Underrated rivers

I realize the title is probably going to be subjective.

What are some of the most underrated rivers/lakes? They could be underrated because there are more popular rivers/lakes nearby, or might be difficult to access.

An underrated river for me, is the Bourbeuse River in MO. It is an Ozark river, but doesn’t have nearly the amount of people flocking to it.


I think this one is underrated, maybe even unrated. Lots of flora and fauna. Secluded. Current is manageable for upstream paddling yet challenging in places. I can tell you that it’s a creek in Michigan but beyond that I’m sworn to secrecy.

1 Like

Great topic for discussion as we sit here in isolation.
I would offer up the Sacramento River the largest in California. It has lots of islands and public lands to camp on. There is a king salmon run. The flow runs all year. From Redding south there are about 150 river miles of paddling or more.

The Edisto is far from unknown but I seldom see very many people on it . It starts in the sand hills and flows to the coast. It drains pine and hardwood forests before entering marsh and ending at the beach. Plenty of swamp along the way. I have met a few interesting critters there I didn’t know existed.

1 Like

I nominate the Scioto, north of Columbus Ohio. It’s where I learned to kayak (self-taught, more or less, with library books) and read the river on my old OK Scrambler. Nice enough for beginners (unless at flood stage), usually enough current and rocks to learn to maneuver. LOTS of put-ins and take-outs, for free at public parks. Nice reservoirs.

I used to paddle upstream a mile or two and float back down, negotiating rocks and resting in tiny eddies. Enough current to make me work for the return trip. I did get in during flood stage below Griggs Dam a time or two; exciting and challenging, if not the smartest thing to do.

The Olentangy River and Alum Creek are nice too.

Niobrara River which happens to be in Nebraska.
Trinity River, CA
Green River, UT
Willamette River, OR
N Platter River, WY
Smith River, MT
Snake River, ID

ok, this is my speciality- seasonal small creeks and rivers a bit off the radar, highly scenic but wood often in play, portaging and scouting may be necessary, class II and III ww on many of them. Add all those runs together and consider I’ve done several multiple times and yet only encountered three or four other paddlers (not in my group) in total, so not really worried about popularizing. You earn these creeks!

webster brook (long shuttle, logistical nightmare) and sebois river in Maine

2nd creek, buffalo creek, upper brush creek, lower back fork of the elk, buckhannon, paint creek (horrible guidebook description but a great creek)south branch of the potomac (seybert to milam) and birch river in wv

big paint creek in Iowa

four mile creek, little sciota brush creek ohio

bullpasture gorge Va ( better known than most on the list but a little tricky to catch)

upper wilderness reaches (grand jean)of the south fork of the payette ID, and also main payette below beehive bend down to montour

Ocklawaha River (overshadowed by the nearby silver river and juniper springs) Florida

colorado- crystal river below avalanche creek into roaring fork (some access issues around carbondale)

licking near Falmouth, rockcastle river KY

Metolious down to billy chinook lake OR (long shuttle but 17 miles of continous ww in a wilderness setting!)

2 white oak creeks (one in the clear creek drainage and another in the obed drainage) TN

upper reaches of North Folk of the Shoshone between Three Mile Campground and Big Run, WY

I’d nominate the Jump River in Taylor Co. WI as a top notch underrated river. I’ve paddled it twice. The first time was just a hoot. Darned near continuous class II stuff, ranging from high to low II, with what I’d call a very solid Class III in the middle (Big Falls). The USGS gauge at Sheldon on that trip ran at 500cfs the first day and, with rain during the night and into the second day, subsequently jumped up to 1400cfs.
I considered Big Falls to be beyond my skill level, but there are regulars who paddle that stretch repeatedly and pretty much ignore the rest of the river entirely. One of them did this video of that run. I’d think that would prove interesting to even the most jaded of ww paddlers. I don’t know what the gauge reading was when this video was shot, but it must have been pretty high.

The second trip was at low water and it was among the most miserable trips I’ve ever done. If there’s not enough water to paddle that river bed is darned near impossible to wade. But wade it we did for almost nine miles. I’m not particularly proud of the language I used that day. Finished in the dark.

But it is a remote beautiful river: no liveries, only one small county campground that has about a dozen sites, no houses or other shoreline development that I recall. Not even any aluminum or “color” on the rocks. Otters, eagles, and all the usual cast of north woods characters. I’ll be back.

1 Like

Well above my skill set these days. Maybe 15 years ago though. I expect the ending of the clip would look like my style.

nice looking run, I’m with PJC, I would try to catch it a bit lower than what is in the video. I was a little surprised the canoes didn’t skirt more holes and hit more eddies. I’m old school. There are kayak/c1 lines (wet) and then there are open canoe lines. Running holes has never worked for me very well in an oc but the modern ww canoers seem to have figured it out, flotation to the gills and bows that shed water and must not mind paddling with a bit of water sloshing around.

1 Like

I’d recommend the West Branch of the Susquehanna in the upper west central northern mountains of the Allegheny Plateau in Pennsylvania. A beautiful river that winds 243 miles through deep shady canyons and has been suggested as deserving national “Wild and Scenic Rivers” status. Although it does go through or past small towns and farming areas, most of the feel of it is remoteness. The Susquehanna River Water Trail covers most of it (228 miles) and the Lumber Heritage Association sells a terrific set of waterproof maps to the trail. Lots of places to camp along the banks – my ex boyfriend’s property had a quarter mile of shoreline along the river about 30 miles downstream from its source (his place is about a mile past the Shawville Power Plant low head dam portage) and would let paddling groups camp in his lower meadow which has a spring-fed water pump and large fire pit.

The river has recovered a lot from mine drainage that damaged it in the 20th century now that coal extraction has dropped drastically and there is now decent fishing. Mostly slow flat water with some Class 1 and open Class 2 sections. In drought years upper sections can be shallow enough to walk across without getting wet above your knees but with so many streams contributing to it that is not a problem farther down. It has some great whitewater feeders too, by the way. Great area for extended paddling trips and, for a river so convenient to major population centers, rarely crowded. I don’t know if the outfitters who used to offer shuttles are open this summer though.

The Lumber Heritage map set is really nice – every possible resource you would need to plan a trip is in it and the section maps are all separate and compact so easy to take just what you need with you. We (the ex and I) mostly did day trips on various sections and its feeders since were right there. (Honestly, I miss the river more than I miss him.)


The Des Moines River in Van Buren County, Iowa. It bisects the county on the diagonal from Selma in the NE corner to Farmington in the SE corner, about 40 miles total. It is shallow with remains of rocky dams but family friendly. 20 years ago, the county hosted a Canoe Van Buren event in July. Lots of canoes, kayaks, older people and children. Van Buren county is quite rural, on the Iowa Missouri border. I’ve paddled it a few times on my own. Beautiful place with a couple of nice state parks.

Passaic River in NJ. Lower reaches are one of the most polluted on the East coast. Upper reaches are much better.

Uppermost section of the Buffalo River in Arkansas. AKA Hailstone/Hailstone Creek.
Might be nobody but your co paddlers out there to help you if you get yourself into a jam. Rookie whitewater paddlers should absolutely “beware”; you’ll need some decent skills. If you lack skills, you could end up walking out, or spending the night on the riverbank, if you taco your boat and can’t retrieve it. Best to go with some very skilled paddlers who know the sneak routes. Carry enough gear to set up a Z drag. Carry some extra food, an emergency shelter, and first aid, just in case.

If you decide to “go for it” when water level is up; you damn sure better have your act together, and your game face on. Watch out for strainers, and willow jungles in narrow spots. If you capsize in some spots, you’ll likely have a long swim. The first time I gave it a go we spent half the day extracting canoes; and didn’t get to the take out until dark. All of us were worn to a frazzle, thirsty, hungry, generally miserable, and borderline hypothermic.


P.S. Watch utube video Hailstone 5-2-19 (14:58 minutes) to give you an idea of what you’ll experience.

Also check out the Cossatot falls section of the Cossatot river in Howard County, Arkansas.

I see. So the Hailstone is what made you miserable, Bob? :wink:

It definitely contributed to my misery…
It was the first time I ever felt like a river spoke to me…
It said very clearly; “Suffer bitch”!!!

In retrospect, we were way out of our element; paddling 17 foot Grummans, and using tractor tire inner tubes as flotation.High/low braces, j-stroke, forward/reverse sweeps??? What are those for???


Actually, the Hailstone and the 'Tot have both been on the list of rivers I have wanted to paddle, although realistically at this point it may never happen.

American Whitewater rates the Hailstone at Class II-III+ difficulty by modern standards and judging from the video that certainly seems to be the case. It looks as if there is a lot of Class II action with some solid Class III-III+ rapids thrown in.

Even with a modern whitewater specific open boat fully outfitted including flotation and a pump I would consider that stretch a real challenge considering its length (nearly 14 miles) and the fact that the first 12 miles are through a remote gorge. A whitewater run of that length allows limited time for scouting let alone boat recovery in the event of mishaps.

I’m not sure that I would call the Hailstone “underrated”. It seems more like “underknown”. Given how infrequently it runs and the relatively small number of people who have paddled it, it has almost taken on a mystical quality.

TDainel, being in the WV, VA area do you recommend a guide book for any of those rivers?

yes, Canoeing & Kayaking West Virginia is the book to get. It’s a great book that has undergone several revisions.

Another great resource is the american whitewater page. When checking out specific streams be sure to click on the comment sections. While the stream monitor updates are sporadic, the users are pretty decent about sharing data under the comments section. Especially about water levels. The West Virginia Wildwater Association message board is a good place for questions about specific runs and water levels. For the class IV and up streams, fayetteville whitewater and wv visuals, both on facebook, are good resources.

As far as the southern half of the state- low class IV and down, including the seasonal smaller streams, I’m not too shabby. My chance to brag.

West Virginia - Bracken’s Creek, Anglins Creek (carried extensively due to wood), Cherry River , South Branch of the Cherry, Laurel Creek (trib of Cherry), down Elk (below Webster Springs), race course section on elk (curtain road to Webster S.), Lower Backfork of the Elk to Webster S. , Elk from Clay to river road, Elk river from Blue Creek to Coonskin Park, Buffalo Creek (Elk trib: Cow Lick to Clay ballfield), Left fork of the Holly below Hacker Valley, Middle fork Tygart from route 33 to Audra and from Audra onto Main Tygart gorge ( carried shoulder snapper ) , Tygart Valley River (from Norton to Belington), Buckhannon River (Alexander to Ten Mile), Lower Seneca Creek (carried church drop) Cheat Canyon and Narrows, Glady fork of the Cheat (rt 33 to 12) Black Fork of the Cheat (Hendricks to Parsons), Dry Fork of the Cheat (just above river road gauge to Hendricks), Blackwater River from Cortland to Davis Water Plant, Beaver Creek from Coal Prep plant to Davis, Paint Creek (Lively to Paint Creek Park, Park to Pratt) Williams (part of middle and lower sections only) New River : Va state line to Shanklin’s Ferry, Bellepoint to Brooks Falls, Brooks to Sandstone, Sandstone to Glade Creek, Glade creek to GV Sandbar, GV Sandbar to Stonecliff, Stonecliff to Cunard, Cunard to Fayette Station (over 375 runs on this section), Fayette Station to Hawks Nest Tram, Cotton Hill to Gauley Bridge (Dries), Piney Creek (portaged 3 drops), Dunloop Creek (from Harvey Bottom to a little bit above the falls) Cranberry River (middle and lower), Bluestone: Spanishburg to Eads Mill, Eads Mill to Bluestone Lake SP., Camp Creek (Mash Fork Campground to Camp Creek Baptist church, Church to Bluestone), Brush Creek (Brillo Falls section only), Top Gauley (Donaldson to Camden on Gauley, Camden on the Gauley to Curtain Bridge, Curtain Bridge to Panther Creek to Persinger Creek) Gauley : Summersville dam to Swiss (over 100 runs split between upper and lower),Swiss to Jodie, Belva to Gauley Bridge, middle Gauley (Mason’s branch to Bucklick), twenty mile creek, Laurel Creek (New trib. between Dempsey Road and Beckwith only), Upper and Middle Meadow River , and Meadow River swamp (from James-Kanahwa Turnpike to Rupert WMA) Greenbrier : Cass to Coverlick, Cloverlick to Thorny Creek, Seebert to Anthony, Talcott to Bellepointe, Ronceverte to Alderson, Second Creek (Hollywood to Fort Spring), Anthony’s Creek (Blue bend to Anthony), Deer Creek (Greenbank to Cass), Big Coal River: Orgas to Racine, Racine to Dartmont Park (Ashford) and Tornado to St. Albans, Little Coal River: from Little Coal Campground to Lock 2 on Big Coal, Danville to Kuhn Juvenile Center, Marsh Fork: Fairdale to Dry Creek and Marsh Fork HS Memorial Park to Whitesville, Mill Creek (upper sections from Possum creek Road to Ansted only) West River, Simpson Creek, Elk Creek, Birch River (Cora Brown to Herold), North Branch of Potomac (Barnum to Bloomington), North fork of the South Branch of the Potomac (Riverton to Seneca Rocks, Cruiser Course and Hopeville Canyon) , South Branch of the Potomac: the Trough, lower Smokehole Canyon (Big Bend to Petersburg), South Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac (Seybert to Milam), Kanawha River below the falls

If you need any beta on these runs just holler and I’ll give you beta to get you to the right holler for the put in and takeout!