Whitewater Rafting in West Virginia’s New River

Whitewater Rafting West Virginia's New River
Find thrills on the water in southern West Virginia.

By Rachel Cooper

As an experienced flat-water kayaker, I am comfortable on the water. But riding through Class IV and V rapids offers an adrenaline rush unlike just about any other outdoor experience. While whitewater rafting the New River in southern West Virginia, my heart raced and nerves thrummed every time we approached a new rapid. Crashing through the waves was exciting, a feeling that shifted to relief as we glided to calmer waters.

My travel companions and I spent the night before our trip in a rustic cabin at ACE Adventure resort, one of three resorts near the town of Fayetteville, West Virginia. We got an early morning start, gathered our gear and loaded the ACE bus and rode about 20 minutes to the Cunard put-in spot on the New River. As we traveled to the river, our raft guide, Chris Colin, gave us an overview of what to expect on our half-day adventure.

Chris explained the gear that we would be using and began by stressing the importance of wearing a tight life jacket, also known as a PFD or personal floatation device. “If someone falls out of the raft, you want to pull them back in by their shoulder straps. Don’t grab them by the arms, hair or ears, because that really hurts,” he said. You also need to wear a correctly-fitted helmet to protect your head from rocks, branches and unpredictable debris. “If you fall out, plan A is always to swim back to the boat as quick as you can. We are whitewater rafting, not whitewater swimming,“ Chris said. Then he explained that if you fall out of the raft, it is important to keep your feet up near the surface of the water to keep from getting caught in undercut rocks or boulders. He said to watch your guide for swimming directions as he will point out rocks and other hazards.

Whitewater Rafting West Virginia's New RiverAs we arrived at the New River, I was struck by the natural beauty of the river and surrounding mountain ridges. It was a perfect day for rafting: the sun was shining down on us and the water was a warm 80 degrees. We boarded our raft and practiced paddling together, paddling forward, backward and stopping. We began our adventure with a mellow rapid named Pinball. All of the rapids on the river have descriptive names like the Meat Grinder, the Tenderizer, Double Z and Miller’s Folly. The rapids range from Class I to V. The rapids receive ratings based on a combination of difficulty and danger. Class I is defined as fast moving water with riffles and small waves. Class V are extremely long, obstructed, or violent rapids which expose a paddler to added risk. According to Chris, “Class VI rapids are like Niagara Falls and unrunnable.”

Over a stretch of seven to eight miles between Cunard and Fayetteville Station, we ran 24 rapids: two Class V rapids, four Class IV and several Class III rapids and lower. The biggest rapids woke us up and put a smile on our faces even as we got slapped in the face with a big wave of water. The rumbling sounds of the waterfalls kept us energized as we prepared to conquer each rapid.

When the waters mellowed out a bit, we floated and enjoyed the breathtaking views of the landscape. Chris told us all about his 10 years of experiences as a raft guide and kept us entertained with animated directions as we navigated the river.

The final rapid, Fayette Station, brought us to the New River Bridge Gorge, the longest bridge in North America and an iconic landmark of West Virginia. It is 3,030 feet long and 876 feet high. Each October, 400+ BASE jumpers from around the world gather for what is known as Bridge Day, the only day of the year that it legal to jump off of the bridge. As we approached the bridge, Chris encouraged us to jump out of the raft and go for a swim.

Whitewater Rafting West Virginia's New RiverFrom start to finish, this trip was fun and invigorating. The New and Gauley Rivers provide trips for beginners and experienced rafters. Each September, scheduled releases of water from the Summersville Dam into the lower Gauley River create some of the best Class V rapids along the East Coast. This man-made change in the water levels brings more than 50,000 whitewater enthusiasts from around the world to experience West Virginia rafting and kayaking.

West Virginia is an outdoor wonderland. The Mountain State offers rugged beauty and a wide range of outdoor activities. It’s a great place to unplug and tap into adventure.

Where To Stay…

Whitewater Rafting West Virginia's New RiverThree resorts in the Fayetteville area offer overnight accommodations and guided adventure tours including whitewater rafting, kayaking, standup paddle boarding, hiking, climbing, ziplining, and horseback riding. Each resort includes a range of places to stay from basic campgrounds to luxury vacation rentals.

Odds of Encountering Children: Very low. Whitewater rafting has inherent risks and is thus an adult experience.

– Photos by Rachel Cooper

Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion.

Rachel Cooper is a freelance writer and author of two outdoor recreation guidebooks: Quiet Water Mid-Atlantic: AMC’s Canoe and Kayak Guide to the Best Lakes, Ponds and Easy Rivers and 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Washington, D.C.

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