Paddling WV’s classic whitewater river

The New River is the classic collection of whitewater runs that built West Virginia’s whitewater rafting industry.

It runs all the way from early spring through summer and fall, and each season is a unique ride.

During the spring— usually April and May— the water levels are very high, which makes great fun with big waves. It’s a great time for a whitewater rafting trip with a local guide, and a playful run for seasoned boaters.

The New River is broken into 2 sections, the Upper and the Lower.

The Upper section is great for family rafting and duckying, with easy Class I and II rapids. It’s also is perfect for beginner kayakers to enjoy uninterrupted, rollercoaster-like wave trains.

The Lower New is the quintessential West Virginia whitewater run, exciting for any level whitewater rafter. For kayaking, the Class IV rapids make it geared more toward intermediates.

The Lower is a dramatically different ride at various water levels:

Summer on the Lower

And at typical summer levels, say 0-2 feet on the Fayette Station Gauge, the Lower New is essentially a Class III-III+ rock garden. You should still expect a couple huge rapids, though, like Middle and Lower Keeney.

Below 0 feet, chutes and rocks with pillows and pourovers are the norm, and the biggest challenges are rocks.

From 2 feet to around 6, the waves get enormous. This is the range that made the New River Gorge famous, as it virtually defines East Coast big water.

While it can be intimidating to put in at this level, it’s also ridiculously fun—if you have the requisite big water skills. Foreknowledge of hazards (or a solid roll) becomes crucial.

Favorites: Local boaters will give you all sorts of answers about their favorite water levels, but most seem to gravitate to levels when the waves are gigantic and well-defined. 2 feet is a crowd pleaser, as are 3 feet, 3.75 feet, and 6 feet.

Spring on the Lower

Spring is a different story entirely.

If the Fayette Station gauge sits above 6 feet, you need to be on top of your big-water A-game. Set up early, so you have time to get to where you want to go.

At truly high levels, let’s say 10 feet and above, the Lower New is virtually a 7-mile-long Class V rapid. Oh sure, there are only a few major obstacles to avoid— like Whale Hole, Barry’s Hole and Lollygag— but avoid them you must!

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