Running the Rivers of the Mountain State
With some of the largest thrills-per-rapid ratios anywhere in North America, West Virginia’s rivers are regularly ranked among the top ten white-water runs in the world, passing through a landscape so rugged (and so similar to that of Idaho and Colorado) that it’s often referred to as the West of the East.
Most outfitters suggest getting your feet wet in the poorly named New River (actually the second oldest river in the world after the Nile), which has as many calm stretches as white water pools. A 53-mile stretch at the upper part of the river’s full 230-mile length has been named as a national scenic river, and in summer is so calm you could even bring Grandma along.
In the south-central part of the state, amid deep gorges and rough, wooded Appalachian terrain, the intimidating Gauley River is the state’s most challenging – narrower, longer, and twice as steep as the New River.
During “Fall Release,” when the dam is opened for twenty-three days in early September to lower man-made Summersville Lake, the powerful river is the place to be for steep drops with names like Heaven Help You and Pure Screaming (you get the idea) and nonstop back-to-back class IV and V rapids. Your adrenaline will still be pumping long after your river ride is over.