Laurel Creek (Elk River tributary) - 2. Erbacon to Centralia

Laurel Creek (Elk River tributary), West Virginia, US


2. Erbacon to Centralia

Usual Difficulty III-IV+ (for normal flows)
Length 9.4 Miles
Avg. Gradient 55 fpm

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-03194700 6.00 - 8.00 ft III-IV+ 00h35m 4.36 ft (too low)

River Description

If it rains hard in the Gauley/Elk watersheds, this beauty is well worth checking out. It is a delightful mix of challenging Class IV and easier drops, such as a series of fun low angle slides near the end. The scenery is stunning. Although remote, there is a rail grade on river right for emergency exit. Don't be discouraged by the writeup in the Canoeing & Kayaking WVA guidebook. It has incomplete and inaccurate information about access at both ends of the run, making it sound harder to access than it really is. Still, the run is long and even with the shortcuts described here you can count on a full day of boating. The directions below, while accurate in 2004, might change because of the shifting nature of mining roads in the area. Bring good maps and, frankly, a GPS with a map overlay is a good idea here.


The putin is located north of Erbacon (Err-Bacun) on CR 3/2, a right turn off Laurel Creek Road before crossing Laurel Creek at Erbacon. Turn left at a 3-way to stay near the creek. A good putin is at a small road pullout where the road closely follows the creek. The creek is flat here, so it's hard to judge the level. To see if the creek is running: Beyond this pullout is a left turn onto a small dirt road that runs along the creek. Drive down the dirt road a bit to a washed out ford at a smaller tributary and hike through the woods to look at the first slide rapid. If it is boatable, the rest of the creek will be.

The takeout is located where Laurel Creek runs into Sutton Lake. The guidebook mentions a campground involving 2 miles of lake paddling, but you can easily takeout river left by using a fishing access lot river left and just off Bakers Run Road and close to the Bakers Run/Centralia road intersection. You could also takeout right at the bridge, though the carry is steep and brushy. The fishing access is a small lot just off Bakers Run Rd. There is a trail that leads to the lakeshore. Hike down so you know what the takeout looks like.

To get from the putin to the takeout, you can follow the directions in the WVA book (45 minutes one way). Or, you can try this shortcut: Get back to Erbacon from the putin and head north on Laurel Creek Rd., which climbs steeply and turns to gravel. At a sharp bend in the road, take a small side road on the right that wasn't marked in 2004 but has a stop sign for traffic coming onto Laurel Creek Rd. Stay on the main road, ignoring side roads and veers that seem related to mining in the area. Eventually you will come to Centralia Road. Turn right and head for the lake (25 minutes).


The first rapid is a slide. Down the middle is easiest but might be scrapy. There is a slot move on the right guarded by a hole and undercut shelf. The next rapid is a bouldery, blind slide we ran on the right. After a couple more drops, you'll come to what the book calls Headache. This IV+ is the hardest rapid on the run. The entry is a slide with current pushing left to right. The easier line is to work left against the current and thread a slot on the left. Running down the right involves negotiation among sticky holes and between undercuts. Below here the river alternates between good III-IV action and easier stretches. There are several nice blind drops. At and below a low water bridge there is a series of long low-angle slides where the river runs fast over the bedrock. As with most small streams, be on the lookout for wood, but we only had a couple portages on our run. The gradient listed above is misleading. There are several steeper sections of the run, offset by some short flat stretches early on and a longer one near the end

Enjoy, Mark Anderson
StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2006-04-25 10:40:17

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

Users can submit comments.
April 25 2011 (2787 days ago)
Robert FarmerDetails
I just want to emphasize that the low-water bridge should be portaged. The tubes that the water
passes through are very small and poorly-placed for aspirant boaters. There are no eddies close to
the bridge, so try to eddy out rather far upstream, pretty much as soon as you see it.
January 16 2007 (4347 days ago)
Robert FarmerDetails
I ran this January, 2007. This is a very enjoyable run. I put in at the Post Office, but there were
two logs that I needed to squeeze under, so putting in farther downstream might be better, although
I felt better safety-wise with my car at the Post Office. The first two ledges are somewhat blind,
but I ran them successfully on the right. After a while, you get a feel for the slides and ledges.
There are rarely any obstructions at the bottoms of these ledges, but sticking to the main current
is best. Usually a small change of direction will be adequate to avoid any surprises. There were
two islands that had logs on the left; staying to the right at islands will help to avoid logs.
There was one cross-stream log that I was not clever enough to avoid--but it did give me a good
chiropractic adjustment when I slammed into it going pretty fast; I didn't even flip, although I
had to chase my paddle. Most of the creek is Class 3---which is kind of unusual---but there are two
places that most certainly are not. There is a Class 5-ish tree-and-log-jam against a cliff on the
right in a steep, narrow section. Best to portage left, although this may not be easy. Also, toward
the end of the run, after a long, moderate section, including the aforementioned midstream log,
there is a large, 90-degree left turn at a large, dark corner where the creek suddenly starts
dropping faster. Around the corner is a narrow slot of about 12 feet that could easily jam with
logs. Best to anticipate and scout. I took out at the campground, near the entrance station, after
about a half-mile paddle in fast water with nice waves on the Elk, which seemed to be the best
alternative, by far, and quite enjoyable. I shuttled using my bike via Camp Creek Road on river
right (logistically simple), which goes up to Amos Run upstream of Erbacon. It was 14.5 miles to
Erbacon, and should take the average kayaker about a half-hour in a vehicle, depending on how fast
you want to drive on dirt; I drove very slowly because my shocks were shot. Oh, and about 3/4 or so
through the run, there is a low-water bridge. At low water, it's obvious; at higher levels, maybe

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

Or, consider donating