Wild & Wonderful Whitewater: Gauley Season
Sam Iatarola, Outdoor Explorer, Coordinator of Adventure Recreation – Marshall Recreation Center
Every year, rafters flock to the Gauley River to experience the magic that occurs within its waters. On the Friday after Labor Day, the Summersville Dam releases and brings the Gauley River alive. While the Gauley runs at varying flows throughout the rest of the year, “Gauley Season” lasts until the third weekend of October.
A Rich History
Despite its iconic reputation today, the Gauley has only been a world-renowned whitewater destination since the 1970s. Before that, the area had a rich history of fishing, hunting and industry!
- The Summersville Dam was completed in 1965 to control flooding downstream near Charleston, West Virginia.
- In 1985, Congress essentially designated whitewater paddling the Gauley law by adding recreation to the list of purposes of the Dam.
- In 2018, WV Governor Jim Justice designated an official 5th Season in West Virginia, Gauley Season.
Riding the River
Year after year, a diverse crowd of river enthusiasts flock to the Gauley. If you are a first-timer to whitewater, seek out one of many local outfitters who will make your trip safe and fun. River surfers and stand-up paddleboarders seek out locations like Canyon Doors or Diagonal Ledges for endless surf sessions. From kayaks and canoes to rafts and giant inflatable flamingos, the Gauley has seen it all!
The Upper, Middle and Lower Gauley all together make approximately 24 miles of world-class whitewater.
For those looking for more of a push, check out the Upper Gauley! Here you will find legendary Big 5 Rapids such as Insignificant, Pillow Rock, Iron Ring, and Sweets Falls. This section is steep, fast and technical, rightfully earning its nickname: the Beast of the East.
The Middle Gauley provides a nice, calm reprieve between the Upper and Lower sections and is a great litmus test to decide if you are ready for the Lower! While not as steep and challenging as the Upper, the Lower Gauley holds its own as a high-quality section.
The Lower Gauley really shines with its scenic cliff lines at Canyon Doors and Junkyard. Rapids like Upper Mash, Lower Mash, and Pure Screaming Hell will get your blood pumping.
Things to Know This Year
Virtual Gauley Fest: While there will not be an in-person Gauley Fest this year, there will still be an opportunity to participate in American Whitewater’s biggest fundraiser of the year! Join in on the virtual event.
The Gauley is such a special place. From the nights around the campfire to the early mornings at the put-in, the Gauley experience creates memories for all. During September and October, Gauley Season creates a magnetic center-of-the-universe pull, drawing people to its waters. Whether it’s the people, the beauty of the river, or the joy of the ride, being on the Gauley is magical.
Sam is a whitewater kayaker who loves running West Virginia’s wild rivers whenever he can. His favorite rapid on the Gauley is Lost Paddle. When he’s not kayaking, he works to introduce folks to outdoor adventure experiences working Marshall University as the Coordinator of Adventure Recreation.
This post was last updated on August 10, 2021