West Virginia is a whitewater rafting haven. Calmer waters for families and beginner paddling trips, along with adrenaline-pumping class V rapids that require tight turns and technical maneuvering make West Virginia the place to be for whitewater rafting.

A mere 1.5-hour drive from Charleston, West Virginia’s capital city, the whitewater scene is energetic and robust. You’ll find locals who have grown up on the water, and visitors from around the world who are excited to see the renowned rapids of the area’s rivers.

Where can I go whitewater rafting in West Virginia?

New River

The New River is a gem for whitewater rafting in West Virginia. Towering gorge walls channel rushing river water into rapids that are sure to get your heart pounding. If you’re looking for the big waves, you’ll want to check out the Lower New. With class I-IV rapids, the Lower New River provides some of the best whitewater rafting in West Virginia.

Two rafts on river with rail bridge in background
The New River offers different levels of thrills for everyone.

Don’t worry, you’re not out of luck on the New River if you’re looking for a more laid-back or family-friendly day. The Upper New has class I to III rapids and makes for a great day on the water for kids and families. There are long flat stretches and calm pools, and several local tour companies include lunch in their day trips, making for a very relaxing day on the river.

Lansing is a good central location for trips on the New River, and has several tour companies in town or close by that will make sure your experience on the New River is a memorable one.

Raft Companies

Gauley River

The Gauley River is known for its world-class whitewater, and it doesn’t disappoint. Dropping more than 650 feet in 25 miles, the Gauley is a paddler’s dream. Split into two sections, Upper and Lower, the Gauley’s class III to V rapids provide an unforgettable whitewater experience for all types of paddlers. Most rental companies along the Gauley are about a 30-minute drive from the town of Summersville.

For the biggest waves, book a trip for the fall when the scheduled Summersville Dam releases occur.

Upper Gauley

According to local tour company River Expeditions, the Upper Gauley is “ranked as one of the most uniquely challenging single day whitewater runs in the world.” It’s intense, stunningly beautiful, and a serious stretch of river that will challenge and thrill even the most seasoned paddlers.

The Upper Gauley features 50+ rapids, many in the class IV to V range. This is serious whitewater and is not for beginners or children under 15. The guides in the area that run tours on this section of river are seasoned and talented paddlers. If your skill level is more on the advanced side and you’re looking for a challenge, check out this stretch of whitewater!

Lower Gauley

The Lower Gauley stretch of river in West Virginia is a treat for your eyes, and your paddle! The whitewater is plentiful on this 13-mile stretch of class III to V rapids, and with 50 rapids to run, you’ll see why this area is a favorite of expert paddlers the world over. With charismatic names like Chainsaw, Junkyard and Rooster Tail, the waves on Lower Gauley are whitewater legends that are a must-experience if you’re in for some adventure!

Raft Companies

What do you wear whitewater rafting in West Virginia?

Whitewater rafting doesn’t require you to bring any specialized gear with you. Your guiding company will have all the technical gear covered; you’ll just need to make sure you’re dressed for adventure!

Generally, any athletic clothing that’s comfortable and allows for a good range of movement will be great for your day on the river. What you’ll need to pay the most attention to is the weather. There is a long season for whitewater rafting in West Virginia and the temperatures can vary dramatically, both morning to night and season to season. Spring can be crisp, especially in the morning, and summer days are sunny and humid.

If you’re heading out on a spring adventure in West Virginia, make sure you pack layers! A quick drying and warm base layer (like merino wool) will be essential on chilly May mornings. Pack a mid-layer that provides some good warmth as well—a down hoodie or fleece jacket will be good here. For bottoms, try to stick with durable, non-cotton fabrics. Cotton is heavy and cold when it’s wet, and it takes a long time to dry out in comparison with synthetics. Long pants or shorts are fine, depending on the time of year. Keep in mind that whitewater rafting isn’t the gentlest of activities, so if you’re conscious of getting scrapes or bruises on your knees, pants or tights will be your best bet.

Shoes are one of the most important parts of your whitewater rafting attire. Always, always, always wear closed-toe shoes! You can opt for a neoprene water shoe or covered sandal if you like, or a full running shoe or day hiker—as long as they buckle or tie onto your feet and have a covered toe, you’re good to go.

Whitewater rafting season West Virginia

Whitewater rafting season in West Virginia generally runs May to September, with a couple of exceptions. Springtime tends to be more relaxed with lower flow rates overall, while in certain spots fall is the biggest water of the year.

If you’re looking for a whitewater rafting adventure on the New River, April to October will be your best bet. For the Gauley, Memorial Day to Labor Day is the high season. The biggest water on the Gauley will be found in the fall due to scheduled dam releases from September to October each year. Many of the guide companies will offer trips on scheduled dam release days.

Whitewater rafting West Virginia prices

At first glance, there is a fairly large range in pricing options for whitewater rafting trips in West Virginia. Whitewater in West Virginia is a big business, and there are both larger tour companies and smaller establishments. Price differences between trips can be substantial and are a result of a few factors.

Many tour companies only run trips on the Gauley on scheduled dam release days. These tour companies charge a premium for fall tours, especially on weekends, because there are only six weekends per year with scheduled dam releases. Other companies on both the New and Gauley Rivers will run the same stretch all season, but there is a premium for dam release days when the water flow is guaranteed.

When you’re booking your trip, keep an eye on the length of the days. There are less expensive trips that run shorter sections of river—like this one from River Expeditions—and longer runs—like this double run from ACE Rafting—that will keep you on the river for a very full day. The time is important for price as well as the level of experience in your group—a half-day on the river is lots of time for little ones and beginners to get a taste for whitewater!

It’s very common in this area for tour companies to offer packages. This can include anything from a meal to a full overnight camping experience. Make sure you look closely at what’s included in each package. This tour on the New River from the guiding company River Expeditions includes breakfast, lunch and snacks. ACE Rafting offers many of their tours with lunch, or speedier versions with no lunch that are less expensive. Hospitality in West Virginia is renowned, so expect that your hosts will want to provide you with everything to make your trip as memorable as possible!


  1. Besides the scheduled releases of the Gauley River in the fall, springtime is when WV rivers are rushing with way higher flowrates than the rest of the year caused by spring rains and snowmelt from our highlands, which feeds almost all of our whitewater rivers.


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