Rafting Rivers in West Virginia

5 Best Whitewater Rafting Rivers in West Virginia

Rafting enthusiasts flock to West Virginia because everyone from beginners to experts can find whitewater rapids that provide just the right adrenaline rush. From float trips on the Lower New River to non-stop, heart-stopping Class IV and Class V rapids on the Upper Gauley River, this is whitewater rafting at its best.

The New River is geologically one of the oldest rivers in the world. Drop pools mix calmer waters with intense rapids in different parts of the river. The upper part of the river consists of long pools and lighter rapids (up to class III). The lower part of the river has aggressive rapids in many areas, challenging even the most advanced rafters. One of the reasons outdoor enthusiasts return to West Virginia for their whitewater fix is ​​because with such diversity in the vast rivers, the adventure easily ramps up as your skills improve and your courage grows.

While the New River gets most of the attention for whitewater rafting in West Virginia, the Shenandoah River has unique features that also appeal to rafting enthusiasts and those just testing the waters.

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1 Upper New River

Upper New River

The Upper New River is the place to start if you’re new to whitewater rafting or if you’re a family and want to safely introduce kids to the activity. This part of the river is characterized by calm waters and you will only encounter Class I and Class II rapids.

Many guided tours on the Upper New River are float trips where you can enjoy the scenery through the countryside New River Gorge and don’t worry about fighting to stay in the raft through rough rapids. The Upper New River is in a wide valley, which means shallower and slower water. This allows you to learn and practice rafting techniques so you know what to do next time you want to try a more aggressive trip.

2 Lower New River

New River Gorge Bridge
New River Gorge Bridge

The Lower New River is one of the most popular areas for white water rafting as it has a comfortable mix of long, calm waterholes as well as Class IV rapids. Many intermediate rafters love this stretch of river because you get the thrill of intense rapids with time to recover.

The Lower New River is deeper, with rapids created by steep drops between large boulders. The intensity of the rapids depends on the season. Springtime is at its most adventurous, when masses of snow and spring shedding amplify the volume of the river and create monster waves. From April to mid-June, you’ll find intense tours that end with an 8-mile Class V express train ride.

A journey along the Lower New River takes you under the 876-foot New River Gorge Bridge. Late fall is a particularly picturesque time to visit. Each October, rafting trips are scheduled around the annual bridge day, when BASE jumpers are allowed to jump from the bridge to the landing below.

3Upper Gauley

Kayaker in white water
Kayaker in white water

There’s a reason the Upper Gauley is ranked as one of the top five rivers in the world. It’s heart-warming extreme whitewater rafting at its finest. The river offers non-stop action, with consistent Class IV and Class V rapids that drop you over 335 feet in a 13-mile stretch. This trip is for experienced rafters only. While the excitement is second to none, it is an aggressive and exhausting journey that requires precision and skill to make it through the intense 60 plus rapids. You will experience the “Big 5” on this river, a series of steep, consistent voluminous Class V rapids between large boulders that will take your breath away.

The ultimate adrenaline rush on the Upper Gauley is in the fall during what is referred to as “Gauley season”. This is when water is released Summersville Dam, creating the most intense whitewater of the year. If you go at the end of October, plan on a wet suit and water shoes. It will be the most adrenaline-filled experience of your life, and possibly the coldest.

4Lower Gauley

Lower Gauley
Lower Gauley

The Lower Gauley is not as consistently intense as the Upper Gauley, but it offers extreme adventure with Class III to Class V rapids. Although there are 70 rapids, you get the best mix of adrenaline and relaxation on this stretch of water. In between rapids, this 17-mile stretch of river has calmer pools so you can float and swim for part of the journey. The Lower Gauley, while considered extreme, is best for intermediate rafters, who want to kick things up a notch, and for those who want to take some time to turn their heads and enjoy the scenery.

Real adventurers can combine the Upper Gauley and Lower Gauley in one trip. The most popular time for this trip is in the fall.

5Shenandoah River

Shenandoah River
Shenandoah River

The Shenandoah River doesn’t get as much attention for whitewater rafting as the New River, but it’s worth considering if you’re looking for a new whitewater adventure. It is near Harpers FerryWest Virginia, where the Shenandoah River meets the Potomac River. The result is a 7.5-mile whitewater adventure that takes you through the Blue Ridge Mountains and along the Harpers Ferry National Historic Park.

White water rafting on the Shenandoah River is suitable for beginners and family trips as you will find calmer waters with Class I to Class III rapids. This journey is slower and has a shorter time commitment. You can do this trip in about three hours.

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