming more popular every year as the jewel of the Cheat River watershed, the largest undammed watershed east of the Mississippi. The run includes two waterfalls--Wonder Falls and the more challenging Big Splat--along with several technical class IV rapids. Big Splat is an AW Standard Rated Rapid with a difficulty of 5.1 when the Rockville Gauge reads 6.1.

At higher water levels (> 6' at Rockville), it's often fun to run the Upper Big Sandy or the Little Sandy before the Lower. This gives a longer run including good play and scenery, and it gives those who don't want to tackle the Lower a good opportunity to enjoy the Sandy without fear. You'll find a nice surfing wave at the Rockville putin, and a great view of the beautiful Sovern Run Falls.

Keel Hauler Rating - 31

The mileages given for the rapids, described below, are pretty much guesswork. We'll nail that down with a GPS thingie...someday.

Here's Bob Gedekoh's description of alternate high-water lines on the Sandy:

Here are some "High Water" Sandy Tips

If you are nervous about the approach rapid to the falls it is possible to run it on river right if the river is above 6.3 or so. Scout this line first if you dont know it. At the bottom you will drop over a five- or six-foot ledge. When the river is above 6.8 most folks go this way.

Actually the recycle at the bottom of Wonder Falls can get nasty if you miss the boof at levels greater than 6.6. (Editor's note: some swear that the recycle gets nasty at 6.5.) At 7 feet you really need to be on line and make the boof correctly... or risk a dangerous thrashing in the recycle at the base of the falls. When the river goes above 7.1 or 7.2 there is another completely different way to run the falls on river left... not far from shore. But don't try it any lower than 7.1 or you will piton. Even at 7.2 you need to paddle off the lip fast and keep your nose up to use that river left line. I have run this river left line as high as 8 feet.

Another high-water line opens up at Zoom Flume at 6.5 on river left. It is a slide into and over an eight foot ledge. If you try this make sure you don't get pushed into the pin spot about five feet to your right at the brink of the ledge. The recycle at the bottom of this ledge gets nasty at about 7.3 and will recycle you if you don't clear it. This recycle is hard to escape. So if the Sandy is above 7.4 or so, consider going back to the usual Zoom Flume line (which is explosive), or scout the center and try to find another route.

When the river goes above 6.7 or so it becomes very hard to portage Big Splat on the right because you can't get back into your boat on the launch ledge. An alternate high-water Splat portage is available on river left.

At 7.5 and higher, there is a nasty hole at the bottom of the first rapid below Big Splat. I got caught in it a couple of weeks ago at eight feet and had to abandon ship. The worst part of that experience was that I had to be rescued by the son of a keelhauler. Oh, the shame of it!!!!

The Big Sandy above seven feet can be fun, but it is serious business. If you attempt it, make sure you are with a strong group.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2016-05-20 19:43:27


Stream team editor

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
1.2Wonder FallsIVWaterfall Photo Video
1.4Undercut RockII+Hazard
1.5Zoom FlumeIVPhoto Video
1.6Little SplatIV+Hazard Photo
1.8Big Splatt!5.1Hazard Photo Video
4.4First IslandIVVideo
4.7Bridge Pier RapidIII+
5.4Second IslandIII

Rapid Descriptions

Wonder Falls (Class IV, Mile 1.2)
Click Here For Video

Jiven down Wonder

Jiven down Wonder
Photo of John Kobak by Bob Nicholson - KHCC taken 10/02 @ 5.8'

After a mile of mostly Class-3 ledgy stuff, with some good play, the paddler comes to Wonder Falls. This 18-footer, which follows a mildly complex set of offset diagonal holes, is one of the more photogenic rapids around, and it's easier than most falls of its height. Warning: at higher water, 6.5' or so, it sneers viciously at the off-line paddler, with a hydraulic that will multiply recirculate the unfortunate swimmer. Those who want to run it a second, third, or seventh time carry back up on river left, a short hike through the omnipresent rhododendrons. One paddling friend found a can of beer there once, which made the foot attainment doubly worthwhile!
Lat/Longitude coords for this and subsequent rapids are verified by GPS, helpfully provided by Charlie Walbridge.

Undercut Rock (Class II+, Mile 1.4)
Wonder Falls is followed by rapids that are typical of the character of the Sandy: continuous Class-3 boogie water. About a half mile along comes Undercut Rock, which lives up to its name only for those who choose to run it on the right. That line requires a strong punch of the hole that surfs the paddler into the rock. However, it's an easy ledge-drop for those who run it to the left of the rock.

Zoom Flume (Class IV, Mile 1.5)
Click Here For Video

Zoom Flume

Zoom Flume
Photo of unknown by Gib McGill (KHCC)

Undercut Rock is the lead-in to the most intense section of the Sandy, beginning with Zoom Flume. Though this rapid can be run on the left, as AW safety guru Charlie Walbridge does, most boaters choose to take on a complex series of holes and diagonal waves just above a cheese-grater slide. This is where people tend to break paddles just out of the shrinkwrap, or put a grapefruit-sized hole in the shoulder of the article of clothing formerly known as "drysuit." Those who flip in Zoom Flume tend to favor one shoulder or elbow when they go to work the following Monday. Don't ask me how I know. See another good Zoom Flume pic by clicking here.

Little Splat (Class IV+, Mile 1.6)

Little Splat

Little Splat
Photo of Scott Debalski by Gib McGill (KHCC)

A short pool is abruptly punctuated by Little Splat. Not as notorious as its big brother, Little Splat can still pack a punch for the unwary. It's a long, technical rapid with a bad pinning rock at the end. My line begins at the far, far left, avoiding a ledge-hole that's grabbier than it looks. I then head for an eddy in the middle left before working my way to the far left again. Whatever you do, be sure to end up left of the pinning rock at the bottom (just to the river right of the paddler in the picture).

Big Splatt! (Class 5.1, Mile 1.8)
Click Here For Video


Photo of Ratt Boy by Rob Hammond (KHCC) taken 01/04/98 @ 6.3 ft

One short pool beyond Little Splat is the Biggie. There's no shame in walking Big Splat, a 15-footer in which all of the flow wants you to land on a bad piton rock. The line at the main drop is tough to read from water level. As if that weren't enough, the approach is gnarly, with undercuts and a bad keeper hole. This reporter once found himself upside-down through the horseshoe hole in the approach and barely rolled up in time for the main drop, an experience I never wish to repeat! Splat certainly lives up to its 5.1 AW rating. The portage is on river right, where a rope is attached to help you get down the ledgy drop.
Some first-timers walk around the gnarly approach to Splat and simply run the final drop.
Whether you walk or run Splat, it's a good idea to turn around and look back upstream. The view of the rocks, trees, and the travertine green water is something to treasure. It's part of why so many of us have fallen in love with the Big Sandy.

First Island (Class IV, Mile 4.4)
Click Here For Video

After Big Splat is some more of the Class-3 boogie water that makes the Sandy such a joy. The paddler has to keep his eyes open, as there are pinning spots to avoid (especially at low water) and some play holes to enjoy, but for the most part, it's a fun slalom adventure. About a mile downstream, soon after a good play hole, comes First Island. This is a pair of narrow slots separated by a narrow, deceptively short and fast "pool." The second slot requires a solid right boof against the flow that tries to land the paddler into a very unpleasant rock.

Coordinates from Jeff Macklin (verified by GPS). The coordinates of the end of this rapid are 39.60871, -79.73970.

Bridge Pier Rapid (Class III+, Mile 4.7)

Soon after First Island, when you see a rectangular concrete wall on River Left, you've come to this rapid, which has a big-ol' ledge-hole at higher levels.

Thanks to Jeff Macklin for the GPS coordinates for this rapid!

Second Island (Class III, Mile 5.4)

Another mile below First Island is...Second Island. Not normally counted among the Big Sandy "Biggies," this one is a fun, straightforward Class-3+ boulder hop--unless you go left! If you go left, it's a blind, screaming drop with only a couple of feet of leeway. Call it a Class 5; this is a good rapid for elbow pads, as even a good line can give the paddler an unwelcome shot.

Just a few short yards below Second Island is the takeout, the confluence with the Cheat Canyon, and the beginning of the scariest experience of the day: the shuttle out!

Lat/longitude coordinates, verified by GPS, are courtesy of Jeff Macklin. Coords of the endo this rapid: 39.59684, -79.74444.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.

No Comments

Do more than just check gauges; join over 5,000 AW members today.

Or, consider donating


  • Jenkinsburg River Access Project

    The Jenkinsburg Project is a partnership between a private landowner, two river-oriented non-profits, a state environmental agency, five canoe and kayak clubs, and hundreds of donors from West Virginia and the surrounding states.