It’s the most wonderful time of the year for rafters! Gauley Season is almost here. For six weekends in September and October, the dam at Summersville Lake will be released, creating guaranteed flow on the Gauley River. More than 60,000 rafters from all over the world descend upon wild, wonderful West Virginia to take on the rapids each year.
“Gauley Season is long anticipated each fall — there’s truly nothing quite like it,” said West Virginia Tourism Secretary Chelsea Ruby. “Whether you are looking for a high-adventure rafting experience or a family-friendly float down the New River in the nation’s newest national park, we’ve got a one-of-a-kind adventure waiting for you in Almost Heaven.”
Gauley Season History
While world-renowned now, the Gauley has only been a whitewater destination since the 1970s. The Summersville Dam was completed in 1965 to control flooding downstream near Charleston, the state’s capital. Now, the Gauley has an iconic reputation. It’s one of the premier whitewater runs in the world.
The Gauley River
The Gauley River is considered one of the best whitewater rivers in the country. It has more than 100 rapids with an incredible volume of water, as well as huge waves and drops more than 668 feet.
The river consists of two sections: The Upper and Lower Gauley. They’re usually run as separate trips, but you can make the approximately 24 miles of whitewater as one. The Upper Gauley is steep, fast, and technical, featuring class III to Big V Rapids such as Insignificant, Pillow Rock, Iron Ring, and Sweets Falls. The Lower Gauley is a 12-mile stretch of river with class III to V rapids that can feel like a rollercoaster, including Upper Mash, Lower Mash, and Pure Screaming Hell. The Middle Gauley will give you little reprieve with some calmer waters.
Take On The Rapids
You can take on the Gauley on your own, but if you’re a first-timer, it’s recommended you use a guide with a local outfitter.
Places like Ace Adventure Resort offer packages special to Gauley Season. It recommends the Lower for first-time rafters and the Upper for those with more experience. You must be 15 years old for the Upper and at least 12 for the Lower.
Adventures on the Gorge offers 5- to 6-hour trips during Gauley Season. Transportation and lunch is provided. You have to be 15 years old with this company.
Celebrating Gauley Season
Gauley Fest is a chance to celebrate the season, but it’s also American Whitewater’s biggest fundraiser of the year. All of the proceeds from the festival go toward river conservation and access work throughout the country. It was started in 1983 to celebrate the derailment of a hydroelectric project that would have disrupted the flows of the Gauley River. Now, it’s grown to become the largest paddling festival in the world with thousands of people attending from all over the world. Top whitewater vendors come together with live entertainment, product demonstrations, raffles, and a silent auction. The festival runs from September 16–18.
2022 Gauley Season
Tentative 2022 Fall Gauley Season release dates are September 9–12, 16–19, 23–26, 30, and into October 1–3, 7–10, and 15–16. You can learn more about Gauley Season at West Virginia Tourism.
The Gauley River is near New River Gorge National Park. If you plan to visit, be sure to learn about Everything You Need To Know About New River Gorge, America’s Newest National Park.