Visiting Rafter’s Paradise
As I write this, know one thing: I have gone whitewater rafting one time in my life, for half a day trip down the New River. That's me, front row on the far right. Also know this: it was the coolest, most thrilling thing I’ve done to date and I will be doing it again and again.
Don't just take it from me. Here’s why rafting propels West Virginia as one of the top destinations to travel in world according to Lonely Planet.
For beginners, there are several different ways to rafter the rivers in and around the New River Gorge, the Gauley being the most renown in the area. For literal beginners, many of the rafting groups like Ace or Adventures on the Gorge offer clinics or rafting adventures for young kids that are safer and calmer for newbies. So, if you are planning a trip to the area with kids and don’t want to miss out, there’s opportunity for adventure for them while you hit the rapids.
From my personal experience, getting to raft on the New River was such a thrill. For starters, it’s the second older river in the world. Wow. It flows north to south. Double Wow. It has over 36 class III-V rapids! KA-BOOM! The New River has been nicknamed “The Grand Canyon of the East” due to its ferocity, producing 12,000-20,000cfs of water flow, the same as the Grand Canyon (Colorado River). But get this, in the spring months of April and May, the New River hits peaks of 32,000cfs!!! What that translates to is roaring rapids, high speeds, and the thrill of a lifetime. Maybe someone should lobby to call the Grand Canyon, “The New River of the West.”
You can raft both the New and Gauley River’s throughout the year, making this a destination that doesn’t have to revolve simply around the famed fall “Gauley Season.” In fact, you can reserve times on both rivers and revolve your trip around experiencing both. People come from all over the globe to raft the Gauley in the fall, so if you feel experienced enough, giving the Gauley a shot in the spring may be just for you!
Now, to share my personal experience with rafting, and why I plan to raft as much as possible between now and forever. The trip was a half day and was full of unique experiences. You learn before you enter the water how to paddle, react, swim if you go overboard and more. You’ll feel confident before you see or even hear a rapid. You’ll also always have a guide with you, to tell you when to pick up speed, relax or even jump-in.
The rapids are awesome. But the one thing I enjoyed most was surfing. Not on a board, but you will park your boat near a rapid and begin to paddle strongly right at the rapid. Once you are in it, you begin ramping, skipping, jumping, plunging for as long as you can manage. It was by far the coolest part of the experience. If you are to fall out at this time (and I’ll add that out of the 50+ people on our dozen or so boats, maybe 2 people fell out safely) you’ll swim to a designated side which is instructed by the guide long before you reach the rapid area.
Another neat feature of the New River is the swimming rapids. You’ll hop in the water and go down the rapids solo. These are smaller rapids that will propel you to a calmer area and you’ll regain with your group in the boat.
Much of the trip is spent taking in the gorgeous Gorge views, seeing wildlife, enjoying a riverside lunch, and building camaraderie. A few times you may feel vulnerable to exiting the boat, but after a few small rapids in the beginning, you should be able to gain your footing.
As I mentioned there are many ways to experience these rivers. There are half-day trips, whole day trips, two-day trips, winter trips, Gauley Season, peak summer heat, everything for everyone.
When we left, there was a sense of accomplishment, so if it’s your first time or your fiftieth, I hope that’s a feeling you’ll feel too.
There is adventure all over the world, and sometimes we’re lucky enough to find adventures a little closer to home. I mean, what’s cooler than saying you’ve tamed the world’s second oldest river that flows against the grain at an output twice that of the Colorado River of the Grand Canyon? Sky snorkeling with endangered noodle dragons in the aqua forests of the east pole, but since that doesn’t exist, whitewater rafting in West Virginia it is!