Unfortunately for many travelers, West Virginia isn’t tops on the list of go-to vacation destinations. Among its many draws, however, the state offers some exhilarating white water rafting that’s not to be missed – most of it along the New and Gauley Rivers. If you want a little outdoor adventure and aren’t afraid to get wet, check out our picks for the best white water rafting in West Virginia. You might be soaked, but you won’t be disappointed.
A smaller, family-owned rafting company that takes adventurers down (you guessed it) the New and Gauley Rivers, the N&G River Adventures company has been around since 1977 – giving them plenty of time to perfect their training, tours, and itineraries. They’ve been quite intentional about making rafting a family affair; kid-friendly floats are available, as are the extreme thrill rides that some seek.
If you want to take a trip with the fam, we recommend the Upper New River trip, which is much more leisurely and meandering than the others. You can even request a stop for a short hike along the banks – there are some inspiring natural vistas in the area. No experience is required and a tour guide will be on hand to help navigate and explain the surroundings. Rates run $89-120 per adult depending on the length of the trip.
For those who want heart-pounding excitement, the Thrill Plus trip is a must. Start at the Summersville Dam on the Upper Gauley and (somehow) make your way through five Class V+ rapids (that’s the second most difficult kind). You’ll need some serious waterproof gear for this and its highly recommended that you have previous rafting experience. No adventurers under 16 – sorry. Trip fees are $110.
There are several trips between these two extremes, of course, so be sure to check the website for full details, pricing, and schedules.
Much of the fun at Adventures on the Gorge happens on the rim of the New River Gorge, though Gauley is involved as well. For 47 years, this company has been leading explorers and adventurers down rapids, up cliffs, through streams, and into the sky. That is to say, Adventures on the Gorge offers more than just white water rafting in West Virginia – they offer fishing, climbing, rappelling, zipline adventures, and more.
For the rafters among us, however, there’s a nice balance of “bob down the river” fun and more adrenaline-rushing moments in the wash of Class IV rapids. Most of the rafting happens on the Gauley River, though there are some trips on New River, depending on the level of intensity you’re after. There are even some trips that are broken up with camping, hiking in the wild, and meals. Rates run $109+, but check the website for up-to-date pricing.
If you want to experience the full glory of nature, then consider one of Adventures on the Gorge’s packages. Combine zipline or whitewater adventures with more leisurely hikes, camping expeditions, and lodging – all for one set price. Check the website for more information.
First thing to note here: This is as much a resort as it is a portal for outdoor experiences. There’s a waterpark for the kids, comfy-cozy chalets for the ‘rents, several restaurants – even shopping. Suffice it to say, if you want a healthy mix of outdoor fun and pampering amenities, ACE will take good care of you.
When it comes to white water rafting, there’s plenty to be had. Full and half-day passes are available for treks on the New and Gauley Rivers, plus overnight trips that include camping, meals, and short hikes in the West Virginia wild. This is one of our favorite ways to enjoy white water rafting, in fact – spending an evening before and after staring up at the stars and soaking in the musky scent of the great outdoors. It helps, of course, that the tour guides prepare your meals for you. (Check the website for trip pricing.)
For the tots in your group, consider setting aside some time for water park fun. Back at ACE headquarters, you can lounge on the beach while kids bounce on a splash pad, zip down a waterslide, or just bob around for a bit. There are also facilities on land for games that kids and adults alike will enjoy – including a giant chessboard and volleyball courts.
Housed in Fayetteville, Cantrell Ultimate Rafting is another popular stop for white water rafting in West Virginia – specifically, along New and Gauley Rivers. Similar to many of its peers, Cantrell breaks down rafting trips into Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, and Extreme categories. Pick your pleasure for half-day or full-day rafting treks, or request more of a custom package – Cantrell will happily fold in lunch, runs, hikes, camping, or more to embellish your experience.
Keep in mind that most of the Gauley River trips offered by Cantrell are for intermediate or advanced rafters, while New River is a better option for newbies, families, or those who just want to have a leisurely trek on the water – without too much splash.
Trip prices start at $69.
Focused on New River rafting, West Virginia Adventures also has something for everyone. While lunches and the like can be part of your adventure, rafting is the centerpiece – from dramatic drops and tossy-turny fun down Upper New River to gentler floats, the trips offered by WVA are well-planned and expertly-led.
We also like that West Virginia Adventures pricing is a bit more affordable than some of the other options on our list – trips start at $80. You can also get photos of your tumultuous journey as a keepsake and, if you’re still feeling a sense of adventure, move on to other area adventures like horseback riding, biking, and fishing; the staff here have all of their favorites guides and businesses, so be sure to ask for recommendations.