New River Gorge National Wild & Scenic River Paddling Overview

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Paddling under New River Gorge Bridge
Paddling under New River Gorge Bridge (courtesy, National Park Service)

New River Gorge National River, West Virginia

  • A rafting trip down the second oldest river in the world may augment your youth with a strong dose of endorphins or give you a few premature gray hairs, depending on your personality. The New River winds its way through a gorge nearly 1,000-feet deep, spilling over dozens of rapids from Class II–IV and sometimes V from early spring well into autumn. The highest water levels, and therefore the wilder rides, occur in spring.
  • If you prefer mellow and moderate, cruise the Upper New River, with its Class II–III rapids, interspersed with stress-free pools and views. This is a great idea for families.
  • The Lower New River, with more than 20 rapids from Class III–IV+ or V, gives you a rafting experience of large dimensions—a long trip down a wide river with big rapids in a deep canyon lined by tall cliffs. It is this stretch of river more than any other that embodies what whitewater rafting in West Virginia is all about.

New River at a Glance
Price: $$
River Rapid Class: New River Gorge: III-V+; Upper: I-II
Trip in Miles: New River Gorge: 10 to 17 miles; Upper: 8 to 16 miles
Trip Duration: 1 to 2 Day
Season: New River Gorge: April-October; Upper: June-September
Raft Types: Paddle Raft, Oar Raft, Inflatable Kayak (Upper section only)
River Sections: New River Gorge (Thurmond to Fayette Station or Teays Landing); Upper
Nearby Towns: Beckley, WV
Gateway City: Beckley, WV
Driving Times: Charleston, WV: 1.5 hours; Pittsburgh, PA: 4 hours; Washington, D.C.: 5 hours
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The New River Gorge area is one of America's great paddling destinations. A rugged, whitewater river, flowing north through deep canyons, the New River manages to transect every ridge of the Alleghenies. The free-flowing New River falls 750 feet in 50 miles from Bluestone Dam to Gauley Bridge, creating one of the finest whitewater rivers in the eastern United States. By comparison the Mississippi falls 1,428 feet from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, a distance of 2,300 miles.

Within the park, the New River has two very different characters. The upper (southern) part of the river consists primarily of long pools, and relatively easy rapids up to Class III. It is a big, powerful river, but very beautiful, always runnable, and provides excellent fishing and camping. There are a number of different river access points.

The lower (northern) section of the river is often referred to as "the Lower Gorge." In a state that is justifiably renowned for colossal rapids, the Lower Gorge has some of the biggest of the big with rapids ranging in difficulty from Class III to Class V. The rapids are imposing and forceful, many of them obstructed by large boulders which necessitate maneuvering in very powerful currents, cross-currents, and hydraulics. Some rapids contain hazardous undercut rocks. The gradient is a modest 20 feet/mile, but the rapids are a full-grown variety: big, brawny, and bodacious.

The section from Hinton to Thurmond offers challenging Class I, II, and III rapids suitable for intermediate canoeing—not recommended for beginners. Downstream of Thurmond, the river narrows and includes technical Class V rapids (commercial outfitters offer guided tours). River users can check river level information by calling the Hinton Visitor Center or Canyon Rim Visitor Center.

Camping is permitted along the river unless otherwise posted.

The Gauley River, a tributatary of the New River flowing north of the gorge, is a word-famous paddling destination. The Gauley offers some of the most turbulent water around, and some of the most thrilling drops. The Bluestone River is runnable only during higher water levels, and paddlers usually overlook it in favor of the many better nearby opportunities.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 21 Apr 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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