The Official Website of the State of West Virginia

Low-water paddling is as X-stream as it gets


Most extreme sports require extraordinary environmental variables to be labeled as such. Low-water paddling, however, isn’t extreme. Rather, it’s X-stream (get it? because no water means it’s an ex-stream).

Simply put, low-water paddling is the act of paddling a craft down a river currently possessing an abnormally low amount of water. As a river’s flow, often measured as a real-time metric in cubic feet per second (CFS), drops, the substrate—the material constituting the riverbed—becomes closer to the water surface, eventually becoming completely exposed.

Every year in April, we embark on an annual pilgrimage to float the Smoke Hole Canyon—a ruggedly spectacular wonderland where the South Branch Potomac River cuts a deep gorge through Pendleton and Grant counties. Because the South Branch Potomac flows through the rain shadow of the Allegheny Front and to the east of North Fork Mountain—the driest single ridgeline in the entire Appalachian Mountain range—it is a low-flow rio that typically offers a brief window of reliable levels for paddling in early spring.

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