America's Best Whitewater
West Virginia offers nearly 2,000 miles of mountain streams coursing through the fabled Appalachians. Our rivers are unbeatable for beauty, history, excitement and accessibility.
The rivers where professional outfitters operate are clustered in three main areas: Southern West Virginia, in central Northern West Virginia, and at the easternmost point of the state at Harpers Ferry. The "big three" rivers for rafting are the New, the Gauley and the Cheat. Rivers. Six others also provide interesting and varied rafting experiences: the Shenandoah, the North Branch of the Potomac, Big Sandy Creek, the Tygart, the Bluestone and the Meadow.
The New River
A contradiction in terms, The New River is the oldest river in the western hemisphere. From its quiet beginnings in North Carolina, it meanders northward, growing in volume and velocity, until it reaches West Virginia. There it enters the New River Gorge and becomes the New River Gorge National River.
With its average width of one mile, the New River Gorge is justifiably called by many the "Grand Canyon of the East." The beauty of its ancient walls make it one of the east's most spectacular canyons. The rim depth ranges from 700 to 1,300 feet, and the river drops approximately 240 feet over a 14-mile stretch, creating the biggest whitewater river in the east. This legendary path boasts class I to V rapids that rival the west's Colorado.
A river of varying temperament, the New is usually divided into three sections for an assortment of trips. The upper New lends itself well to leisurely float and fishing trips, while the middle New offers more repids in the class II to III range, suitable for breaking in novices. The wildest and most popular trip on the New is the lower section. No experience is required as the trip begins. Milder rapids gradually increase in size and difficulty from class II to class V. There is ample time for your guide to acquaint you with paddling strokes and maeuvers before you rush through Surprise, Double Z, Miller's Folly and Thread the Needle. Other favorite spots on the lower New include Swimmer's Rapid and Jump Rock.
Dropping more than 668 feet through 28 miles of rugged terrain, The Gauley River's complex stretch of whitewater features more than 100 rapids with a steep gradient, technical runs, an incredible volume of water and huge waves. Its vigorous rapids, scenic quality and inaccessibility combine to rank the Gauley River number seven in the world.
The upper Gauley offers tremendous class III to V+ drops in steep, turbulent chutes such as Pillow Rock, Iron Ring and Sweet's Falls, and rocky routes that demand constant maneuvering such as Lost Paddle and Shipwreck. This section of the river requires experience and minimum age of 16.
The lower Gauley is a 12-mile stretch, rated class III to V that feels like a watery roller coaster (minimum age 12/14). It's frequently used as a warm-up for the upper section in a two-day package. Controlled by Summersville Dam, the Gauley is filled when the Sum-mersville reservoir is lowered for storing winter melt and spring rains providing about 20 days of whitewater rafting. Due to the brief season, limited space and intense popularity, reservations book quickly.
In northern WV The Cheat River ranges from leisurely, lazy and lonely to raucous and raging. The Cheat's nature can fluctuate considerably. High time is in spring when rains and melted snow create highly technical class III to class V+ rapids recommended for experienced rafters only. The remote nature of this 12-mile, boulder-filled river canyon makes it a special treat. From Albright to Jenkinsburg, you will paddle your raft through more than 30 rapids with names like Decision, Big Nasty, Even Nastier, Coliseum, and High Falls. April through early June are the best months to challenge the Cheat.
Ranked by experts among the mightiest mountain rivers, The Tygart, is a relatively new offering that is not crowded. You'll feel it's just you and the river. In north central West Virginia, The Tygart claims rapids from class I to V, including Wells Falls, the most powerful runable drop in the Monongahela River Basin. Another highlight, Valley Falls, offers a short, incredibly intense 25-foot water slide. This springtime, high water run can be combined with a day on the Cheat for an exciting combination. (Minimum age 12.)
Less Well-Known Choices
Big Sandy Creek, known for its big drops and waterfalls, yields a temperamental springtime highwater run. In West Virginia's northeastern corner near Pennsylvania, Big Sandy offers class III and IV rapids in a scenic setting.
Another springtime high water run is found on the North Branch of the Potomac River when water is released from the dam at Jennings Randolph Lake into the river. This run borders the northwestern side of West Virginia's Potomac Highlands, along the border shared with Maryland.
The Bluestone and The Meadow Rivers present West Virginia's most ephemeral professional whitewater trips. Raftable only when swollen by spring rains, these rivers provide an experience arranged on short notice. Their Class III to V rapids cut through heady mountain scenery. Both have carved gorges through remote back country that is accessible only by water. The Bluestone, in southeastern West Virginia, feeds into Bluestone Lake. The Meadow, in central West Virginia, feeds the Gauley.
The Shenandoah River meets the Potomac River at Harpers Ferry, the eastern tip of West Virginia. It is so beautiful that a trip there should be considered a springtime must. The most frequently rafted stretch begins above Harers Ferry with class I riffles reminiscient of the New River near Hinton.. Further along the Shenanadoah the Staircase adds a measure of class III excitement. This river is ideal for family outings as it winds between pretty little towns chock full of American history and hospitality.