West Virginia Whitewater Rafting

Mountainous West Virginia calls itself the undisputed Whitewater Capital of the East, with nearly 2,000 miles of streams coursing through the Appalachians. More than 60 rivers in the state may be rafted, kayaked, or canoed, and some, notably the Cheat, the Gauley and the Tygart, are very challenging. These rivers have rapids rated up to Class V+, demanding great skill, especially during the spring runoff. Less adventurous paddlers enjoy the Shenandoah with its pastoral scenery as it meanders through the eastern panhandle of West Virginia to join the Potomac at historic Harpers Ferry. But even the Shenandoah has Class III rapids on its Staircase segment to enliven the journey.

The Cheat River in the north of the state is a wild stream that winds through an impressive canyon with massive boulders, overhanging rock walls, and waterfalls. It has 38 rapids in eleven miles, including Big Nasty and Even Nastier. They are rated Class II-IV except in high water when some reach Class V. When the flow slackens in midsummer the Cheat allows paddlers to pause to relish the scenery.

Book early for Whitewater Rafting on the Gauley River

The Gauley River, variously listed as number seven or eight in the world in difficulty, features more than 100 rapids on a 26-mile stretch that drops 670 feet. The toughest part is the upper Gauley, with its steep chutes and rocks that test the skills of even the most experienced paddlers. The Lower Gauley has huge waves and still ranks as Class III-V, but demands less technical expertise and can be rafted safely by less experienced paddlers. But since the river is controlled by Summersville Dam, the whitewater season is short - only 22 days in the fall when the sluicegates are opened. With space so limited, many of the rafters who flock to the Gauley from throughout the United States and Canada make reservations a year ahead. So early booking with an outfitter is essential. But in the summer, when water levels are lower, the river still offers enjoyable family rafting.

The uncrowded Tygart in northcentral West Virginia contains Wells Falls, which rates as the most powerful runnable drop in the whole Monongahela River basin. Another Tygart thrill is Valley Falls, described as a short but incredibly intense 25-foot water slide. The most demanding of the Tygart's raftable stretches is the Gorge. It consists of Class II-III whitewater with intervening technical Class IV-V rapids. Placid Tygart Lake, which curves for 13 miles through wooded valleys, is a popular boating center with its campsite, cabins, lodge, and restaurant.

Go Whitewater Rafting on one of the Oldest Rivers in the World

Despite its name, the New River is said to be the world's second oldest river after the Nile. Its celebrated gorge, dubbed the Grand Canyon of the East, has walls 700 to 1,300 feet high. In this area of West VA, it is called the New River Gorge National River, the stream drops 240 feet in 14 miles, creating the biggest white water in the east. The Upper New is comparatively gentle, suitable for leisurely floating and fishing. The middle section offers moderate Class II-III rapids. Only in its lower, and most popular, section does the New River unleash its full fury. The New River whitewater-rafting season runs from mid-March through November, with the greatest rafting challenge in April and May.

The Greenbrier River, a major tributary of the New River, and the South Branch of the Potomac, in the eastern mountains, rank among the best canoeing waters in West Virginia. The 150-mile Greenbrier flows through superb Allegheny scenery containing old logging communities, farmlands, and state forests. The South Branch altered course in 1985 when floods permanently changed its streambed. Paddlers able to travel at short notice can float the more remote Bluestone and Meadow with their Class III-V rapids and great mountain scenery. But these rivers, in the south and central sections of the state, are only raftable when swollen by spring rains.

Whitewater rafting in West Virginia is a must for all whitewater enthusiasts. The outfitters and guides are some of the best to be found. Trips range usually range from one day to five days. Accommodations range from camping to luxury motels.

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