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 5.3 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 00h16m 4.83 ft (too low)

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: 2018-12-03 16:52:56


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.
July 11 2017 (519 days ago)
Blake HuberDetails
It appears the guy in the white house with the repeat offender white Pittbull has moved. As of last
week it looked like new people were moving in. No dogs seen. Run/bike safe, I still recommend a big
stick or can of pepper spray for this shuttle by foot.
May 5 2017 (587 days ago)
Bizwap (159072)
5.4.17 There is a log that crosses the entire river between First Island and Second Island.
Yesterday at a level somewhere around 5.6 you could glide over it, but just barely. It is very
visible and there are easy eddies upstream of it.
October 17 2016 (787 days ago)
Eric HenricksonDetails
For those who prefer to run or bike your shuttle for the Big Sandy: When traveling out of the
canyon from the takeout, the first house on your right (White house) has a pit bull that has bitten
at least four people this summer. The dog is black and white. There is another dog or two on the
premises which I've not had trouble with. In June, the owner told me that he would euthanize the
dog, but has not followed through on that promise. The last victim required extensive laceration
repairs of both an arm and leg in an Emergency Department. I would recommend carrying pepper spray
or a firearm if you are so entitled (never imagined I would say such a thing). This dog has proven
itself to be aggressive and dangerous. And the owners seem not to take their responsibilities as
dog owners seriously.
October 2 2012 (2262 days ago)
x (1)
One admits that men's life seems to be not cheap, nevertheless different people need cash for
different things and not every man gets enough cash. Hence to get some business loans and sba loan
should be a correct way out.
June 10 2011 (2742 days ago)
Robert FarmerDetails
A massive oil and gas waste landfill is planned for the the Big Sandy at the confluence with the
Little Sandy. Check it out, and voice your opposition, please! Go to Send letters to: Preston County Solid
Waste Authority c/o Mr. Fred Taylor 118 Lick Run Rd. Newburg, WV 26410 and also Preston County
Commission 106 W Main Street, Room 202 Kingwood, WV 26537
June 1 2010 (3117 days ago)
Robert FarmerDetails
I paddled the Sandy at 4.7 over Memorial Day weekend, and I want to warn people about Graveyard
Rock, which is downstream of "First Island" and the Ghost Bridge where the bridge pylons are. There
is an enormous fallen tree upstream on river right that leaves only about 6-8 feet for passage. The
right channel was totally blocked by wood, so I boat-scouted carefully, but the left channel turned
out to have a mostly-submerged log completely blocking the channel, as well, lodged at the
downstream end against the submerged log that has been against Graveyard Rock for several years. I
couldn't see it from where I scouted, and I washed up against it and just barely made it over. At
higher levels, it might not have been a problem, but with the enormous fallen tree only 30 feet
upstream, probably ready to move, this route could become blocked again at any time, so be very
careful!!! After running the slot, I removed the log, which was only about 6 inches in diameter,
though very badly placed. Also, as a side note, I cleared the logs out that were blocking the
Supermodel Slot, the narrow slot that many of us enjoy running, farther downstream toward the end
of the river. There seems to be much more wood than usual on the Sandy, and much of it is ready to
move, so be very careful on your trips.
May 18 2010 (3130 days ago)
Eric HenricksonDetails
A vehicle belonging to a boater was robbed at the Sandy/Cheat takeout in Jenkinsburg today. There
were several other vehicles parked nearby at the time. It may be wise to limit things of value left
in vehicles there. This is the first incident of this type I've heard of in the last decade.
February 2 2010 (3236 days ago)
Robert FarmerDetails
Rob F----Hey, so I noticed some people have finally caught on to the northern approach to the
put-in from the Morgantown-Bruceton Mills road; you have to turn south at Laurel Run (unmarked),
near the bridge that you drive over. This approach is good only if you have a high-clearance
vehicle to run the shuttle. People with low-clearance vehicles should maybe park on the south side
at the top of the hill and walk the 1/2 mile or so down to the put-in. The problem is that many of
us can't drive up the hill alongside Sovern Run, the short, direct shuttle route. Running the
shuttle via the north side adds about 40 minutes each way. (Please don't drive like maniacs---it's
bad PR, you know!) P.S. That tree at Graveyard Rock (downstream of "First Island") is still quite
potentially hazardous at low water, despite the fact that the streamkeeper keeps deleting my
August 2 2009 (3420 days ago)
Christian TylerDetails
Went today to go take some friends down the Upper Sandy because the Lower was "too high", and drove
across the the bridge at Rockville and there was no water. The gage was reading 4.8 ft. Maybe the
gage is down or broken, just letting y'all know and save on some gas. Cheers
January 5 2008 (3995 days ago)
jason blackDetails
Beware, the Rock forming the ledge at the 2nd drop of Big Splat has shifted towards the horseshoe
hole. This is feeding more water into the hole, it is also pushing the current during your exit
more river right,making it more difficult to catch the eddy. My advise is just be prepared to run
the entire rapid without catching the eddy.If the horseshoe does flip you, of course nail that
role, but if you miss it STAY in your boat and take the hammering in it. J.Black
November 15 2007 (4046 days ago)
Matt MuirDetails
Chrizee posted: Wanted to pass on this email I just got from Jay Ditty of Morgantown in case any of
you are heading this way: As expected, some wood has moved around a bit on the creeks here in
northern WV. On the Big Sandy, there are 2 logs in play that could cause some trouble. Hard to
describe the location of the first one, but I'll try. Well below Big Splat, the creek mellows out
for awhile, gets kind of shallow, and splits around some small boulder islands, then suddenly you
get to a decent rapid (not sure if it has a name). The rapid is basically a series of offset holes
(or rocks at lower water), then an almost river-wide hole (about a 3 ft ledge) usually punched on
the right. Just below here the rapid continues over a couple of small ledges and then you get to
the overhead cable that spans the creek. The big tree is lurking in the middle ledge hole and
extending to the right bank. The second tree is blocking the main line on the left side of Second
Island near the end of the run, extending from the left bank. It's gigantic and will likely be
there for awhile. At today's level (7.5) it was easy to find routes around both of these, but they
might surprise you if you aren't paying attention, and as the level drops they may become more
difficult to get around. Decker's creek also has some wood, mostly in the Hairline and just below
on the left, but it looks passable. Heads up this weekend, and have fun. Jay
January 9 2007 (4356 days ago)
Robert FarmerDetails
The directions above don't seem to make any sense to me. Here are some better directions: 1)
Starting at Bruceton Mills, go south on 26 about 5 miles or so (estimate) until you come to Little
Sandy Creek (unmarked). 2) Immediately south of the creek, turn right on Little Sandy Creek Rd,
drive through a small community and past a large-ish church. 3) Follow this road. After a mile or
so, stay right at an unmarked fork near the crest of a hill. 4) Shortly after you crest a very
steep hill, turn right (downhill) on Sovern Run Rd. (unmarked). If you cross the one-lane bridge
over Sovern Run, you've gone too far. Drive down Sovern Run to Rockville (i.e. the put-in bridge,
unmarked). 5) Takeout: Drive up Sovern Run Rd. Turn right at the top. Cross the one-lane bridge. 6)
The road basically comes to a T. Turn left. Continue to the Mt. Nebo Church. 7) At a funky,
four-way intersection at the church, stay right, and go up the hill. Follow this road to the bridge
across the Cheat (Jenkinsburg).
June 4 2006 (4574 days ago)
Robert FarmerDetails
I don't know anyone who calls Big Splat 5.1, at least, not anyone who actually runs it, but maybe
I'm not cool enough to sandbag people. (Streamkeeper note: This is not my rating but it is AW's
rating, see link: for a
list.) I and my friends call it Class 6, at moderate levels and above. Certainly, even at ideal
levels it's no easier than 5+. This includes the upper part.
-Don't confuse running the approach rapid to the (Big Sandy/Wonder) Falls with running the Falls. I
have stood on rocks at the base of the Falls that are only one foot below water level, right in the
middle of the right-side chute. To run that side is to risk a serious piton injury.
-And I enjoy the Sandy down to 4.7.
-Oh, and, probably, portaging Big Splat on the left is a good idea at or above 6.0, due to the eddy
fence on the right, at the must-make eddy. Sneak left well-upstream to increase your longevity.

I noticed that someone rated Undercut Rock Class 2+. This is ridiculous and very dangerous! The
left side is Class 3, while the Undercut Rock itself is Class 5-6!!! The description implies that
the right side might be Class 2+, and that could get someone killed!!!
-And it is too harder than the Upper Yough and the Watauga!

Also, for you hard-core boaters out there, please note that the second ledge in Big Splat is
changing. Where there used to be a flat, smooth slab, much of the slab has broken off and is
tilting perilously. This creates piton spots on the formerly-smooth bench above the U-hole. Note
that the water pushes more to the right, now. This slab is undoubtedly the next Big Splat Rock,
waiting for a big flood to move it farther downstream.
December 28 2004 (5097 days ago)
Charles WalbridgeDetails
You can run the Lower Sandy pretty low. My minimum in a glass boat is 5.3; locals in creek boats go
down to 4.8'Rafter like 5.8 or more.

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