With a degree in biochemistry, Leah works for a small biotechnology company and enjoys writing about science.
West Virginia Rafting
The New River Gorge National River carves a scenic gorge through West Virginia. The upper part of the river is a relatively calm section, offering pools and up to Class III whitewater. The lower river is turbulent and exciting, with rapids ranging from Class III to Class V. In the summer months, the water temperature approaches 80°F (26.7°C) and is extremely comfortable. Several companies offer half-day and full-day excursions on the upper or lower New River. While age requirements vary by company, the general age minimum is 6 years on the upper river and age 12 years on the upper river. Children as young as 9 years may experience Class V rapids on the lower river in an oar raft.
White Water Class Description
Riffles and small waves (<1 foot)
Novice. Small riffles offer little risk to swimmers. Easy self-rescue.
Up to 3 feet
Novice. Clear, wide sections.
Up to 4 feet
Intermediate. Rapids may swamp an open canoe. Large waves easily avoided.
Waves over 4 feet
Advanced. Large waves, drops, and chutes. Expert guidance necessary for beginners.
Waves over 4 feet with significant drops and holes
Expert. Large waves, drops, and chutes. Expert guidance necessary.
Extreme waves and waterfalls
Exploratory rapids for experts only. Significant danger.
Class V Rapids in an Oar Raft
A Family White Water Trip
Our family had never attempted white water rafting before, and we wanted to experience the biggest rapids nature could afford. Our youngest son was 9 years old, and most rafting companies will not allow a 9 year old to experience higher class rapids. After doing some research, we learned ACE Adventures offers a lower New River trip in an oar raft with a minimum age of 9 years for passengers. We quickly booked a full-day trip, knowing that if the water level exceeded a certain height, we would be relocated to the upper portion of the river. The oar raft carries a total of six people, and we went with our children’s grandparents – white water rafting is a fantastic sport for all generations.
The morning approached with the threat of thunderstorms and there was concern about lightning and the level of the water. Fortunately, once we checked in and signed our liability waivers, the trip was given approval to proceed. We were outfitted with life preservers, helmets, and paddles before loading onto the bus that would take us to our point of departure.
Prepared for Rapids
There is always trepidation before embarking on any new “extreme” sport, and the safety speech on the bus didn’t help to allay our fears. “If you flip out of your raft and become trapped beneath it, you will have to free yourself so you don’t drown” was one of the instructions. Our fears lessened when we met our guide, who was extremely experienced and would be manning the oars to help stabilize our raft.
We practiced paddling in a calm section of the river, learning rafting calls and how to synchronize our effort to stay away from large rocks in our path. Along with several other rafts, we finally took the plunge over our first set of rapids. The raft bucked and rolled over the water. “Was that Class V?” we asked our guide, thrilled by the experience. The first rapids were only Class III, and we were in for a full day of the best roller coaster in nature.
At two points in the river, we were able to jump out of the raft to go through Class II rapids without the benefit of a watercraft. These “Swimmers Rapids” are one of the highlights of the New River. While it is very alarming to be swept through a wild wave pool directly toward large boulders, the feeling of the current whisking you safely around the rocks and into a calm pool beyond is unbeatable.
We learned that we absolutely love white water rafting and will return to the New River to brave the Class V rapids again.
Companies Offering Excursions on the New River
- ACE Adventures offers lodging, a natural water park, and various excursions including guided white water rafting tours. The minimum age is 9 years for rafting trips on the lower New River in an oar raft. Children as young as 6 years may raft the upper New River in a raft or in “duckies” (inflatable kayaks). Gauley River adventures are also offered in the spring and fall for adults.
- Adventures on the Gorge allows white water rafting for children as young as age 12 on the lower New River. Children as young as 6 years old may raft the upper New River. Seasonal Gauley River rafting trip are also offered in the spring and fall, with a minimum age of 15. The resort offers lodging, zip lining, rafting, and a beautiful pool.
- River Expeditions has a base resort with camping and cabins. River Expeditions has 2-day trips to explore the upper and lower New River. The company allows children as young as 12 to explore the lower river, and children as young as six on the upper part of the river.
Read More From Skyaboveus
Explore Thrilling Rapids in West Virginia
White Water Outfitter Locations in the New River Gorge
Family Rafting Poll
© 2018 Leah Lefler
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on April 18, 2018:
It is definitely a nerve-wracking sport to try for the first time, Larry! You are correct that once you are on the river, you are committed to finishing the raft trip. I don't enjoy insane roller coasters, but white water rafting was extremely fun. For nervous first-time rafters, sitting toward the back of the raft provides less movement. For thrill seekers, sitting up front provides the most thrill. Some people will even "ride the bull," which means sitting on the very front of the raft and riding the watercraft the same way a rodeo driver would ride a bucking bull. I did not try doing that trick!
Larry W Fish from Raleigh on April 18, 2018:
Leah, I have never been white water rafting. I think it is not one of those things for me. I get sick on a little carnival ride which I can get off of in a few minutes. If I was white water rafting, there is no turning back. I have to admit that it does look exciting though.
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on April 18, 2018:
Robie, definitely try white water rafting! With the guides in the rafts, it is accessible to anyone. We had ages ranging from 9 years to over 60 years in our raft, and we all had a fantastic time!
Robie Benve from Ohio on April 18, 2018:
Oh boy, that looks and sounds awesome! I need to convince my family to do it this summer! Thanks a lot for sharing these great info and photos, I did not know about those rapids, and they are not too far from where I'm at. :)
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on April 17, 2018:
We really had a fantastic time, Peggy! The swimmer's rapids were the best, since we could experience these without the raft. I really appreciate the fact the water is warm in the New River, as I am not a fan of cold water!
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 17, 2018:
How exciting for you and your family to go white water rafting together. I have been fortunate enough to have experienced it twice. Once was while we were staying in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and the other time was in Utah. It is so much fun!!!