The Thrill Seeker’s Escape
Gauley River, West Virginia
Every fall, for seven consecutive weekends beginning the Friday after Labor Day, West Virginia cranks up for Gauley season, that time of the year when the Army Corps of Engineers releases massive discharges of water from Summersville Lake, creating one of the biggest, most challenging whitewater runs on earth. Thirteen miles of the Upper Gauley—stretching through towering rock cliffs and forested slopes— serves up 13 Class IV and six Class V rapids. Paddlers from around the world flock here for the annual event, but what makes the river so special is that it’s an easy weekend getaway for East Coasters. More than a half-dozen major outfitters float the river, and for nervous first timers, you can still get your adrenaline pumping in the smaller, safer whitewater in the Lower Gauley, where the rapids are a less severe Class III–IV.
OVERNIGHT: Adventures on the Gorge runs a trip that tackles both the upper and lower sections of the Gauley in one float, with a night under the stars at Canyon Doors, a riverside campground complete with wood-fired hot tubs. —J.M.
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