Paddle the Gauley River

Summersville, West Virginia

Sep 12, 2013
Outside Magazine
Lower Gauley

Lower Gauley    Photo: PJ Stevenson

The Class IV-V Gauley sports some of the best whitewater in the North America; and thanks to regularly scheduled releases in September and October, it’s a must pilgrimage for raft guides and kayakers from across the continent. The 12-mile Upper section features legendary Class V drops like Pillow Rock, Lost Paddle, and Sweets Falls, where hundreds of rafters line the banks to eat lunch and watch the carnage of rafts flipping. Accordingly, young rafters and intermediate kayakers should consider taking to the 16-mile Lower run, which still sports dozens of juicy rapids and a handful of Class IV-V. This year, because the dam is being drawn down for maintenance, there will be 32-days of runnable flows instead of the normal 23, including six Wednesday and Thursday releases of 5,300 cfs, too high for commercial trips to run the Upper. As they say in WV, “Get Sum!”

BEST TIME TO GO: Wednesdays and Thursdays, Sept. 18-Oct 3, for private boaters looking to get scared, or Oct 19-20, when the maples blanketing the gorge should be nearing peak splendor.

ROUTE: Put-in for the Upper at the park just below Summersville dam off Highway 19, but most of the raft companies are clustered 15 minutes down the road in Fayetteville.

DRY OFF: Stumble from the outfitter Adventure on the Gorge’s buses to the deck at Smokey’s on the Gorge, overlooking the New River Gorge at their resort. It’s fine dining with a red-meat-heavy rotating menu and a full bar, but they won’t kick you out for wearing wet sandals.