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How Many Class 5 Rapids Are on the Gauley River?

Attracting tens of thousands of outdoor adventurers annually, the Gauley River features some of the best whitewater rapids in the United States.

Located in south-central West Virginia, the Gauley River stretches 105 miles long, but the main whitewater runs are in the 25-mile portion of the Gauley River National Recreation Area. In this 25-mile section, the river drops more than 650 feet and there are over 100 rapids whitewater rafters and kayakers can navigate.

Within the Gauley River National Recreation Area, adventurers can experience both the Upper Gauley section and/or the Lower Gauley section. They are each roughly 12 miles long, and if you want to plan a whitewater rafting Gauley River expedition, you’ll want to know more about them.

While most of the rapids tackled within the Gauley River National Recreation Area are around class III, the Upper Gauley section features five world-renowned class V rapids:

  1. Insignificant Rapid
  2. Pillow Rock Rapid
  3. Lost Paddle Rapid
  4. Iron Ring
  5. Sweet’s Falls


This is the first class V rapid paddlers on the Upper Gauley will experience. The beginning is shallow and guides will navigate left or right to avoid the hydraulic in the center of the rapids. With rocks on either side, this is a tight and fast ride, but it gets the blood pumping for the rest of the ride!


This rapid gets a lot of press and spectators will camp out all day just to watch the runs through this section of the river.

While the entrance above is calm and gives rafters plenty of time to anticipate the plunge, the ride on this rapid is exhilarating. Paddlers drop into what’s known as the with rapids spinning and trying to dump paddlers during the quick, 10-second pass-through. The current through this section is no joke, but the drops, spins, and turns are what rafters are seeking!


This is the longest rapid on the Upper Gauley and rafters get to experience not one, but FOUR drops on this section. This part of the river is rocky and wavy with a lot of power. Most rafters navigate to the right of the rapids, but there are more routes for the shallower kayaks.


This rapid appears as the Upper Gauley river bends right and there’s only one route through starting left and working right. This is a very wavy ride and guides who hit the first wave correctly will be pushed right through.


Last, but certainly not least of our class V rapids is Sweets Falls. Named after John Sweet who descended these rapids in the 1960s, this section drops fourteen feet. Watch out for the rock ledges and get ready for power.  You can also enjoy our exclusive access to the sunny side of Sweet’s Falls where hot, grilled lunch is prepared while you take a well earned break from paddling. This is the best vantage point to watch other rafters negotiate the rapids. Spectacular scenery and dramatic views highlight this high impact adventure.


Please note that while whitewater rafting and kayaking are extremely fun and exhilarating sports, they are not without their limits and hazards. Whitewater rafters and kayakers need a level of skill and respect for the power of the river and we highly recommend going through an accredited, qualified, and professional outfitter to ensure safety while on the rapids.

Our family-owned company believes in a mission, not a mission statement. Quite simply, we love sharing our passion for adventure; our guests come first, period. We pledge gracious hospitality, uncompromising service, and unequaled value.

The River Expeditions Team is led by locals who live and breathe whitewater. As the only second-generation, family-owned and operated adventure outfitter in the area, our love of the New River Gorge National Park & Preserve and Gauley River National Recreation Area drives our desire to share this beautiful area with our guests.

Experience history, nature, culture, and endless adventures – our lifeblood in the New River Gorge. We warmly invite you to discover authentic experiences, incredible values, fantastic amenities, and exceptional hosts.

Give us a call today to learn more about West Virginia river rafting with The River Expeditions Team and our other adventures!

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