Big Sandy - Whitewater Paddling

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Whitewater paddlers will find tons of thrills running world-class rapids on Big Sandy in Morgantown.

Written by

Nancy Dunham


9.0 miles

There are 3 different sections to Big Sandy. Upper Big Sandy is 2.1 miles, Lower Big Sandy is 5.3 miles, and Little Sandy is 1.5 miles. You can run any of these, but remember each has its own personality.

Destination Distance From Downtown

125.6 miles


5 of 5 diamonds

Big Sandy in Morgantown is one of the most challenging whitewater spots in the United States.

Time To Complete

4 hours

If you aren’t comfortable in Class IV and V rapids, you’ll want to take a guided trip. Either way, plan for about a half-day on the river.


Spring, Summer, and Fall

The best time to go is summer when the water is warmer.

Fees Permits




West Virginia whitewater rafting fans always talk about Big Sandy, leading you to believe it's just 1 waterway, but Big Sandy is actually 3 distinct waterways with very different personalities. There's Big Sandy, sometimes called Upper Big Sandy, which runs for about 2.1 miles and has Class III and IV rapids; Lower Big Sandy is about 5.3 miles and has Class IV and V rapids; and Little Big Sandy is 1.5 miles. Little Big Sandy is fairly flat but has some big ledges that can be very challenging. Plus it's in a very remote area, so be careful and be sure you know what you are doing.

What Makes It Great

All of the Sandys are great for different reasons, but Lower Big Sandy is the one to get on if you are looking for an exciting run. Even though it has Class IV and V rapids, beginner to intermediate rafters can enjoy it with a guide. Many Lower Big Sandy first-timers think that the flatwater at the beginning of the trip means a fairly easy ride, so you may have to remind them to hold on, because the water gets fast and wild quickly. It may be helpful for more novice boaters to sit in the middle, because you will hit rocks and go over ledges—it definitely helps to have an experienced guide to navigate your raft around the obstacles.

Yes, it's possible to navigate the river solo in a kayak, but only for the most experienced boaters, and it’s not just because of the strong rapids. There are rocks along the way that can prove troublesome, and boaters might get stuck on some of the ledges. The trip can be tiring, both mentally and physically, if you aren’t used to such outdoor adventures.

Who is Going to Love It

Experienced rafters, athletes, and paddlers that love water are going to thoroughly enjoy any of the Sandys. Most outfitters caution that kids younger than 10 years old should not go on Lower Big Sandy, and it's easy to understand why. The area can be tricky, and it may take strength and skill to navigate.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

Take I-68 East to the Coopers Rock exit. Turn left off the exit and go 3.3 miles to the bottom of the hill to CR 73/5 (Laurel Run Road). Turn right, and at .6 miles, you will come to an intersection where you will turn left onto Gravel Road. It’s about 3 miles to the creek.

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Morgantown, WV,
39.6336, -79.9506

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