Hold on — the rapids come quick and fast on sections of the river deep within the Cheat Canyon. This whitewater adventure features Class III, IV, and V rapids on the spectacularly beautiful Cheat River near Morgantown, W.Va.
“It’s the forgotten river,” said Wendy Hart, owner of Cheat River Outfitters. Unlike the Youghiogheny River in Pennsylvania and Maryland and the famous New and Gauley rivers in West Virginia, the Cheat offers a respite from the crowds. The canyon trip runs from springtime through mid-June, when water levels are the highest. The 13-mile-long excursion also is operated whenever there has been abundant rainfall.
Bordered by sheer cliffs in the narrow gorge, the torrents of whitewater through rapids such as Fossil Falls and Big Nasty — where rafts kick into the air like bucking broncos — challenge adrenaline junkies. The spring thaw also creates beautiful waterfalls cascading down rock walls on each side of the canyon.
The trip is open to anyone 14 and older. No experience is necessary, thanks to the expert guides at Cheat River Outfitters. Each raft holds six to 10 people and includes a guide to insure maximum safety, as well as maximum fun. The full-day outing (which takes six to seven hours) includes a stop for a picnic lunch and a break in the action.
For those seeking a little less of a wild ride, the outfitter offers the Cheat Narrows excursion on a more gentle section of a river; “gentle” being a relative term. This half-day river run includes Class II and II rapids. Ideal for families, the “Narrows” cut though the verdant tree-lined canyon with giant boulders strewn along the river and banks.
In the spring, the higher water levels are best suited for families with children 10 and older. In addition to negotiating the currents through rapids such as Calamity and Rocking Horse, there’s a chance to fully submerse oneself into the river at the aptly named “Jump Rock” on days when the river is deep enough.
“The Cheat is unique, in that it’s a natural flow river,” said Hart. Therefore, in the summer, the water flow generally lightens up, allowing for kids as young as 7 to take part in the trip through this natural wonder. Water lovers also can rent individual whitewater rafts called “duckies” during the summer months to challenge the frothy flows one on one.
Calmer waters, too
The Cheat, however, isn’t only about whitewater fun. The Cheat River Water Trail (cheatriverwatertrail.org) showcases miles and miles of calm, flat water on the Upper Cheat for an easy day of canoeing or kayaking. Several boat launches allow paddlers to plan a variety of possible journeys as the river passes though and adjacent to the Monongahela National Forest.
For those who do not own a boat, Blackwater Outdoor Adventures rents canoes for self-guided trips of 4, 8, or 11 miles. Flat-water kayaks also may be rented. Shuttle service is provided for both canoe and kayak outings.
The backdrop of the national forest provides ample opportunities for seeing eagles, hawks, songbirds, and a variety of wildlife. And, Blackwater Outdoor Adventures now rents standup paddleboards as another way to enjoy the serene scenery. Work that core paddling upriver and close to the shoreline under the canopy of the trees. The standup paddleboards are only rented for out-and-return trips.
You can simply laze on the river, too. Chill out on a hot summer day with a two-hour tubing trip. Simply relax and float, and maybe enjoy a beer. Tubes for carrying coolers are, of course, available to rent as well.
Insider tip: There’s still more water fun to enjoy. The Cheat isn’t only a river — it’s a lake. Cheat Lake Park includes waterside hiking trails, a fishing platform, and a sandy beach where swimming is permitted.
The Cheat really does have it all.
Before you go
Morgantown Tourism: tourmorgantown.com