Gauley River Whitewater Rafting


Where is Gauley River?

Is this a common rafting destination?

What are some reasons why people come back to this river over and over again?

Most of the popular whitewater rafting in the United States tends to be located in the Pacific Northwest. However, West Virginia’s Gauley River has made a name for itself among some of the more well-known and widely recognized river rafting adventures, and with good reason.

This common and popular rafting spot continues to draw crowds of whitewater enthusiasts due to its difficult and wild nature and the unpredictability of a trip down its rapids. This river is surprising every time you ride it, regardless of how many times you’ve been before and how experienced you may be.

Here are a few more great features of Gauley River:

  • This is an intense river from start to finish. Thrill seekers can easily find something they’ll enjoy when traversing the many rapids along the Gauley River.
  • There are several excellent local touring companies to choose from when looking for a way to tackle the Gauley. Choose one with great reviews to ensure you and your whole party will have a good time and make the most of this wild ride.
  • This is a very popular run that draws large crowds throughout its short but vibrant rafting season. For this reason, booking begins early on and may fill up fast. However, it’s worth it to get a spot if you love the idea of careening wildly down the river in a raft with friends.

There are a lot of reasons to love this river, although it’s not for the faint of heart. If you’re thinking about taking a trip on the Gauley, be sure to check out the information we’ve put together below to help you make your trip a success.

Once again, please remember that this river is not intended for inexperienced rafters. Although you may enjoy the scenery and the sights and sounds of the river, you probably don’t want to raft on it if you don’t know what you’re doing already!

Read on to learn more about Gauley River rafting.

Gauley River

Difficulty: Difficult; advanced rafters only

Location: Swiss, West Virginia

Notable Locations on the River: Pillow Rock, Insignificant, Sweet’s Falls, Iron Ring, Wood’s Ferry, Lost Paddle

Duration: Half-Day, ¾-Day, Full-Day, Multi-Day

  • Don’t be fooled by the half-day options; these are still very difficult trips and should be tackled by advanced rafters only.
  • Half-day trips on the lower portion of the river may be taken by moderate rafters who are on the more experience side of moderate.
  • The multi-day trips are very challenging and could be too much even for those who feel they are advanced enough. Speak with the touring company you’re booking with to find out more.

The Gauley River is a challenge from the very beginning. This option runs for about 13 miles and drops a total of 335 feet during this stretch, leading to lots of steep and sharp rapids and narrow turns consistently throughout the trip. This is one of the top three rivers for rafting in the United States, and one of the top five in the world, but it’s not for the faint of heart!

The upper portion of the river boasts thirteen class IV and six class V rapids. The lower portion is marginally less intimidating, but still contains mostly class IV with a few class III rapids.


  • Many companies will allow you to take on the lower and upper Gauley over the course of a two-day trip, giving you the chance to either warm up or cool down with the slightly less difficult lower Gauley.
  • The trip is a great way to earn some bragging rights and plenty of stories to tell to your rafting buddies.
  • Most touring companies will include at least one meal in their Gauley expeditions, and more depending on the length of the trip.


  • Since it’s so popular and the season is so short, you’re likely to be sharing water and camping space both with other groups who are very close by.
  • Touring companies will not allow booking for any individuals who aren’t in shape enough to handle the rapids. There is a chance that individuals could be turned away for safety reasons. Although this can be frustrating, it’s important to trust the decisions of the touring company on this matter.
  • Children younger than 15 years of age should not raft on the Gauley. Teenagers with lots of rafting experience may be able to raft these rapids.


Gauley River is an excellent adventure for those who are skilled enough to handle it. However, you may be wondering how to make the most out of your visit. Is there a specific time of year when you should visit? Or is the river more or less the same all year round? Would you be doing yourself a favor by going during the off-season, or is it best to stick to the more populated times of the year when it comes to this river?

Figuring out the best time of year to visit is crucial to making sure your trip goes smoothly. Gauley River is fed by a dam which has scheduled releases to let off some of the water level. For this reason, the time of the year when the dam releases is the best option for thrill-seekers. This schedule begins on Labor Day weekend and continues through October. The first five weeks, the dam releases are on weekdays; the last week, they are scheduled for the weekend.

Here are some pros for visiting during tourist season:

  • Since the dam releases are schedule during this time of the year, you can always be assured the water levels will be high and fast enough for some great rafting.
  • This popular time of the year is a good time to do some sightseeing in the area as well, and many other tourist locations are open and plentiful during this time.
  • The summer months provide good weather in West Virginia and can encourage you to get out and hike in the surrounding wilderness before or after your rafting adventure.

And here are some cons:

  • The dam releases can cause a lot of tour groups to get backed up and overcrowded during the dates when the water will be at its highest, so the experience may not be as scenic as it is hectic and chaotic.
  • Most touring companies will not let younger kids or anyone with health risks or concerns take a tour on this river. Therefore, Gauley is not a great idea for large families with members of varying ages. Be sure to check with the touring company you’ll be working with to find out for sure about your specific trip.
  • Finally, the river is very wild and can be extremely dangerous. Even experienced rafters have had their rafts flip over on some of the worst rapids of the Gauley. Exercise caution when taking this trip!

By keeping all this in mind, you’ll be able to plan the trip that works best for you and your friends or family. Good luck on the Gauley, and happy rafting!

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