Stream restoration approaches most often quantify habitat degradation, and therefore recovery objectives, on aquatic habitat metrics based on a narrow range of species needs (e.g., salmon and trout), as well as channel evolution models and channel design tools biased toward single‐threaded, and “sediment‐balanced” channel patterns. Although this strategy enhances perceived habitat needs, it often fails to properly identify the underlying geomorphological and ecological processes limiting species recovery and ecosystem restoration. In this paper, a unique process‐based approach to restoration that strives to restore degraded stream, river, or meadow systems to the premanipulated condition is presented. The proposed relatively simple Geomorphic Grade Line (GGL) design method is based on Geographic Information System (GIS) and field‐based analyses and the development of design maps using relative elevation models that expose the relic predisturbance valley surface. Several case studies are presented to both describe the development of the GGL method and to illustrate how the GGL method of evaluating valley surfaces has been applied to Stage 0 restoration design. The paper also summarizes the wide applicability of the GGL method, the advantages and limitations of the method, and key considerations for future designers of Stage 0 systems anywhere in the world. By presenting this ongoing Stage 0 restoration work, the authors hope to inspire other practitioners to embrace the restoration of dynamism and diversity through restoring the processes that create multifaceted river systems that provide long‐term resiliency, meta‐stability, larger and more complex and diverse habitats, and optimal ecosystem benefits.