Your guide to whitewater rafting in West Virginia

It’s no secret that West Virginia is one of the best places in the world to whitewater raft. From the rapids of the New and Gauley rivers in the south to the rapids of the Cheat and Tygart rivers in the north and the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers in the Eastern Panhandle, each one offers incredible thrills and experiences that will last a lifetime.

Gauley River

To experience the famous “Gauley Season” head to the Gauley River in the beautiful fall months of September and October but you can also ride the Gauley in the spring and summer seasons, as well, if it is running at acceptable flows. During this time, the Summersville Dam is drained, which creates 22 perfect and predictable levels of whitewater just waiting to be experienced.

In fact, the Upper Gauley has 5 rapids that claim the whitewater rating of “Class V,” which are the upper level of what can be safely guided down. Those rapids include the Insignificant Rapid, Pillow Rock Rapid, Lost Paddle Rapid, Iron Ring and Sweet’s Falls. Each rapid is different yet equally exhilarating.

But don’t forget about the Lower Gauley, which has its own incredible rapids like the Mash Bros. rapids, which features 3 gigantic waves one after another or the Pure Screaming Hell rapids with its monster-sized hole that might make you lose your voice in the process. Either way, each rapid will be an adventure and allow you too see and be surrounded by the beautiful scenery of the Mountain State.

Views: While on the Gauley River bask in the lush and green scenery that surrounds you as well as the river-sculpted sandstone blacks that are strewn throughout the Gauley River canyon.

New River

The iconic New River is broken into two sections, the Upper and Lower and has a season that runs from early spring and lasts all the way into summer and fall with each season offering a different yet incredible ride. For families and beginners, the Upper section is recommended as it has easy Class I & II rapids while the Lower has many classes of rapids perfect for any level rafter to experience.

In the summer on the Lower, experience huge rapids for yourself like the Middle and Lower Keeney rapids and in the spring on the Lower, watch out for mighty obstacles like Whale Hole, Barry’s Hole and Lollygag. No matter what time you visit, it will be the perfect time to ride those classic New River rapids everyone’s always raving about.

Views: While on the New River, you will be surrounded by astonishing scenic beauty from start to finish on this ancient river. Oh, and make sure to look out for the wonder that is the amazing and iconic 876’ tall New River Gorge Bridge you’ll ride under on the Lower New for a fun experience.

Local Outfitters:

  1. Adventures on the Gorge – Adventures on the Gorge Offers guided whitewater rafting trips on the Lower and Upper New, as well as the Upper and Lower Gauley. While you are there, pick from other fun adventures like ziplining and aerial adventures, climbing and rappelling, fishing, kayaking and more.
  2. ACE Adventures – Experience guided whitewater rafting trips on the Lower and Upper New, and Upper and Lower Gauley with ACE Adventures. You can also stand up paddle board, hike, horseback ride, paintball, mountain bike and play at the Wonderland Waterpark while at ACE Adventures.
  3. River Expeditions – River Expeditions is perfect for guided whitewater rafting trips on both the New and Gauley rivers. They also offer ATV tours, zip line and canopy tours, paintballing, fishing, rock-climbing and much more.
  4. New & Gauley River Adventures – As you can tell by the name, New and Gauley River Adventures offer guided whitewater rafting trips on both the New and Gauley rivers. While you are there you can also horseback ride, fish, mountain bike, snowshoe and more.

Cheat River

Although the Cheat River is a little less well-known that doesn’t mean it is any less exciting or breathtakingly beautiful. The Cheat Canyon section of the Cheat River boasts 13 miles of whitewater adventure and that idyllic West Virginia beauty we all love so much. The Cheat is a solid Class IV with Class II-III rapids on the Cheat Narrows. The Canyon offers Class IV rapids full of boulders, chutes, waves and swirling holes while the Cheat Narrows is a cleaner and more beginner-friendly run.

The Cheat Canyons season runs from early spring through mid-June while the Cheat Narrows season lasts from spring to summer.

Views: While on the Cheat River make sure to take in the giant boulders, clear water, natural beauty, waterfalls and unique rock formations you’ll pass by along the way.

Local Outfitters:

  1. Cheat River Outfitters – Take a fun guided rafting trip on the Cheat Canyon and Cheat Narrows with Cheat River Outfitters. You can also rock climb and paintball while you are there.
  2. Blackwater Outdoor Adventures – Experience guided whitewater rafting trips on the Cheat Narrows with Blackwater Outdoor Adventures. Blackwater Outdoor Adventures also offers many flat water adventures like tubing, kayaking and canoeing as well as camping along the banks of the Cheat River.
  3. Wilderness Voyageurs – Visit Wilderness Voyageurs for exciting guided whitewater rafting trips on the Cheat Canyon and Cheat Narrows.
  4. Laurel Highlands River Tours & Outdoor Center – Head to Laurel Highlands River Tours and Outdoor center for guided whitewater trips on the mighty Cheat River Canyon.

Shenandoah & Potomac Rivers

The playful Shenandoah and Potomac rivers are perfect for any level rafters. Visit in the spring and experience more exciting, adrenaline pumping rides while trips in the summer and fall offer more mild, family friendly rides usually due to lower water levels. Experience these Class I-III whitewater rapids along with the gorgeous scenery of the Eastern Panhandle region of the state for yourself for an incredibly fun experience you’ll never forget.

Views: Take in the lush beauty of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers as well as the historic town of Harpers Ferry you’ll wind past, which was the site of John Brown’s raid in 1859.

Local Outfitters:

  1. River Riders – Visit River Riders guided whitewater rafting trips on the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. You can also go flat water and whitewater tubing, ziplining and visit the Aerial Adventure Park while you are there for some fun times.

Tygart River

The Tygart River is the newest rafting river and is relatively less crowded. Try your hand at the Tygart Valley Falls run, perfect for intermediates boaters and great to ride in the spring, summer and fall. This run flows through Valley Falls State Park and is mostly in the Class III and sometimes IV range with its powerful bumps and drops.

Views: Experience the beauty of the Tygart River and the Mountaineer Country region of the state. While here you will pass by Valley Falls State Park and Audra State Park both full of unique and scenic beauty just waiting to be seen.

Local Outfitters:

  1. Tygart River Outfitters – Tygart River Outfitters offer guided whitewater rafting trips on the Tygart River primarily in the spring season but also in the summer as water conditions permit. You can also tube and full moon raft while you are there.

Are you planning to go whitewater rafting this year?

This post was last updated on March 17, 2022