West Virginia’s Wildest Whitewater

East Coast­ers don’t have to trav­el far to find epic white­wa­ter — West Vir­ginia has some of the great­est Class IV‑V rapids in the coun­try. This back­woods state hides some pret­ty epic adven­tures for any­one will­ing to seek them out. Here are a few rivers you’ll want to try.

Youghioghe­ny River

Ohiopyle Falls on th Lower Youghiogheny at 1.9ftThe Youghioghe­ny Riv­er is a mon­strous 134-mile riv­er that pri­mar­i­ly bar­rels through por­tions of Penn­syl­va­nia but con­tains a mod­er­ate stretch of excel­lent rapids just west of the Alleghe­ny Moun­tains in West Vir­ginia. Tack­ling the entire length is, at min­i­mum, a week­long event, but you can make a great day trip out of the stretch inside the Moun­tain State. The Yough sources near Sil­ver Lake before run­ning north­bound through Mary­land. Along the way, you’ll meet with some chal­leng­ing Class IV rapids and a few boul­ders block­ing the path.

Cheat Riv­er

The Cheat Riv­er, a trib­u­tary of the Monon­ga­hela Riv­er, runs 78 miles through south­west Penn­syl­va­nia and West Vir­ginia. It’s also home to the annu­al Cheat Riv­er Race, the largest white­wa­ter race in exis­tence. The Cheat Riv­er Canyon sec­tion spans the dis­tance from Albright to Jenk­ins­burg, West Vir­ginia and pro­vides the biggest chal­lenges. The canyon area is lit­tered with Class IV and V rapids dur­ing the spring and sum­mer seasons.

New Riv­er

New River WhitewaterThe New Riv­er runs through West Virginia’s New Riv­er Gorge and offers rapids to suit anyone’s needs. The Upper New Riv­er is per­fect for relax­ing and swim­ming in the shal­low shoals and pools. It con­tains Class II rapids and below, so it’s great for rafters look­ing to get their kids start­ed on the sport. The Low­er New Riv­er is where things start to get fun. This stretch of water hosts over 20 Class III-IV+ rapids and plen­ty of steep drops due to the numer­ous boul­ders lin­ing the shores. White­wa­ter rafters love the Low­er New Riv­er because of the long stretch­es of calm water that allow you to recov­er between each chal­lenge. Dur­ing the spring it often ends in an 8‑mile stretch of treach­er­ous, Class V rapid.

Shenan­doah River

The Mighty Shenan­doah might be some­thing of a mis­nomer. At its peak, it typ­i­cal­ly offers only Class III rapids. How­ev­er, its cen­tral loca­tion just east of Harpers Fer­ry makes it a great des­ti­na­tion for inter­me­di­ate rafters and new­bies alike. The 6.5‑mile run pro­vides spec­tac­u­lar views of the Blue Ridge Moun­tains before con­verg­ing with the Potomac. Bull Falls and White Horse are the two rapids that’ll get your adren­a­line pump­ing. If you’re look­ing for a relax­ing, though occa­sion­al­ly fast-paced, pad­dle down one of America’s most scenic rivers, you can’t go wrong here.

Gauley Riv­er

The Gauley Riv­er is the crème de la crème of white­wa­ter raft­ing on the East Coast. With rough­ly 25 miles of riv­er to run, Gauley offers more rapids than any oth­er out­side of the West. The riv­er is divid­ed into two runs – The Low­er and Upper Gauley. The Low­er Gauley is a 17-mile tech­ni­cal run that requires chal­leng­ing maneu­ver­ing with a bevy of Class III‑V rapids. The Low­er Gauley is con­sid­ered the eas­i­er of the two runs, thanks to a few instances of calm waters where you can stop and swim.

The Upper Gauley is affec­tion­ate­ly nick­named the “Beast of the East.” Con­sis­tent­ly vot­ed one of the top five runs on Earth, Upper Gauley is a sur­plus of Class IV and V rapids that drop 335 feet over the span of 13 miles. There are no breaks here, and only the most expe­ri­enced white­wa­ter rafters should try it. The “Big 5” is the Upper Gauley’s great­est a chal­lenge – a series of con­tin­u­ous Class V rapids that are incred­i­bly steep sand weave quick­ly between tow­er­ing boulders.

Fall is typ­i­cal­ly con­sid­ered “Gauley Sea­son” and the per­fect time to check it out.