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How Long Does It Take to Raft the Gauley River?

Affectionately called the “beast of the east,” the Gauley River offers some of the most technical white water rafting in West Virginia.

But the 24-mile-long river can’t be defined so easily. With two distinct sections and seasons, the Gauley offers both wild, adrenaline-fueled adventures or more leisurely floats through a scenic canyon.

The time it takes to complete the journey depends on the time of year you go as well as the section you choose to explore.


During the summer, the river’s water level is decidedly lower.  Summer Gauley flows are available Memorial Day through Labor Day.  It’s well-suited for kayaks, duckies or inexperienced rafting parties who want to go at a slower pace. That’s not to say you won’t encounter drops in elevation and rapids. But water levels fluctuate greatly in summer, making every day a little different on the river.

The Gauley’s characteristics change significantly after Labor Day. That’s when the Army Corps of Engineers begins drawing down Summersville Lake, dumping some 2,500 f/s of water into the Gauley. This marks the beginning of Fall Gauley Season and some of the best white water rafting on earth.

With 100 rapids of varying classes, the Gauley in fall is not for the faint of heart or the novice, and it’s two sections make for very different experiences.


The upper Gauley is a 10-mile stretch that drops 335 feet. That may not seem like a big drop, but this section of the river features tight, technical rapids that call for your precise maneuvering and skill. It takes about four hours to complete the Upper Gauley.

The Gauley’s famed “Big 5” rapids are located here. All Class 5 rapids, the quintet of Insignificant, Pillow Rock, Lost Paddle, Iron Ring and Sweet’s Falls offer thrills aplenty.

The Big 5 make this section of the river a uniquely challenging single-day white water rafting trip. It’s intense and definitely not for newbies.  Previous paddling experience is recommended and the minimum age to run the Upper Gauley is 16.


The Lower Gauley isn’t as intense but features a series of 35 rapids with memorable names like Pure Screaming Hell. Along with big waves and fun chutes, the scenery along this stretch of the river is not to be missed. Rugged canyon walls set in a pristine wilderness that’s uniquely beautiful.

The 14-mile section takes about four hours to complete and is appropriate for novice, beginner,  and even first-time paddlers.  The minimum age to run the Lower Gauley is 12.


The full Gauley run is called the Marathon. Encompassing 24 miles, it’s definitely a haul. If you choose to do the entire river, it will take a minimum of eight hours. Marathon packages include a stop for a riverside lunch between the sections. If you choose this option, make sure you’re in good physical condition and can handle a lot of intense physical activity.


Looking to go rafting in West Virginia? You’ll need to know how long paddling excursions take so you can plan accordingly. When it comes to white water rafting Gauley River WV, a trip takes anywhere from five to eight hours.

We’re happy to answer your questions about our paddling excursions on the Gauley River. Check out our package options or give us a call at 800-463-9873 for more information.

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