California Whitewater Rafting with WET


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Rafting the Gauley in West Virginia

Difficulty: Class III - V
Length: 28 miles
Flows: 2000 cfs - 3000 cfs
Gradient: 28 ft/mi
Put-in: Summersville Dam
Take-out: Panther Mountain
Season: Fall

The Gauley River is West Virginia's classic class V whitewater run. For six weekends in September and October, dam releases bring thousands of private and commercial boaters and river guides to enjoy the 28 miles of tumultuous rapids. There are over 100 rapids on the Gauley due to the steep gradient--the river drops nearly 670 feet in less than 30 miles!

The 22 days of rafting are referred to as the Gauley Fest, weekends chock full of rafting, camping, eating, and partying. Many commercial outfitters have large riverside camps that accommodate hundreds of guests. They offer rock climbing and challenge course activities, horse-back riding and other fun activities for kids. Many families turn a one-day rafting trip into a weekend-long outdoor adventure.

Pillow Rock, Sweet's Falls, Lost Paddle, and the very technical and daunting Shipwreck Rapid make the class IV-V Upper Gauley one of the most exciting whitewater runs east of the Mississippi. Veteran adventure enthusiasts return year after year to experience the thrill of 16 miles of big volume class V whitewater. For first-timers or those who are less adrenaline crazed, the Lower Gauley is a great 12 mile class III-IV run. It is perfect for families, or as a warm-up to the Gauley.

During the fall, West Virginia becomes a vibrant painting as the leaves turn golden and scarlet, providing a spectacular backdrop to the tumbling whitewater of the Gauley. Protected by the National Park Service, the Gauley runs through the rolling foothills and mountains of the Appalachian Region. Many people praise the wilderness setting and the remoteness of the canyon, but some are disappointed by the huge crowds of rafters that flock to the river every autumn.

Check out's Gauley River directory or for even more information on rafting this river.


Located between Fayetteville and Summersville in West Virginia, the Gauley is about an hour drive from Charleston, WV, five hours from Washington DC, and for those midwesterners up for a road trip, it's a ten hour drive from Chicago, IL.

To get to the Summersville Dam Put-In for the Upper Gauley: Take US 19 and head west onto highway 129. After you cross the Summersville Dam, follow signs to the bottom of the dam. Put your boat in the water and enjoy the ride!

To get to the Panther Mountain take-out for the Upper Gauley: Head west on 129. Turn left on Panther Mountain Road. Drive about 4 miles. On the left you will see a path that heads down to the river. It's about 3/4 miles long. There is no easy access during the peak fall season, but the rest of the year, you can ask to use the commercial camps and drive right in.


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Disclaimer: River descriptions and classifications may change due to natural events that may create new hazards or flows. C-W-R advises that any paddler that uses this site be additionally informed by seeking out local news and updates for changes on this river.

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