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Choose Your Own Adventure in the New River Gorge

January 27, 2023

Filed in: New River Gorge

Experienced kayaker on a rapid-free section of the New River on a sunny day in early July.

The New and Gauley Rivers offer some of the best whitewater rafting experiences in the United States, if not the world. But the New River Gorge and the surrounding area have many other adventure activities. In fact, the New River Gorge is also considered to be one of the premier rock climbing and mountain biking destinations.

Even so, you may still be asking, “Does the New River Gorge National Park offer adventure activities that are right for me?” The short answer? Absolutely. The long answer? Read on to find out.

Water Adventures in the New River Gorge

The main bodies of water in the New River Gorge where all the guided adventure activities occur are the New River, Gauley River and Summersville Lake.

There are other scenic rivers and lakes that provide opportunities for self-guided adventure including the Meadow River, Plum Orchard Lake and Bluestone River & Lake.

A raft of whitewater rafters paddling downstream between huge bolders with the lush forest of the New River Gorge in the background.
Whitewater rafting on the New River.

Whitewater Rafting

Multiple outfitters offer trips down the New River from late April through late October. For rafting purposes, this section of the New is divided into three sections: The Upper (class I – III rapids with trips for children as young as 6); the Lower (class I – IV rapids with trips for those as young as 9); and the Dries (a new area being rafting only a few times per year with class I – IV rapids with trips for those as young as 16).

Multiple outfitters offer trips down the Gauley River for six weekends in September and October while Summersville Lake is being lowered to its winter pool. This is extreme whitewater! For rafting purposes, the Gauley is divided into two sections: The Upper (class I – V rapids with trips for children as young as 15); and the Lower (class I – V rapids with trips for those as young as 12).

Water levels change and can influence your trip. In the spring, for example, water levels may be so high that typically tame sections of the river may become more challenging. Generally speaking, the higher the water levels are the faster the trip.

Whitewater rafting trips can range from 4-8 hours and overnight excursions are also available. Most outfitters also offer “double run” trips on the Gauley, which means you can go through an exciting part of the river, return to the start on a shuttle, and then paddle that same section again.

New River Gorge Outfitters

There are several rafting companies in the New River Gorge. ACE and Adventures on the Gorge are the largest and they offer many other activities in addition to rafting.

ACE Adventure Resort

Adventures on the Gorge

New & Gauley River Adventures

River Expeditions

Cantrell Ultimate Rafting

West Virginia Adventures

Kayaking

Kayaking is another favorite adventure activity in the New River Gorge offered by multiple outfitters in 4-8 hours sessions. It is broken into two types: flatwater kayaking and whitewater kayaking.

Our favorite places to kayak on flat water are Summerville Lake and Lake Stephens (offering on-site kayak rentals) and Plum Orchard Lake (bring your own kayak). It is also possible to rent kayaks to paddle on the calm Upper New River.  We recommend Cantrell’s Ultimate Rafting in Hinton.

Whitewater kayaking is very technical on both the Lower New and Gauley Rivers and should only be done by experienced river kayakers.

Shawn standup paddleboarding right next to a beautiful waterfall.
Shawn paddleboarding at Kanawha Falls near Gauley Bridge, WV.

Stand-Up Paddle Boarding

The latest activity to hit the New River Gorge is stand-up paddleboarding, aka SUP. We recommend Mountain Surf Paddle Sports for 2-4 hour guided tours at Summersville Lake, Kanawha Falls (below the falls), and the New River near the New River Gorge Bridge. Stand-up paddleboards are also available for rent at Hawks Nest Lake.

Tubing

While you should never consider tubing on the Lower New River or Gauley River, you can rent Intertubes in Hinton, WV for a peaceful float on the Upper New River.

New River Jet Boat Rides

At Hawks Nest State Park, you can ride the aerial tram from the lodge at the top of the mountain to the New River below. From there you can take the ½ hour jet boat ride from Hawk’s Nest Dam to the New River Gorge Bridge. This activity is truly fun for all ages and free to those under 4 years old. * The tram is closed for the 2022 season, but you can drive to Hawks Nest Lake (not lodge, which is on the mountain above) for access to the New River Jet Boat.

A couple inside the New River Jet Boat admiring the view of the New River Gorge Bridge.
People of all ages enjoy the New River Jet Boat ride at Hawk’s Nest State Park.

Summerville Lake Boat Rental

You can cruise around Summersville lake in pontoon or triumph boats on ½ day or full-day excursions. The pontoon boats have a seating capacity of 10 and the triumph boats come in two to four-seaters. They are available for rental at Summersville Lake Marina.

Guided Boat Fishing

Several outfitters offer half-day, full-day and overnight guided fishing tours on the New River. We recommend Pro River Outfitters.

Swimming

There are many ways to enjoy the water in the New River Gorge that doesn’t involve a raft or kayak. You can swim in the crystal-clear water of Summersville Lake, drive over to Lake Stephens, hop in a secluded swimming hole along Grade Creek or participate in the craziness that is ACE Wonderland Waterpark.

Aerial Adventures in the New River Gorge

Hiking to the top of a mountain is no longer the only way to see the New River Gorge from above. Adventures on the Gorge, ACE Adventure Resort and Pipestem State Park have all installed extensive ziplining systems. Other thrilling aerial adventures are also offered by several local businessess.

Ziplining

Zipping between the trees in the New River Gorge is exhilarating! There is more than one way to experience this aerial adventure. Both styles of ziplining are offered as ½ day adventures.

The canopy ziplining tours take you deep into the forest and allow you to explore the canopy on many shorter tree-to-tree ziplines and a couple of bridges. This adventure is for those 10 and older that weigh between 90 – 260 lbs.

Fast-paced ziplining tours are all about speed. These exhilarating zips take you longer distances and even give you the opportunity to race others in your group. This adventure is for those 12 and older that weigh between 100 – 260 lbs.

The view of the New River from the catwalk under the New River Gorge Bridge.
Looking down at the New River from under the bridge!

Ropes Course

Explore at your own pace on the multi-faceted aerial ropes course at Adventures on the Gorge or ACE Adventure Resort. During this hour-long adventure, you’ll find challenging platforms, bridges, ziplines and many obstacles. The minimum age is 4 years old and children 13 and under must be supervised by an adult.

Bridge Walk

This 2-3-hour tour takes you across a catwalk that is 25 feet under the New River Gorge Bridge and more than 800 feet above the New River! This adventure is great for those 8 years old and older and can also be a nice rainy-day activity. You will walk at a leisurely pace 1 ¼ miles across the bridge catwalk and then be shuttled back by bus to the Bridge Walk headquarters.

Aerial Trams

Both Hawk’s Nest State Park and Pipestem Resort State Park have aerial trams from the top of the mountain to the rivers below. Once at the bottom of Hawk’s Nest, you can ride the New River Gorge Jetboat or explore a trail. In addition to trails, there is a restaurant at the bottom of the Pipestem tram.  ***Both trams are closed for repairs during the 2022-23 season.***

Wild Blue Adventure Biplane Rides

There is no better way to see the New River Gorge than in a World War II Stearman biplane. Wild Blue Adventure offers 20 minute – 1-hour flights for one passenger and aerobatics are always an option. You can request barrel rolls, cravats, hammerheads, s-turns and more!

Land-Based Adventures in the New River Gorge

Hiking, biking and horseback riding are traditional ways to explore the Gorge, but land-based adventures don’t have to be on the ground. One of the most popular adventure activities in the New River Gorge is rock climbing which takes you up the side of a cliff.

A rock climber ascending the steep cliff of Nuttall Sandstone in the New River Gorge.
The climbing opportunities available in the New River Gorge are considered some of the best in the world.

Rock Climbing

Multiple outfitters offer guided rock climbing in 4-8 hour sessions for those as young as 8. There are many beginner-friendly, moderate and difficult climbing routes for all skill levels.

There are three main river gorges in this area that provide the highest quality climbing on Nuttall Sandstone (some of the oldest and hardest rock in the country): the New, the Gauley/Summersville, and the Meadow. With more than 3,000 established routes on 60+ miles of cliff line, the New River Gorge offers an enormous selection of diverse, technical and high-quality climbing.

Rappelling Only

Multiple outfitters offer rappelling for those as young as 8.

Mountain Biking

Almost all the New River Gorge National River trails are open to mountain biking and the Arrowhead Trails were designed specifically for single-track mountain biking. There are two mountain bike shops in Fayetteville, and both offer rentals, group rides and equipment: New River Bikes and Arrowhead Bike Farm.

Horseback Riding

Equestrian Adventures offers 2-6 hour horseback riding tours on the trails of the New River Gorge.

Three men on mountain bikes going through the rhododendran tunnels that are found on many trails in the New River Gorge National Park.
Biking through the rhodo-tunnels. Photo by Arrowhead Bike Farm

Hiking

By far, our favorite way to experience nature is by hiking, and the New River Gorge offers well over 100 miles of well-maintained trails. Some of the most challenging trails in the New River Gorge are Kaymoor Miner’s Trail (821 steps), Fayetteville Trail (6.37 miles), and Kaymoor Trail (13.84 miles).

When we explore, we use Bryan Simon’s “Hiking and Biking in the New River Gorge: A Trail Users Guide“. It contains so much great information about the hundreds of miles of trail in this beautiful part of West Virginia.

ATV Tours

With over 100 miles of trails ranging from beginner to expert, great guides and top-quality vehicles, New River ATV WV offers a true ½ day adventure for those 12 years old and up with a valid driver’s license (children 12 -18 must be accompanied by a qualifying parent or guardian).

New River Gorge Annual Adventure Events

Love the energy that surrounds groups of people having fun? Plan your trip to the New River Gorge around one of the many outstanding adventure events.

Witches gather on the New River near Fayette Station for the annual Halloween celebration.
The spooky Witches and Warlocks Paddle. Photo by Fayetteville CVB.

Polar Swim

There is no better way to ring in the New Year than with a dive into the New River. This New Year’s Day tradition for Fayetteville locals is open to everyone that wants to experience the thrill of the chill!

Captain Thurmond’s Challenge

This extreme triathlon in late summer consists of 28.5 miles of the most challenging mountain biking, whitewater and trail running the New River Gorge area has to offer!

New River Gorge Stand-Up Paddle Board Race

Held at Fayette Station on the New River in September, there are three races during this one-day event that is open to registrants young and old.

Gauley Fest

To kick off whitewater season on the Gauley River, The American Whitewater Organization hosts the largest paddling festival in the world on the third Saturday in September! There is live entertainment, a whitewater marketplace and great paddling.

Bridge Day

On the third Saturday of October, BASE jumpers, rappelers, vendors and spectators hare the excitement of Bridge Day, the biggest one-day festival in West Virginia.

Witches and Warlocks Paddle

Held near Halloween every year, the Fayetteville Visitors Center hosts a costume-appropriate paddleboarding event at Fayette Station on the New River.

Rim to River 100

This 100-mile ultra-marathon through the heart of the New River Gorge has been an annual event since 2020. It is held in early November. 

There are too many other races to list. Click here for a complete list.

Fuel Your New River Gorge National Park Adventure

You are going to need fuel for your New River Gorge National Park adventures and boy oh boy, Fayetteville’s restaurants provide some delicious fuel.

Get our Fayetteville Food Guide so you can pick the perfect place for your palate.

We’ve compiled all the local restaurants’ info into a one-page flier that includes location, contact info, hours of operation, special diet offerings, alcohol availability and more!

Fayetteville Food Guide: A must-have resource for visitors to the New River Gorge.

Craving more data for your New River Gorge getaway? Learn more about enjoying nature in the New River Gorge National Park and the small-town charm of Fayetteville. And make sure to visit us at LafayetteFlats.com.

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