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 National Park has 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.
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.
Cantrell Ultimate Rafting
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).
Whitewater kayaking is very technical on both the New and Gauley Rivers and should only be done by experienced river kayakers.
Stand Up Paddle Boarding
The latest activity to hit the New River Gorge is stand up paddle boarding, or SUP. We recommend Mountain Surf Paddle Sports for 2-4 hours guided tours at Summersville Lake, Kanawha Falls (below the falls), and the New River near the New River Gorge Bridge.
Mountain Surf Paddle Sports also rents paddleboards that you can use independently, and they offer SUP classes, SUP yoga and even a weekend retreat.
New River Jet Boat Rides
At Hawk’s 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 if truly fun for all ages and free to those under 4 years old.
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-seaters, three-seaters and 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 Gorge National River. This section of the river is the premier trophy area for smallmouth bass.
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, or hop in a secluded swimming hole along Grade Creek. You can participate in the craziness that is ACE Wonderland Park or hang out by the pool at Adventures on the Gorge.
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. Several other local businesses are offering other thrilling aerial adventures.
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 the 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 cliffline, the New River Gorge offers an enormous selection of diverse, technical and high-quality climbing.
Multiple outfitters offer rappelling for those as young as 8.
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.
Equestrian Adventures offers 2-6 hour horseback riding tours on the trails of the New River Gorge.
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.
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).
Adventures for Children
Most of the adventure activities in the New River Gorge like rafting, ziplining, climbing and mountain biking have kid-friendly versions. But there are many more adventure activities that your kiddos are sure to enjoy.
Paint Ball & Laser Tag
Test your battle skills on a wooded course with a variety of games available during this ½ day adventure for those 10 and older at Adventures on the Gorge or ACE Adventure Park.
Open Air Skating Rink
Did you know that there is an open-air rolling skating rink in the New River Gorge? Located in Ansted, WV near Hawk’s Nest State Park there is a blast from the past for kids of all ages to enjoy on weekends during the summer.
Play-itville Playground at Fayetteville Town Park
All the state parks have playgrounds, but we think Play-itville at Town Park is the best! They even have a mini-zipline for the very young.
This crazy lake is full of giant inflatables, zip lines, waterslides, trampolines and the infamous BLOB feature (which is just as much fun to watch).
Outside in Climbing Gym & Mountain State Miniature Golf
In Beckley, WV you’ll find an indoor climbing gym, miniature golf course and coffee shop all in one.
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.
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 consisting 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.
To kick of 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.
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.
Rim to River 100
This 100-mile ultra-marathon through the heart of the New River Gorge first took place in November 2020. It was such a success that it will probably become an annual event.
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 outstanding 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!
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.