Canyon Doors
Canyon Doors

The Nation’s Best Whitewater Rafting In The Country’s Newest National Park

West Virginia Department of Tourism welcomes whitewater rafters from around the world just as fall colors arrive

SUMMERSVILLE, W.Va., Aug. 30, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — For a limited-time only, America’s newest national park will offer whitewater rafters from around the globe an opportunity to take on some of the world’s top whitewater runs in a picturesque fall backdrop that is practically heaven-sent. Each fall, more than 40,000 people flock to the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve to experience this once-in-a-lifetime thrill during the six-week period also known as Gauley Season.

Each year, controlled releases from the Summersville Dam are scheduled for six weeks beginning after Labor Day, releasing 44 million gallons of water into the Gauley River at a rate of 50+ mph, creating premier whitewater rafting conditions. That volume is enough to fill one Olympic-size pool every 10 seconds. This year’s releases begin the weekend of September 9th and are scheduled to run until the weekend of October 15th.

Tom Abram, of Bloomington, IN has been rafting on the Gauley River for more than three decades. In 1986, Tom was itching for an adrenaline rush and asked his friend to go skydiving with him. When his friend denied the invitation, they decided to take to the whitewater in West Virginia instead and he’s come back to raft on the Gauley River every year since then. Today, Tom not only brings his wife along for the adventure, but also his children and grandchildren. It’s become a family affair.

“I look forward to Gauley Season all year long,” said Abram. “When I planned my rafting trip in 1986, I never imagined I’d keep coming back year after year, but there’s something so exhilarating about it.”

The Upper, Middle and Lower Gauley River make approximately 25 miles of world-class whitewater. The Upper Gauley is best for those looking for more of an intense, pulse pumping adventure. Here you will find legendary Big 5 Rapids–– Insignificant, Pillow Rock, Lost Paddle, Iron Ring and Sweets Falls. This section is steep, fast and technical, rightfully earning its nickname: the Beast of the East.

The Middle Gauley provides a nice, calm reprieve between the Upper and Lower sections and is a great litmus test to decide if you are ready for the Lower. While not as steep and challenging as the Upper, the Lower Gauley holds its own as a high-quality section of whitewater.

The Lower Gauley really shines with its scenic cliff lines at Canyon Doors and Junkyard. Rapids like Upper Mash and Lower Mash will get your blood pumping.

Randy Ebersole, of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania began his whitewater rafting hobby in 1978 and took his first trip down the Upper Gauley River in 1989 when one of his rafting guides recommended it. From then on, he started organizing large groups of friends, with 30-45 people to join in on the excitement.

“After my first Gauley Season, I thought to myself, okay, that was fun, I’ve done it. I can check it off the list,” Ebersole said. “But that quickly turned into planning another trip for the following year. 34 years later, we’re still coming back. Each time the group looks a little different, we return with some of the same folks, and bring newbies along too.”

Gauley Season is welcoming to all walks of life. One trip Ebersole organized had a 26 year old and 72 year old present. He’s had friends join from all over the country, from states such as Florida, Washington, Texas and New Jersey, to name a few.

“One of the craziest things about Gauley Season is the controlled unpredictability of it all,” Ebersole stated. “It’s “controlled” because of the seasoned guides. But even those guides will admit that they don’t always know what will happen on the river. It’s what keeps me coming back. And I’m looking forward to returning to my home away from home, West Virginia, in September.”

Gauley Season 2022 will include 22 scheduled water releases, with an extra hour of release scheduled for Sept. 17th-19th. Many rafting companies are offering exclusive deals in honor of Gauley Season. Plan your rafting excursion today at WVtourism.com.

Quick Facts

  • The Summersville Dam is the second largest dam of its kind in the United States. The water releases drop 44 million gallons of water into the Gauley River at a rate of 50+ mph, creating premier whitewater rafting conditions. That volume is enough to fill one Olympic-size pool every 10 seconds.
  • With 2,023 miles of whitewater, West Virginia has the greatest density in the US.
  • The first commercial rafting business in West Virginia was founded in 1968. Five decades later, rafting in the Mountain State has grown into a multimillion-dollar industry.
  • Adventurers as young as 12 can ride the waves of the Gauley River with an experienced guide.
  • “The Best 10 Seconds in Whitewater.” That’s how pros describe Pillow Rock, the 2nd in the Big 5 lineup.
  • The final “Big 5” rapid, Sweet’s Falls, is actually a 14-foot waterfall.

About the New River Gorge National Park & Preserve

The New River National Park & Preserve is the country’s 63rd and newest national park and is home to more than 70,000 acres of public lands, spanning across multiple counties. Traveler spending for the New River Gorge National Park was up 74% in the year following the national park designation.

Suddenly, West Virginia is one of the hottest tourism spots in the world, making the 2022 top-destinations lists of Condé Nast, TIME, USA Today, Lonely Planet, and Frommer’s.

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