Putting the Wild in Whitewater

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West Virginia whitewater rafting new river gauley river
A Feast Fit for a Flotilla: The mid-trip Wildwater lunch buffet (courtesy, Wildwater)

The Basics:
The New and Gauley rivers both lie in southern West Virginia, and the central hub for most river activities resides in Fayetteville, on Highway 19 near Route 15, or a few miles west in Lansing. The Gauley lies within the Gauley River National Recreation Area (www.nps.gov/gari/home.htm) which encompasses 11,495 acres, and includes 25.5 miles of the Gauley River and 5.5 miles of the Meadow River. The season starts the first Friday after Labor Day and runs each weekend, Friday through Monday, until the third weekend in October, which coincides with the Bridge Day Festival, the world’s largest one-day BASE-jumping event, at the New River Gorge Bridge. The tight season means reservations (well in advance) are essential. The Gauley is consistently ranked as one of the world’s top whitewater rivers, so if you want to dive right into the deep end, the Gauley is your river.

The New, part of the New River Gorge National Park (P.O. Box 246; Glen Jean, WV 25846; 304.465.0508; www.nps.gov/neri) is less extreme and its season less structured. In general it runs from early spring to late fall; spring usually sees higher water from snowmelt, though high levels can flood the New during the late summer and into fall. The Upper New is ideal for novices, the elderly, and families anxious for a low-key intro to whitewater rafting, while the Lower has some serious rapids interspersed with the flatwater.

Most trips on both rivers are organized in either daylong or two-day stretches and food (lunch for daylong trips; lunch, breakfast, and dinner for overnight trips) is usually included in the cost. Due to the technical demands, the Gauley costs a bit more than the New, but expect to pay around $100 for runs on either the top or bottom sections of both rivers, and $180 to $200 for overnight trips. Hitting the New midweek and on April weekends or taking on the Gauley on Mondays in October can drop the price by as much $20 to $25. Wetsuits (usually provided by the tour operator for a modest fee) are a good idea, especially during the colder months, and synthetic clothing and shoes or sandals with secure heels are essential. Helmets and life jackets are provided.

Regional Outfitters
Lansing-based Wildwater (P.O. Box 155; Lansing, WV 25862; 1.800.WVA.RAFT; www.wvaraft.com) was the first on the scene (professionally), leading guided trips down both the New and Gauley since 1968. In addition to offering one- and two-day trips on both rivers (and an exhausting daylong traverse of the Gauley’s roughest 24 miles), they also offer guided climbing and kayaking trips. Camping is allowed on the field adjacent to their HQ, and they have several package deals with hotels in the area.

Where to Stay
Rob Dobson, part-owner of Wildwater, and his wife Shawn met while rafting, fell in love, bought a house in Fayetteville, and have since remodeled the bungalow, dubbing it the Court Street Cottage (312 North Court Street; Fayetteville, WV 25840; 304.574.4018; www.courtstreetcottage.com). It can accommodate nine people, and has queen-sized beds, a full kitchen, cable TV, and a Jacuzzi bathtub. It’s $45 per person (four-person minimum during the week; six-person minimum on weekends).

Where to Eat
Just outside of downtown Fayetteville,The Sedona Grille (106 E Maple Avenue; Fayetteville; 304.574.3411) will redefine your understanding of West Virginian cuisine. They specialize in southwestern fare, but the seasonal menu also has a selection of accomplished Middle Eastern and Asian dishes, and they also have a healthy selection of wine and local and import beers on tap. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Dirty Ernie’s Rib Pit (310 Keller Avenue; Fayetteville; 304.574.4822), which lives up to its name by offering excellent (and very messy) ribs and other BBQ dishes, along with booming music, 1,001 televisions, good beer, and a carpet of discarded peanut shells.

Additional Activities
Those reticent about getting wet can still find plenty of soft adventure in Fayetteville. Nearby Hawks Nest State Park (P.O. Box 857; Ansten, WV 25812; 340.658.5212; www.hawksnestp.com) offers spectacular views of the New River Gorge and has jet boat excursions, an aerial tramway, miles of hiking trails, and a nine-hole golf course. The New River Gorge National Park (P.O. Box 246; Glen Jean, WV 25846; 304.465.0508; www.nps.gov/neri) encompasses some 70,000 acres along the New River between Hinton and Fayetteville, and has four Visitor Centers (Canyon Rim, Thurmond Depot, Grandview, and Hinton). An intricate network of hiking trails loop through old coal towns and past waterfalls, geological formations, and views of the gorge. A few trails are also open to mountain biking and horses.

The New River also makes for a fantastic two-wheeled excursion. Several easy trails reside within the New River Gorge National River, including the Brookly-Southside Junction Trail, which hugs the New River. There is also plenty of mountain bike singletrack within Hawks Nest State Park and New River Gorge. Fat-tire fans looking for something closer to town should head to Huse Memorial Park within Fayetteville and get lost on the trails that reside behind the baseball diamond. New River Bike & Touring Company (103 Keller Ave; Fayetteville, WV 25840; 1.866.301.2453; www.newriverbike.com) can point you in the right direction. They also offer custom tours, bike rentals, and guided half- and full-day tours of the New River Gorge and the surrounding area.

Nathan Borchelt is the lead editor for Away.com

Published: 20 Apr 2004 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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