Kanawha River (Kanawha Falls)
|Stretch:||Kanawha Falls in Glen Ferris|
|Difficulty:||Class IV to IV+ (various lines and different flows)|
|Flows:||2,000 to 1?,000 cfs. Current AW gauge|
|Put-in/Take-out:||Kanawha Falls Public Fishing Area|
|Season:||Year round… (regularly too high in rainy Winter season, and spikes too high after significant rain). Historical trends|
|Featured in Video Boof and Destroy Episode #9 and Kanawha Falls Fest 2017|
First thing first, it is pronounced Ka-nah. It is derived from the Iroquoian dialect and means “water-way” or “canoe-way.”
Up until a few years ago this set of falls was illegal to run. Either that or it was a misunderstanding. Regardless, for the past few years, it has been perfectly legal, as long as you put in below the falls, and walk up to the top of the drops using the plentiful islands, rather than run the man-made initial drop. The latter is still illegal. But it is also a low head feature so why would you want to run it anyways.
Anyways, the day we got to run it was a Gauley trip that we extended due to Diane having the Thursday and Friday leading up to the weekend off. So, we drove up Wednesday night and camped at Arrowhead Bike Farm and Campground. We biked on the Arrowhead trails which leave camp, which are a pleasant enough urban built trails similar to the South Loop in Knoxville. After biking our second day, Friday, we headed down to the falls for an afternoon session.
Since it was just Diane and I, and we had our Antixes for the Gauley laps that were planned on Saturday, we felt a little reluctant to go to the left channel for those lines. They are completely out of sight from that shore as they are tucked back and around a corner. Instead, we decided to just lap the far right drop and the center falls, which both can be seen from shore. That way, one of us could stay with Aster while they other ran drops solo.
In the future, I would like a little more water, it was 3,000 cfs our day which was for sure low and scrappy on the two drops we ran. 4,000 cfs would have been a good, low-stress flow I think. I imagine as the flow gets up close to 10,000 some of the holes become powerful and it is a more legit experience. As it was, it was a great way to add to a Gauley weekend and worth adding to the mix with the New if you are in the area! Also, if you have a free hour, hike the Endless Wall Trail just on the northside of the New River Gorge bridge. A really nice extra thing to do.
Note: We didn’t get to run these all, and there may be more. These are just the ones I have seen regularly. Also, I have seen write-ups that call it IV to V. Maybe some of the holes are class V at high flow, but, it is essentially pool to pool with no commitment and easy to set safety, so I just can’t give it the class V rating. Do note, the walls below several of the falls are undercut and the boils can push you towards them if you aren’t online or in your boat below.
- Power House / Far Right (IV to IV+). This far right line is a slide to an eight food drop. Avoid being far right at the bottom as the flow drops off against the man made wall. It is a straight forward line at low flows with a benign hole at the bottom. Walk up river left of the drop.
Cave / Center Falls (IV to IV+). Some call this the main line. It is a right swoop to a 12 foot or so drop. You want to exit the landing on the left as the right flows into a cave/sieve sort of feature. Walk up river right of the drop.
Shoulder / Left Channel #1 (IV to IV+). A sweet looking shoulder boof is run through a pothole-esque feature. Just make sure to clear out and mind the left wall which you land next to. I am not sure where to get out and walk up for this one.
Shelf / Left Channel #2 (IV). Looks to be the easiest line down the falls. A slab of rock creates a uniform ledge to slide off of and boof into the pool below. I think it may not go at low water. Not sure.
Hole / Left Channel #3 (IV to IV+). Looks to be a smaller vertical, but more complex rapid drop. I have seen some folks start center and boof the ledge into the drop before making a 90 degree turn and running down through the hole/boof at the bottom. I think you can also enter from the left side of the channel
Put-in / Take-out: Just south of the town of Glen Ferris on WV-60 is the Kanawha Falls Public Fishing Area. This is the pool below the falls. Access the river here, paddle across the pull and walk up to the top of the falls via the islands. Do not run the man made part of the falls which forms the initial few feet of elevation drop immediately upstream of the falls.
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