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Rafting

Crash course: rafting the Gauley River     Photo: John Huba

Rafting the Gauley River
Come fall near Summersville, in south-central West Virginia, the hardwood forests turn bright orange, the air cools, mist gathers in the steep canyons, and raft guides start to get butterflies in their stomachs. At a time when the rest of the country's rivers have dried to a trickle, hundreds of river rats pack up their VW buses and head to the 107-mile-long Gauley, where the annual fall drawdown of Summersville Lake feeds whitewater rafting's biggest frenzy. Don't come here looking for a placid float. The Gauley's Class V rapids—which combine high volume with steep, boulder-choked runs—are jammed with rafts.
HOW TO GO Wildwater Expeditions (800-982-7238, www.wvaraft.com) runs one- and two-day trips on the Upper or Lower Gauley (your choice—there are five Class V rapids on the 12-mile upper section and a dozen more Class IV and V rapids on the lower 12 miles) from $90 to $250. Or do the entire 24 miles in one long day for $200. Rent wetsuits and paddle jackets for $15 per day.
LODGING Opossum Creek Retreat (888-488-4836, www.opossumcreek.com) sits off a classic serpentine West Virginia road. Seven hot-tub-equipped cabins in varying sizes fit four to 20 people and can be rented for $120 and up per night or $800-$2,000 per week.

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