Rafting the Gauley River

Trek Essentials

Where: Gauley River, West Virginia, Washington DC State
When: Mid September – mid October
Best sights: Gauley River Canyon civic war battle site and the New River Gorge Bridge – the longest single-arch steel bridge in the world
Remember to bring: Skills to negotiate Class V+ rapids
Watch out for: Falling overboard – listen to your instructor’s advise as lives can be lost negotiating rapids

Every autumn, West Virginia becomes a rafter’s Mecca. That’s when one million tons of water is released out of the Summerville Dam and into the Gauley River to bring the lake to its winter level. The main Gauley River rafting season consists of five 4-day weekends and one 2-day weekend from mid-September through mid-October. To rafters all over the world, this is known as the Gauley Season.


– The thrill of rafting some of the world’s best whitewater – getting up to Class V.

– Climbing for all skills level in the New River Gorge

– Visiting the abandoned mining settlements along the river and learning about the area’s civil war history

Our Journey Path 

West Virginia lies three hundred miles west of Washington D.C. Trekker Bradley Cooper heads first to the New River, and rafted its Class III and IV rapids. He stops off to see the site of the old abandoned mining settlement of Sewell. Bradley then spends the day with local climbing guide, Erin, who takes him for his first rock-climbing experience in the New River Gorge area. The next day, he’s ready to brave the Gauley. He starts on the Lower Gauley, then heads to the Upper Gauley, near the Summerville Dam, where he experiences Class 5 white-water rafting.

 Travel Tips

– The New River Gorge is a popular spot for rock-climbing. There are sheer rock faces for climbers of all levels, with over 1500 routes and hundreds of hidden crags in the rocks.

– The Gauley can be dangerous and has taken lives. Listen to your guide’s instructions, especially if you go overboard.

– If you’re boating, you’ll need the skills to negotiate Class V+ rapids.

Did you know?

– The Gauley River’s vicious whitewater is rated number two in the U.S. and seventh in the world. The Gauley boasts a hundred rapids in a 24-mile stretch and five of them are rated Class 5.

– West Virginia has a population of one million. It grew with the mining industry in the late 1890s. The eastern states had already become fairly populated, but it was Henry Ford and the motor car industry which, with its need for steel, opened up the area for coal mining. A hundred years ago, the rich deposits of coal in the area made the New River Gorge area a thriving industrial community. Towns like Sewell, the first recorded settlement along the New River Gorge, were home to two thousand people. As Bradley finds out, today Sewell is abandoned and all that remains are ruined buildings overgrown with forest.

– The Summerville Dam is released four times a year, releasing 22 million gallons of water into the Gauley River. The dam was constructed in the 1960s by the US corps of Engineers for flood control. With a height of 390 feet, the Summerville Dam is the second largest earthen dam east of the Mississippi.

– Near Summersville, West Virginia is an important civil War battle site, nestled on the rim of the Gauley River Canyon. On September 10, 1861, Union troops engaged the Confederates and forced them to evacuate an entrenched position on a farm, which overlooked Carnifex Ferry. The Confederate commander retreated, cementing the failure of the Confederate drive to regain control of the Kanawha Valley. As a result the movement for West Virginia statehood proceeded without serious threat from the Confederates.

– The spectacular New River Gorge Bridge arching 876 feet above the Gauley River. It’s the longest single-arch steel bridge in the world, as well as the second highest in the United States. One of West Virginia’s largest festivals is held here on the third Sunday in October, known as ‘Bridge Day’. All day long the bridge is blocked for pedestrian traffic and parachuting.



The Pilot Crew were guided on their trip by:

ACE Adventure Center 
P.O. Box 1186
Oak Hill, West Virginia
25901 USA
Toll Free Tel: 1-888-ACE-RAFT / 1-888-223 7238
Local: (304) 469-2651 Fax: (304) 469 3053

Gauley River National Recreation Area
PO Box 246
Glen Jean, West Virginia
25846 USA
Tel: (304) 465-0508

For more information on the Civil War Discovery Trail, which links more than 300 sites and 16 states, call 1-800-CW-TRUST.