Category Archives: West Virginia

Mule Hole

An underwater canyon. The Shavers Fork of the Cheat River meets a geologic boundary of softer stone where it has undercut the bed rock to such a degree that almost one third of the swimming hole’s total volume is under a stone roof. It’s not at all apparent to an observer unless the water level is extremely low. (Above photo taken with the Bemis gauge at 3 feet.) I visited a couple of times before I figured it out. It seems like you’re standing on a smooth block of rock right at the water’s edge when in fact you’re standing on rim of stone that extends as far as ten feet out over the water.

“You put a mask on and dive down in there and it’s like a cave,” said Rob Mullennex, who’s been visiting Mule Hole for 25 years. “It’s as deep as 13 feet. When the water is lower you can stand up on a ledge behind the fall and count the pebbles in the bottom. That’s how clear the water is.”

It’s a well-loved place that, because of its low relief, is favored for camping. It’s just far enough from the parking area that campers who like luxury need to be industrious about getting their kit and caboodle to the swimming hole. Mullennex and his half dozen friends used a wheelbarrow to transport an estimated 1,200 pounds of gear, food and beverages for their annual campout. An earlier group of college students visiting the Monongahela National Forest reportedly fashioned a dolly to fit the railroad tracks in order to transpor beer kegs just over one mile from Bemis.

High Falls

Fast water meets soft rock with excellent effect here on the Shavers Fork of the Cheat River. It’s four or five times wider than the average width of the river and it has an arc of at least 120 degrees. Very impressive. The cause is likely shale from the New River formation resting under harder sandstone. The river works its way into the softer rock and erodes it faster than the sandstone above — similar to the process at Wonder Fall. With the support of the underlying rock gone, the sandstone collapses.

The fall is eight to ten feet high and the water is deep enough for jumping. There’s virtually no place to sit below the fall on the near side. Just a cobble beach. Plenty of good seating on the opposite shore where the soft rock is so deeply undercut that a roof extends 10 feet over a ledge. Also, when water is low there’s plenty of room to kick back above on the smooth, flat sandstone.

A stair leads down to the river from some train tracks that are maintained for rail excursions. The former Maryland Western and abandoned railroads like it have been taken over by tour operators providing rail junkets throughout the Monongahela National Forest.

Slippy Weasel

A typical boulder hole. Two medium size boulders squeeze Otter Creek together such that it’s about three feet across, but very hydraulic. The pool below is about thirty feet long and half as wide. Depth in the pool was seven to eight feet when the Evenwood gauge was at 47. You’ll find one really good sunning rock opposite the trail and a deeply shaded rock trail side. The sunning rock faces south so you’ll get good rays, but it’s immediately trail side. Not lots of privacy, so better keep your trunks on. Fifty yards above you find a longer, more relaxed pool. It’s got a cascade at the top and lots of rock at the hem. Seating there is lousy.

A little less than one mile up is a ford with a fabulous sand beach. No swimming hole, though. About one hundred yards after the ford start looking left for a descending trail that leads to a nice little fall with a flat bench of land above it.

The trail continues generally south. One mile above is a small, aggressive fall seven to eight feet tall. Very muscular and with lots of rock clutter, but the fan-shaped pool at the bottom may be usable at lower levels. Farther still, at Morris Run, you’ll find a smooth, limestone vastness. Although the main channel is well directed and quite tight, it’s not strong enough to blow out a hole. The deepest it gets is four feet. On the whole, a great place to lie on the rocks and take it easy when you’re visiting the Monongahela National Forest, but that’s all.

Flathead Pool

A good low water, warm weather spot. Typical water temp in this part of the Monongahela National Forest goes from pretty darn cold to really damn cold. The pool is formed by a couple of large boulders in the Otter Creek Wilderness. They pinch Otter Creek together and give the water enough velocity to keep the cobble cleared out. Dimension is roughly 50 feet long, 20 to 30 feet wide and seven feet deep in the middle. The canopy is almost complete with hemlock on the trail side of the creek and beech and maple on the far side that practically grow together over the creek.

Another interesting factor is the wall on the right as you look upstream. A low wall of what’s probably limestone has some really interesting erosion on it, tiny potholes so close together — separated in some places by inches. It looks like the crater pocked surface of the moon.

This hole is barely visible from the trail. You can see a big rock, the corner of which pops up above the level of the trail. The best way to locate the pool is to look for a poplar tree about 20 inches in diameter that has fallen over the trail just high enough for hiker to walk under it.
The gauge at Evenwood was 47 when the above photos were taken.

Dry Fork

It’s the sort of place schoolboys go when they’re skipping class or where good ol’ boys go when they call in sick. You can swim laps on this fork of the Cheat River. It’s a good 75 feet long and 20 feet wide. Out in the middle of the channel the depth is about eight feet. The beach is marginal, an enormous gravel bar on river right containing the crunched up bones of Rich Mountain. It slopes down into the river opposite some low ledges on river left. They contain some decent slabs for sitting on and it looks like you can achieve some simple dives. One spot looks like it’s around eight feet off the water. Lots of open sky and good sun.

It’s a community type swimming hole, mainly just a drive up. It’s not public land, but neither was it posted when I visited. Nevertheless, locals said other owners have closed some swimming holes along the road because they were sick of picking up other people’s trash.

To find it follow the map on the left. Look on the right for a path that leads through a grassy field to the river. Parking is 200 yards farther on in some trees. To check water levels go to our web site for a link to the gauge at Gladwin.

Glady Fork

The Cheat River has more forks than the Queen of England’s silver drawer. The Dry Fork, the Laurel Fork, Shavers Fork, Black Fork…Here is one more, the Glady Fork. Whereas the upper part of the Laurel Fork is wild and remote, the lower part of the Glady Fork is the place to look for solitude, thanks in part to road washouts and trail collapses.

There is a pretty good swimming hole at the first wash. It’s about thirty feet long and six feet deep. There’s a riffle at the top of the pool then the river flares wide and the water slows enough to make this a good spot for moderate levels. The photo above was taken with the gauge at Evenwood measured 68. Velocity was around one foot per second, which is to say manageable for someone who can swim. Check the web site for a link to live gauge levels.

Some hard rock cleaves off nice and flat, making good forms for an afternoon spent listening to water traveling all the way from Pocahontas County at the top of the Monongahela National Forest. Privacy lifts rating from fair to good.

Pringle Run

It’s a big, round hole cored straight into pale yellow rock and dressed with dense, dark green fringe of hemlock and rhododendron. A dandy fall just above the main fork of the Cheat River with 180 degrees of surrounding rock and unbelievable headward erosion that has left it undercut by as much as 10 feet at the lip. That’s almost as deep as the fall is tall. So charmed is this place that even the rock that clutters the pool has the advantage of being nice flat slabs that make for excellent seating. The water color and clarity is superb, but for all the wrong reasons. The starling color is probably due to metals like aluminum that have leached into the stream from the mines above. And part of the rock’s pale yellow tinge is also from the mines.

It’s a really puzzling creek bed at low water, kind of like one of those fun houses where the floor is tilted. Above the fall, water runs 200 linear feet along a creek bed with many, many small tiers less than one foot high. You’d think the water would seek the lowest level. But because the creek bed is tilted a few degrees to the river left, the water sloshes in that direction and exits the fall lip at a point higher than the lowest point of the creek bed.

Visitors are mainly local and the place was generally free of litter when I visited. Several superannuated washing machines and retired refrigerators dumped at the bottom of the road suggest that this might not always be the case.

St. Mary's River

A hiker approaches the fall along a bench of land backed by a crag thirty feet high. Twelve feet above the creek and directly opposite the fall, the ledge ends abruptly, leaving you — a hot, sweaty observer — staring down at a tank of water 10 feet deep. What do you do? That’s a rhetorical question, of course. You jump.

The pool is around twenty feet long and oriented at 90 degrees to the fall face. It’s aesthetically pleasing since the sides are generally solid stone and arranged at straight angles, giving it a rectangular form. Plus the water is exquisite. Cool, clean runoff from the top of the St. Mary’s Wilderness. The deepest water is under the ledge, where it appears that about 25 cubic feet of rock simply disappeared. The pool faces west, so it ought to be good in the afternoon, even though the canopy partially covers the creek. There’s about 150 square feet of seating, which is unlikely to accommodate the number of people you’ll find here on a weekend.

The St. Mary’s Fall Trail begins in the George Washington National Forest on the north bank of the river. You might see one or two blue blazes on the way to the first crossing at 1.1 miles. From the ford continue .2 miles to the junction with St. Mary’s Trail and continue upstream a short distance, then cross back to the north bank. It’s .6 miles and one more ford to reach the fall.

Bullpasture Gorge

A cable bridge stretches from the parking area across Bullpasture Gorge to a sand and gravel beach. There is a low wall on the west at an outside bend in the river and as you might expect, a beach on the inside turn. It’s mainly gravel with mixed hardwoods. One of the trees provides a rope swing. It’s about 10 feet high. Get good clearance on the swing, ‘cause without any impound downstream, the depth is not that great. If you are skeptical about the safety of the swing, there are a couple of low rock launches on the west that stand over deeper water.

The pool is quite open, 70 feet long and 20 feet wide with a riffle below. Hard to think of it as a “gorge,” though. Users have piled rocks downstream to improve the impound. It raises the water level by as much as 18 inches, turning what would be an insignificant spot into a marginally good swimming hole. Just around the corner is another swimming spot with similar dimensions. Easy access. Lots of sun. Lots of kids.

It’s in the Highland Wildlife Management Area. There is some agriculture upstream, but it doesn’t seem to be very intensive. Not like some huge pig barn or a poultry operation that produces tons of waste per week.

Sugar Hollow

Charlottesville’s swimming hole. It’s about and formed by some rock that’s tilted at a low angle across the stream at the top of the hole. The rock ends the water flares into a pool about 20 feet in diameter. The cascade has burrowed out a good sweet spot as much as ten feet deep. I was able to dive off the rock to the left of the fall on the trail side of the hole. Nothing like a jump though. Just a shallow dive.

The biggest liability is lack of seating. There’s only room for about a half dozen people to perch comfortably, and there’s apt to be many more visitors than that on a weekend. Water is very turbid with visibility no more than two feet. That might simply have been due to a recent rain. The South Fork of the Moorman River is within the Shenandoah National Park, hence it’s a well-protected watershed.

In sum, a good swimming hole. If it were a car it would be a two-door sedan, which is to say nothing fancy. Worth a visit when Charlottesville gets too hot.

Cave Falls

A tub so straight and square that Pythagoras would have been the first one to pull off his tunic and dive in. He might bump his Greek forehead on Virginia sandstone. The pool is small, less than less 20 feet long, about eight feet wide at the top and ten feet wide at the bottom where an anvil shaped rock has dropped into the stream, creating the impound. This spot where the Hazel River runs through Shenandoah National Park isn’t that deep, but the pool’s beautiful trapezoidal dimensions make it look like something that could be in a suburban backyard with a barbecue kettle parked next to it.

The pool is well below the fall itself, which is an outstanding setting, but not worth mentioning as a swimming hole. Unfortunately, too many rocks and boulders inhibit the depth. One side of the fall is partially scarred by fire, but there’s some mature beach and hickory with excellent shade. It’s worth the short trip. On the way you pass some pretty good rock faces, 25 and 30 feet tall. They contain the namesake cave, really only a rock fissure about 15 feet deep and five feet wide.

The water is a little bit murky from sediment likely caused by erosion that followed the 2000 wildfire. Much of the hike is through the burn area. Great wildflowers as a result.

Naked Creek

At the lower fall you’ll find a collar of rock about twelve feet high with a cascade about eight feet tall. The pool at the bottom is approximately forty feet wide and about twenty feet long and nine feet at its deepest. Nothing you can jump from. The other deficiency is lack of anyplace to sit. Lots of vegetation like poplar, beech, chinkapin and sycamore. Plenty of wide-open sky with lots of sunshine in the afternoon. You’ll be able to jump in this cool water, get out and dry off in the sun.

Upstream is a taller fall with a smaller pool. An abandoned logging road goes along the rim of a bowl 80 feet wide with the fall and pool below. Pretty impressive view. The fall is a twenty-foot horsetail. Depth is a little better than six feet because of all the stones and cobble.

Getting to the trailhead requires lots of confusing turns. See the map on the left for details. The trailhead isn’t marked, either. Most people walk through a gate, past a “No Trespassing” sign and follow the creek upstream to the fall. You may park just to the right of a white frame house, then take an ATV trail uphill to the left. Climb for 36O vertical feet over .3 miles then bear left and climb another 140 vertical feet to a junction with a logging road that contours east. Soon that road/trail begins a descent toward Naked Creek. As you get down toward the creek the trail crosses another couple of roads. Pick the downhill direction at each junction.

Cedar Run

It’s a steep, narrow hole more than forty feet high on the right side. A long, twisting slot cuts a shallow trough into the rock until the creek reaches a void then leaps over the lip. Water is correspondingly deep at the bottom, but nothing to jump from and not lots of surface area to aim for even if there was. The pool is five feet wide where the fall enters and no more than ten feet wide at the discharge. Plus there is a cleaver shaped rock in the middle. One misplaced dive and it would split you in two.

There’s almost no horizontal component at all. Just a couple of benches and boulders to sit on. It might seat three or four people. The value of this swimming hole is as refuge on the hottest days in the driest season. If Northern Virginia turned into the Gobi Desert, there would still be water in the bottom of this hole. It’s so dark and cool that a vampire could party all day without sunblock.

It takes a good pair of legs to hike the length of the trail. It’s a wicked 2,260 vertical feet to the top at Skyline Drive and this place is about one-third of the way up. This is a popular trail in Shenandoah National Park and you can be certain that lots of people peep over the lip of the fall into the hole, so forget about privacy. But comparatively few will make the trip down into it.

White Oak Canyon

There are six waterfalls between the bottom of White Oak Canyon and Skyline Drive. However only one fall that’s accessible from the main trail is a good swimming hole. The trail follows blue blazes into Shenandoah National Park. A couple of hundred feet after the parking area it forks. You stay right.

After one mile and 250 vertical feet you come to a modest basin. It’s a good scale for kids who just took the training wheels off their bike. The next stop is an impressive couple of falls just above a confluence entering from the right, or about 1.35 miles in. The fall is a horsetail 30 feet high with a pool about 55 feet wide. Depth is lacking due to rock fall and snags. From there the trail climbs steeply toward the swimming hole that I like.

It’s a rocky pool, roughly oval in shape and about 2O feet long. Loads of debris rafted up at the bottom improves the depth. Problem is there’s no place to sit or get comfortable. You could probably swim over to the short cascade that feeds the pool and haul out on some smooth rocks there. Other rocks are very slippery. Definitely wear sandals or water shoes. A walking stick is also an excellent idea.

The Forks of Red Creek

Three features in close succession. The best is the second one. Here’s the rundown: At the top a confluence widens into a basin about seventy feet long. It’s formed mainly by freestone, hence not very deep, but there is a smashing sand beach just up the Left Fork of Red Creek where you can stretch out for a siesta.

The lower swimming hole is the lesser of the three. It’s a scramble getting there and significant intrusion from boulders limits the surface area of the pool. Plus, it doesn’t get much sunlight. It’s probably only good on hot days during a dry spell.

But the middle is a classic. Some very hard rock lines the bed of the creek. It’s interrupted in a few places by slots of softer stone that get worn away and produce deep undercuts in the form of headward erosion. Water pours off in a low plunge across a beautiful sheet twenty feet wide. It’s cut back under the fall lip by four or five feet. Interesting, but not meaningful. What’s important is a similar lip downstream, opposite the fall face. It forces downward rushing water into a hydraulic that digs deeper and deeper into the bottom of the pool. Difficult to explain, but when you see it, you’ll understand.

The water apparently has few nutrients in it, hence no algae. It is however dark red from the tannins vegetation in the Dolly Sods Widerness. The color has the red brick appearance of a very old, very fine wine.

Upper Falls on Red Creek

Unlike the ledge falls below, this is a cascade into a modest, parallel-sided pool about 25 feet long that gets eight feet deep. That empties onto a large slab about the size of a dance floor. Best when water levels on Red Creek are higher. On the eastern side is a nice little stack of rock. The best thing this has going for it is privacy. It doesn’t seem to get lots of people, even though the trail on the western side is pretty apparent. There’s potential rump bumping above the cascade with relatively smooth rock running for 150 to 200 feet. The angle is kind of shallow, though. There’s also a pocket of sand about the size of a double bed.

Perhaps more interesting than the swimming holes is the wildlife, specifically the number of deer in the Monongahela National Forest and its surroundings. In the evening it’s not unusual to see 40 or 50 deer grazing on a hillside.

They’re not plentiful, but since they’re in the wilderness they’re not hunted and as such are very passive.

One man from Elkins said that during a boyhood trip into the Dolly Sods Wilderness she carried a wooden hiking stick. Each time he got close enough to a deer to throw it and hit the deer, he carved a notch in the handle. At the end of five days he had seven notches in his stick.

Lower Fall on Red Creek

A couple of spots in the Dolly Sods Wilderness formed in finely bedded, brittle stone. The rock is aligned on the same plane as the water flow on Red Creek, so it’s smooth rather than badly fractured as you might expect from such stone. At the lower fall, water comes off the lip in a couple of broad scallops. The pool below is modest, about 10 feet long and not quite as wide. Not much size, but pretty and lots of sun with close to 1,000 square feet of slabs relax on. If you have a Teflon tailbone you might test it for water slide suitability, but it looked marginal for that use.

Upstream is a slightly higher fall, a little more rambunctious and more blocky. It’s not as pretty, doesn’t have the aesthetics of the downstream fall, however the pool is far bigger and much deeper. This, because there is a hole at the bottom of the fall that catches all the rock and leaves the swimming hole unobstructed and deep. Not nearly as much sky as its downstream cousin, plus it’s east facing so it gets cool in the afternoon.

Stern Warning: Do not plan overnight trips in this part of the Monongahela National Forest. You’re not supposed to camp so close to water, for starters. In addition heavy visitorship and campfires have damaged the area. It’s bad enough that people unconcerned about the environment are spoiling watersheds; it’s worse when people who should care are doing the same thing.

Cave Hole

A family spot about 150 feet long. The best part is where the North Fork South Branch Potomac River bumps up against some of the bedrock and makes a deep hole. The rest of the water stretches more than 100 feet downstream in a placid basin. There’s a large gravel beach deeply shaded with sycamore and several rock perches on the other side of the river at the bottom of the crag. The namesake cave is bored into the rock over there. Difficult to find, but fun to look for.

Above is Seneca Rocks, one of the most recognizable features in West Virginia. It’s a formation of very hard Tuscarora sandstone that was uplifted and eroded over 400 million years until it looks like a pale dorsal fin rising 900 feet above the North Fork South Branch Potomac River. It appears incongruous among the moderately sloped, mixed forests of eastern West Virginia, but several similar formations dot the landscape, they’re little known and less visited because they’re on private land.

Seneca Rocks has been a Mecca for eastern rock climbers for decades. The Monongahela National Forest recently built a plush visitor’s center to accommodate sightseers. There’s so much parking around it, so many signs that say Seneca Rocks, that the swimming hole a little difficult to find.

Beechy Run

A modest feature in the Monongahela National Forest, but it gains points for being wilderness. Water is so clear that you can count the whiskers on a crayfish walking across the bottom of the creek. It’s a low fall across a ledge 30 feet wide. A couple of large rocks offset from one another form a constriction that makes water flow fast enough to prevent the pool from filling entirely with sand and cobble.

At about 20 feet across, the pool is big enough for a couple of strokes, but that’s not its best use, according to Tom Easton, a DC area carpenter and back pain sufferer.

He said that walking up the trail to Big Beechy helped relieve pain and release some fluid from two discs that he herniated on the job.

But if the Cranberry Wilderness seems a long way to go for occupational therapy, listen to this:
“In January and February the level is really up,” Easton says. “There’s a special seat off to the left as you look at the falls. Sitting in the fall with the cold water pounding on my back really reduces swelling.”

He says that after a couple of treatments, he felt so much better that he fed his Vicodin and Flexeril to the chipmunks…not really, but I can report that the ground squirrels at the campsite adjoining the fall did seem unusually relaxed in his company.


If you don’t think you can convince your kids to hike four miles into a wilderness spot in the Monongahela National Forest, you don’t want to carry him and you don’t mind crowds, then welcome to the Woodbine picnic area. The Cranberry River has a bedrock bottom here and long, low limestone ledges that produce a good channel of water that’s highly accessible. A rock outcrop below and a collection of about one-half dozen boulders slow the water and make it deep enough for a rope swing.

Locals advise that if you try to swing straight out perpendicular to the river, you’ll be out over a blind ledge when you let go. Rather, wrap the rope over the tree from the downstream side of the river. That makes the rope swing in an arc instead of a pendulum and puts you out into deeper water. This info courtesy of Nicole Anderson of Richwood. That’s her older sister Miranda pictured above demonstrating more technique on water entry.

Swing Hole

A couple of swimming holes, one better during higher levels, the other during lower water. Early in the season when water is higher, go a little over 400 yards upstream from Camp Splinter to the remnants of a cable crossing. The Cranberry River is a little deeper here due to some upstream boulders that apparently catch a lot of free stone that might otherwise occlude the bottom. Some people call it Swing Hole. However, the concrete footing and the steel poles that formed the anchors for the bridge are badly bent and barely high enough for a rope swing.

During low water conditions in the Monongahela National Forest, head downstream from Camp Splinter to a point about 50 yards below the portion of the river that’s marked as catch and release. There’s a basin about 30 feet long and when the sun hits the pale bottom just right, the color is beautiful. You’ll likely have a couple of small, steep sand beaches to sit on. The sweet spot is about 12 feet by eight feet and it’s overhead deep. Visit during higher water levels and it will of course be deeper, but there’s not going to be anyplace to sit.

Bubbie Hole

A magnificently large rock the size of a small home splits the Meadow River and forces a bend in it. On the near side the river has banked up a pile of sand that’s probably 15 feet deep. It slopes smack into the fat part of the pool and at such an angle that you can sprint downhill, kicking up sand as you pull off your shirt, fling it behind you and dive into the water. There is an equally good, perhaps better, pool on the other side of the rock. It’s got a rope swing, but doesn’t have any seating.

The rock island is 15 feet high at its tallest, that’s at the upstream edge. It’s only six to eight feet on the near side, however the lack of depth of the water between this rock and the beach may make jumping a little risky at lower levels like those pictured above.

The hole clearly gets use from foot traffic and perhaps ATVs. Not a scrap of litter though. Could mean people are exceptional citizens or that volunteers cleaned up right before I visited and that there are normally many beer cans and bait containers.


Just a big, big slackwater pool. A limestone ledge on the opposite side sort of mirrors the shape of the sand bar, more of which later. It’s a very flat swimming hole. Nothing you can jump from. The best use is probably bobbing up and down with your beverage of choice. ‘Nother great sand beach — 300 feet curving around the Meadow River. Trees are evenly spaced and that helps for shade and probably contributes to the deposition of sand. All this sand might be due in part to the strip mining that was carried on above. At any rate, the mines were closed long ago.

Moderate visitation and, thankfully, conspicuously clean when I reviewed it. Even unopened canned goods left behind from an earlier campout had been neatly stacked on a vinyl covered bench. If youre lucky to experience it by yourself as I did, it’s a treasure.

Start looking for this hole about 20 minutes into the hike. The tip off is a corrugated steel shelter big enough for a couple automobiles. The hole is right beyond that.

Deegan's Station

A champion. Big enough to float a battleship and deep throughout. It’s 180 feet on the major axis and 80 feet across. It happens where the river travels east to west through a rapid, then runs up on a highly eroded slab tilted against the Meadow River at a 35-degree angle. From there the river turns northeast and immediately flares into the main hole. Downstream towards the bottom of the hole is a nice sloping rock that you can sit on while dangling your feet in the water. Easy to jump off the nose of it. Bring sandals with sticky rubber because the steep angle makes the rocks difficult to remount for subsequent jumps.

Back at the top, there is a rope swing on the near side. You have to get some good clearance to make it into the sweet spot, but there is no really good launch. There is one spot to leap off, but there are substantial rocks in front. You best be able to tuck your knees up under your chin, or you’re apt to have your toenails torn off.

Shade and seating: the top part of the hole is shaded with mixed forest, especially hemlock. The sand bar has lots of growth that detracts from seating. Best makes it over to the slab at the top of the hole. It has a king-size declivity that makes a perfect three-person lounge chair. Faces west, also. Killer afternoon spot if you’re visiting the Gauley River National Recreation Area.


The pools occur at the bottom of a rock garden. On the near side is a nice glob of rock that stands at the top of a great big hole. The rock is about six feet above the water and with plenty of room for a small group. Be forewarned that the Lower Meadow River is perhaps the most dangerous stretch of whitewater in the state. When it’s pumping you can hear the deep grating sound of huge boulders being shoved downstream. Undercuts produce so many powerful holes that one paddler says, “you might be looking back at one of your buddies, then turn around seconds later and he’s gone. Just disappeared underwater.”

Of course those are not swimming conditions. Guides say that optimal paddling on the Lower Meadow is about 750 cfs. Locals say swimming shouldn’t be considered at anything above 400 cfs. In my opinion it’s even lower. Wait until the Mt. Lookout gauge is below 300 cfs or approximately 4.4 feet. Alternately, you can judge safety the low-tech way.

Break a branch off a tree and toss it into the hole. If it washes out the bottom before you can get your clothes oft, you should think twice about getting in.

Bonus Feature: If you’re on a bike and want some more exercise, pedal to the confluence with the Gauley River. There’s a huge sand beach. But it’s a party spot for ATVs.. Not worth a stay, but perhaps a visit. On the way there you pass through a long tunnel. At one point it’s entirely dark, you can’t see the light on either end. Spooky.

Coming Home

A true day-long swimming hole. It has a mondo sunning rock big enough for you and all your friends. Nice and flat on a slackwater pool on the Meadow River with low-angle dives in all directions. You have to swim to get there, but over on the eastern side you get the good afternoon sunshine. If you arrive earlier in the day, you can get sun at a small sand pocket on the near side. No high vertical. Settlement higher on the river means that the water quality is only good.

It can be difficult to find. When you get to the rail grade there is a berm that separates the trail from the creek. Shortly after the berm flattens out, start looking for a barely discernible trail descending to the river. There might be a rock about the size of a boombox stacked on top of another rock to mark the trail.

Suitable for mountain bikes, also. There are a couple of steep bends on the descending road that amount to a fun few hundred yards of advanced mountain bike trail. After that you’re in the Gauley River National Recreation Area on a rail grade which is smooth and flat enough to play marbles.

Pictures were taken at very low water, 3.45 feet on the Mt. Lookout gauge or just over 100 cfs.


Another high adventure spot on Summersville Lake in the Gauley River National Recreation Area. ‘The Whip” is a sheer, west-facing wall that rises about 80 feet off the lake level. It’s a popular climbing spot, due in part to the setting and also because the rock is mainly sheer. It’s got great adhesion for climbing since the rock is so fresh, only recently exposed when a chunk cracked loose leaving an impressive roof at about 60 feet off the water. Anchors at the top mean you can lower to a ledge about 40 feet off the surface.

Alicia Landis, a climbing goddess, has a tiny scar on her chin that she earned at The Whip just after uttering what are statistically the four most dangerous words in the English language, “Hey guys, watch this.” “If you’re climbing and want to turn it into a dive, get a good push off,” she says fingering the knick in her mandible.

The nice thing about The Whip is that you don’t need to use a boat to get there and, unlike most other places on the lake, it’s not so convenient for motorized watercraft to visit. So there is some peace. Open sky to the west and south means that it gets toasty warm. There is a place about the form of a king-sized bed six feet above the anchor. Not a lot of comfortable shade, though. All the cover is low and brushy.

Long Point

Sick and twisted cliff jumping. Depending on the level at Summersville Lake, the ride can be as much as 100 vertical feet into water deep enough to stop a load of bricks. One regular said that she wears a ski vest to soften the impact and to keep her afloat if she gets knocked out.

The only practical access is from the water and you need to have solid climbing skills. Consider that you’ll have to climb with wet tips and toes, plus you have to be a stud to make the overhanging comer to the best release spots. Robert Thomas (pictured top, left) qualifies.

“The overhanging corner is the best release spot,” he says. “If you lose it, you won’t have to push off at the last second. Once you’re on that corner you can climb ‘til you start getting shaky and then just let go.”

There doesn’t appear to be a nontechnical way to the top from water level. Rather, you have to drive to the airport, park and hike into the Gauley River National Recreation Area for about two miles to the point, then have a boat waiting to pick you up after you jump. I didn’t see any bolts at the top that’d allow you to run a rope down to water level. Any natural anchors were several yards back from the vertical face. If you’re still tempted to go from the top, be advised this can be a fatal plunge.

Knapp Creek

A couple of easy access spots on a tributary to the Greenbrier River. Very local. Generations of Pocahantas County residents have come here to refresh themselves. The better pool is called Elick. Here you’ll find a couple of medium sized boulders opposite one another. The one on the far side is about six feet off the water. Historically it had a diving board bolted on top via a set of automobile leaf springs.

Together with a low band of adjoining stone, the rock forces a bend in the river that’s probably 45 feet long and 15 feet across. Litter hardly seemed a problem and given the proximity to the road. That suggests somebody picks it up regularly.

Five miles downstream is another place called Kramer. It’s got a riffle at the top and a riffle at the bottom. In between is at least 100 feet of water that in places is chin deep on the average NBA player. None of the stream morphology indicates there would be anything of interest here. It occurs at a flat place in the river with an undistinguished bank, just mud and rocks. Water quality is fair; some foam on the top and turbidity limits visibility to around four feet. That’ll vary with temperature, season and even weather. Litter at the trailhead includes chewing tobacco pouches and fishing lures.

Gunpowder Bend

This part of Anthony Creek is lined with cobble and boulders. The result is not a bodacious swimming hole. There’s no waterfall, no pool with sinuous lines, nothing to jump from. It is a place far enough from the trailhead to filter out most bozos. A place with a good mix of sun and shade, a pool deep enough that you have to tread water, some good spots to camp and a picnic table. If Gunpowder Bend were food, it would be a burger with fries. Which is to say simple and satisfying.

From Blue Hole, ford to the east bank, walk 200 yards or so to a trail fork. Trail 615 goes to the right, you stay left on Trail 618. It takes you parallel to the creek, but high enough that you will be out of sight, and almost beyond hearing of the water. After 500 yards you reach another fork with an unused road to the right and a trail descending left. Descend, crossing a small stream and continue to creek level.

Note that 200 yards upstream from the highway saddle is a long slow pool. It’s worth mentioning, but not quite worth a separate review. It’s best located by finding a huge hemlock more than 36 inches in diameter. Another 400 yards after that the creek becomes accessible from the road.

Blue Hole on Anthony Creek

With its Parkhead member and Foreknob formation, conglomeratic interbeds never looked so sexy. We are of course talking about a geologic formation, one of the upper Devonian era, that butts up against some earlier rocks to produce a couple of swimming holes on Anthony Creek. These different geologic structures along the Allegheny Front influence Anthony Creek even more than most watersheds in the eastern part of the state.

In this case, a knife-edge ridge of gray sandstone from the Mississipian era forces Anthony Creek into a hard turn and over a finger of softer Hampshire formation about .75 miles upstream. (See following page) Near Blue Hole, the creek reaches the southern extent of a narrow, north-south expression of this Hampshire formation that starts way up in the Dolly Sods Wilderness. The creek rounds the end of the ridge and bounces off the north flank of Greenbrier Mountain shortly before entering the river of the same name.

The swimming hole is a slow, lazy channel 150 feet long and, depending on water level, 15 to 25 feet wide. There’s no impound at the bottom, so depth won’t be great. There is a small outcrop of bedrock across from a sand, mud and gravel beach. Water quality is cloudy.

The place is fairly well known and at about .75 miles from the parking area, it’s not beyond beer cooler distance.

Anvil Rock

Roadside cliff diving. Anvil Rock is a big hunk of limestone about the size of one of those double box cars rolling down the rail line on the opposite shore of the Greenbrier River. It’s taller — as high 19 feet and it’s pointed into the deep, main channel of the river. Most natives of Alderson, a picturesque railroad town downstream, can remember the first time they jumped off of the rock.

“The first time I went I must have been 12,” said Jack Still, a municipal judge. “The first of May every year, we’d skip school and go swimming. We didn’t give a damn if there was snow on the ground, we went. And no swimming suits were involved.”

Time has passed. State Route 63 is paved and Jack Still is old enough that he’s retired from not one, but two careers. Attitudes about skinny dipping have changed also. Asked about contemporary standards, the city judge pauses and says, “All I ask is that if people are going to skinny dip that they do it outside the city limits.”

Anvil Rock a regular party spot. It was clean when I visited, only one case of empties sitting on the shoulder. Water quality is marginal as you might expect on the main stem of a major river. There’s just a whole lot of everything upstream.

Wonder Fall

A magnificent cauldron close 70 feet across and twice as long. It’s by the grace of the Pottsville group, sandstone mixed with thin beds of shale. When the Big Sandy Creek broke through the sandstone into the softer shale below, it eroded the underlying rock, which in turn caused the sandstone to collapse. In the not-too-distant geologic past sandstone ledges may have surrounded this hole by as much as 270 degrees. It must have been absolutely gorgeous. Now it’s simply gorgeous.

The fall is around 18 feet high and a popular drop for paddlers in winter. During lower summer flows it’s suitable for swimming. The above photo was taken at 3.8 feet on the Rockville gauge just upstream. Depth in the hole was hard to judge because water was dark and a little cloudy. Entry and exit is a problem. On the river right you need to do some climbing to get from the trail down to the water below the falls. Long legs are helpful. Better yet, hope that a ladder is placed to the left of the fall as it sometimes is.

No lounging below the fall, but huge amounts of solid, flat creek bed stretch 400 yards up from the fall. It’s almost flat enough to drive upstream…and there are plenty who would like to. ATVs have hogged out the trail to such an extent that it was a muddy mucking fess when I visited during relative drought. Much of the area surrounding the fall is degraded and that the rating of an otherwise classic swimming hole.

Blue Hole

It’s law in West Virginia. A student at UWV in Morgantown may not earn a degree without spending at least one afternoon at Blue Hole. This portion of Big Sandy Creek has what must be the second best naturally occurring sand beach West Virginia. It’s 800 square feet that slopes down into a big streak of deep water running right down the middle of a fat, fat hole. You could land a float plane in it.
It all happens where the creek hits a hunk of solid rock and doglegs to the right. The result is a hole about 80 yards long with a steep crescent-shaped beach on the inside turn. The rock faces generally east and measures about 100 feet long. It steps down in ledges to submerged shelves for about 35 linear feet to a dropoff. The middle portion is the jumping rock and is about 15 feet high. Most of the rest of the rock face suffers from submerged ledges that inhibit jumping unless you have bungees for quadriceps and can get the 20 feet of clearance required.

The swimming hole was clean when I saw it. Minor graffiti, but no trash. That’s not always the case. The spur trail is plenty steep, but at about 50 yards, not nearly long enough to discourage the bozos and yahoos who, drink cheap beer and litter. Apart from the map on the opposite page, about the best way to find Blue Hole is to look for empties, mainly trash brands. If you find a case of Busch Lite empties, you’re there.

Meadow Run

About 90 minutes southeast of Pittsburgh, Meadow Run is among the top five waterslides east of the Mississippi River. Depending on water level you can ride 100 feet and more. Just before its confluence with the Youghiogheny River at the town of Ohiopyle, Meadow Run carries visitors through a corkscrew flume of rock before delivering them – grinning broadly – into a modest pool below. Pamela Hall, an Ohiopyle native, says that during high water you can do the entire length of the slide.

“We spent hours there during the summer. We wore out more shorts; we’d have to take two pairs. And when we got home our mother used to bless us for ruining another pair.” Hall recommends cutoffs. No bathing suits, no Speedos.

The Youghiogheny below Ohiopyle is one of the most popular white water destinations in the Northeast. When you get tired of the slide you can watch the paddlers or explore the river by foot, or bike along a converted railroad right of way.

Note: You will immediately identify yourself as an outsider if you try to pronounce the entire name of the Youghiogheny River. Paddlers and locals simply call it “The Yawk.”