It’s hard to believe that Gauley Season will be here in a few short weeks! Like you, all the whitewater rafting outfitters are giddy with anticipation for what some say is “the happiest time of the year”. Gauley Season in West Virginia means six weeks of action-packed rafting excitement, lending credence to our well-deserved moniker, Almost Heaven. It’s like 22 days of Christmas, with guaranteed water flows from the US Army Corps of Engineers as our gift!
These simple tips will help you plan your next big adventure on the world-famous Gauley River and get the most out of your rafting experience.
1 – Know Your Options: If you like the New River, then you’ll love the Gauley River… most likely. Two distinct sections make up this 25-mile National Recreation Area, also designated as a Wild & Scenic River. It’s best to have some previous rafting experience so you’ll know what you’re doing on the Upper Gauley River, but on the Lower Gauley River no experience is necessary. Outfitters offer several different type of trips including single- and multi-day or even riverside overnight trips. Fall releases from Summersville Dam begin the Friday after Labor Day and run Friday through Monday through the third weekend of October, which coincides with Bridge Day (not a coincidence, by the way). The later you go in the Fall, the better your chances of seeing some extraordinary foliage but remember, you’re coming for the WHITEWATER… pretty leaves are only a bonus.
2 – Be a Savvy Shopper: Who doesn’t appreciate a good deal? Although Gauley River trips are considered to be premium, there are some deals to be had. Obviously, weekdays are less crowded and thus less expensive; some outfitters even offer buy one, get one specials to try to fill these weekday spots. Often, last minute deals pop up on social media channels so be sure you’re connected to take advantage of special offers, discounts and flash sales.
3 – Choose Wisely: Once you’ve figured out which trip you’re taking and when, the next step is selecting an outfitter. While many outfitters offer the same trips, no two outfitters are created equally. Diverse options and amenities at each outpost insure a great fit for every discerning rafting enthusiast. You may even belong to a loyalty or rewards program at your favorite outfitter. In order to get your desired dates, be sure to book well in advance and expect to pay up front. Beware of Pirates (yes, they’re out there) who may promise to take you down the river and even take your money, but are not licensed, professional river outfitters.
4 – Plan & Promote: Everything is better with friends… including whitewater! Although it may be tempting to invite all 3600 of your closest Facebook friends, it’s far more prudent to invite only those family, friends and co-workers who share your love of adventure. Once your reservation is secure, be sure to share all relevant details with each member of your rafting party, i.e. name of outfitter, address, arrival time, what to wear and other FAQ’s which will accompany your confirmation. Always allow extra time for travel, regardless of your mode of transportation. Most Gauley River rafting trips depart in the early morning hours so plan to stay overnight on site with the outfitter, if possible, or at least nearby. And while there is no shortage of fun and excitement on the river, never underestimate how it will wear you out. We do not recommend driving home following a full day of paddling, no matter how tough you are… stay another night and get some rest.
5 – Keep It Real: To best manage expectations of everyone in your rafting party, know who you’re dealing with: seasoned rafters or newbies, or perhaps your group includes both. Even though you may want to impress your new girlfriend with your “high-siding” skills on the Upper Gauley River, she may not appreciate your passion for whitewater. In fact, she may have thought she was going on a FLOAT TRIP and didn’t sign up for raging Class V+ rapids. It’s always best to start out slowly and work your way up to the big stuff – and we certainly don’t want you to lose friends (or girlfriends) on your Gauley River descent. Think of it like a beginner skier skipping the bunny trail and heading over to a double-black diamond slope… not wise. It’s all about having a good time while maintaining a healthy respect for the river.
The goal of every outfitter is to show folks a great time in hopes that they will share their experience with friends and family and return… often. We are blessed beyond measure to live, work and play in such an amazing place. Believe the hype about The Gauley River and come see for yourself. Discover one more reason why West Virginia is #Almost Heaven.
Heather Johnson, has worked in the rafting industry since 1982. She and her husband, Rick, own River Expeditions – the area’s only family owned adventure outfitter. There they are surrounded by a team of like-minded professionals who share their passion for adventure and encourage guests to discover the best of West Virginia each day.