Float down Hardy County’s four rivers however you want: by canoe, kayak, tube, or maybe even on a homemade raft. You’ll be tempted to keep this West Virginia enclave — and its clean waterways, uncrowded paddling excursions, and lovely deep swimming holes — all to yourself.
What makes Hardy County so charming?
It could be the many water access points — a number that is growing — along four rivers that flow through the county: the South Branch of the Potomac, South Fork, Lost, and Cacapon rivers.
Or, it could be the people, who love their region and want to show off its best-kept secrets. Doug Boswell, owner of Keep West Virginia Wild and Wonderful, described one of his favorite floats: “The South Fork is beautiful and clean, intertwined with moving water and deep holes excellent for smallmouth, blue gill, and sunfish.”
The outfitter, headquartered in Moorefield, rents kayaks for self-guided trips ranging from 7 to 24 miles, and also provides shuttles from access points and bridges.
Don’t miss the Trough
Ask any paddler in Hardy County for the “must-do” trip, and it’s the Trough, a 6-mile gorge carved by the South Branch of the Potomac.
The Trough has its own bit of history. George Washington coined its name after a surveying expedition into the area in 1748. Eight years later, it was the site of a skirmish during the French and Indian War.
In the late summer and fall, the Trough will be awash in color, with steep slopes home to oaks, hickories, and Virginia pine amid the rocky outcrops. It’s remote enough to feel adventurous since it’s only accessible by boat — with some of the best bass fishing in West Virginia — or foot, or aboard the Potomac Eagle scenic excursion train.
The Trough General Store rents canoes and kayaks, with trips ranging from 5.5 to 24 miles departing every two hours from 8:00 am–2:00 pm. There also is a private camping site available behind the store with river access. For both paddling trips and camping, call ahead for reservations. Fall weekends are already filling up.
The most popular trip, a 7-miler from Sycamore Bridge, goes through the Trough. In addition to gorgeous scenery, there’s a good chance you’ll see a bald or golden eagle. Trough General Store owner Jerry Dean said you’ll have a “95 to 98 percent chance” of seeing an eagle.
And, he added: “If you’re lucky, they’ll catch a fish right in front of you.”
Insider tip: How do you spot an eagle in the Trough? “They perch on the higher trees at the water’s edge,” said Dean. “You need to have your swivel neck on.”
Stop in Peru
At the South Fork General Store in Peru, Tom and Mary Burgess make you feel like family. Situated close to the South Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac River, the store — once a post office — is now a gathering spot for paddlers, bicyclists, all-terrain vehicle riders, and wanderers of all sorts.
Not on the menu, but always the special here, is a love and knowledge for the waterways, countryside, and community of Hardy County. Ask the Burgesses about the best canoeing and tubing spots while you eat a tuna wrap and fresh-cut potatoes straight out of the air fryer.
And, their little beagles, Queenie and Lizzie, will let you pet them for free.
An after-paddle retreat
For a quiet, reasonably priced place to stay, book a cabin in the Lost River State Park. The classic cabins are original Civilian Conservation Corps structures, and the no-frills setting means you doubly appreciate the forest surrounding you.
Get carry-out steamed shrimp — uniquely and deliciously seasoned — from the Lost River Grill before you retreat up the mountain.
Hardy Co. Tourism: visithardywv.com