Let’s just say it: West Virginia has America’s best whitewater rafting. The density of river sections here, which cover a wide variety of adventure levels, is unrivaled and unparalleled. There’s a reason why experienced rafters keep coming back year after year. Actually, make that four reasons, and here they are in order from mildest to wildest.
1. The Upper New River
In the upper reaches of the New River Gorge, the river is broad and mellow, yet packed with rapids up to mild Class III. These characteristics make it perfect for families and slightly risk-averse adventure seekers.
We take kids as young as six on the Upper New River—and six year olds raft free with a paying adult. To up your commitment level, try a two-day or three-day overnight. We’ll prepare your meals riverside so you can enjoy the gentle rapids and long wave trains during the day, and relax underneath the stars as we camp overnight on a secluded beach.
Check out Glade Canyon Creek Rafting & Hiking for a slightly more relaxed and intimate day.
2. The Lower New River
Around the bend past Cunard, the New River Gorge tightens and constricts on itself, growing both deeper and steeper. This combination turns the Lower New into a roller-coaster thrill ride packed with Class III and IV rapids. Since Mother Nature controls the water level in the New River Gorge, you can raft it two separate days and get a wildly different experience each time. Run it in the summer and fall and expect steeper rapids with longer pools in between. Run it in the spring and get massive waves in rocket-swift water.
If you have kids ages 10-12, try the Family Lower New. It’s all the same Class IV fun, but at typically slower summer levels, with senior guides in oar-rigged boats for additional control.
3. The Lower Gauley
At 14 miles, the Lower Gauley is significantly longer than the Upper Gauley, and though it’s not quite as rowdy, you’ll still find Class V fun within the steep canyon walls. Rapids like Canyon Doors exemplify the wilderness beauty here, while others like Heaven Help Us and Pure Screaming Hell show off the gradient and big-wave nature of the river.
The Lower Gauley is the wildest river section that we routinely recommend for first time rafters, so if you have what it takes, join us. If you’ve never rafted before, and you have your heart set on the Upper Gauley, we recommend the two-day Gauley Reverse—raft the Lower on day one and the Upper on day two.
4. The Upper Gauley
It’s hard to describe the thrill of dropping into rapids like Pillow Rock, which plummets more than 20 feet or Lost Paddle, a quarter-mile long Class V rapid with a reputation for mayhem. In fact, packed with five Class V rapids, the Upper Gauley earns its nickname: the Beast of the East. The Upper Gauley drops 335 feet in 10 miles, which means the rapids come at you faster than on the Lower Gauley and with significantly more energy, as well.
The Upper Gauley is adventure incarnate, and not recommended for first-time whitewater rafters. If you’ve done the Upper Gauley and are looking for an even bigger experience, try the Marathon, which is both the Upper and Lower in one long day, or the Gauley Overnight, which gives you both sections split by a night of delicious dining, wood fired hot tubs, and camping at our Canyon Doors camp.