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.
The 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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.