SWV park beginner paddling

Whitewater for all! Easy introductory paddling spots

There’s plenty of National Park whitewater fun for everyone in the family in Southern WV!

If you’re looking to go really big, you want The Gauley River. But if you’ve got the kids in tow or want a milder introduction to paddling, there are plenty of simple spots to start!

Here are 5 splashy stretches of water that will be appropriate for the whole family:

1. The Upper New

The New River Gorge above the town of Cunard is beautiful, with enough rapids to keep it interesting while still not overwhelming.

If you put in at Glade Creek, after a beautiful riverside drive past numerous campgrounds, the float downstream to Thurmond is a must-do. There are a few easy to intermediate Class II-III rapids depending on water levels, the scenery is spectacular, and the even wildlife viewing is worthwhile. (You may spot a  majestic bald eagle along this stretch.)

Whitewater outfitters offer guided trips down this stretch, in which clients get to paddle their own inflatable kayaks called “duckies.” If you are an intermediate canoeist or kayaker, this is also the stretch to do. Want a bit of excitement, but not the commitment of the Lower New’s class V whitewater? Keep going after Thurmond toward Cunard, where you will get to run the massive (but relatively safe) hole of class III, “Surprise Rapid.”

2. “Thread the Needle” at Fayette Station

At the bottom of the New River Gorge, in the shadow of the bridge, is a popular takeout for whitewater runs. Fayette Station Rapid, a big-wave class IV, roars in the background. But, if you want some mild flatwater, you can put in with a canoe, kayak or most popularly a stand-up paddleboard (SUP), and right the river-left eddies upstream through a maze of delightful rocks and alcoves.

Most folks go a few hundred yards up to a jumble of rocks called “Thread the Needle,” where the deep water and complex currents make for great practice surfing and riding across eddies.  There’s also great fishing along this stretch.

3. Kanwha Falls

Far downstream of Fayetteville, after the New and Gauley have joined forces to form the mighty Kanawha River, the gorge gradually opens into a larger valley, and Appalachia transforms into the more industrial landscape of Charleston and the Ohio River Valley. The last gasp of New River-style whitewater is at Kanawha Falls, a beautiful river-wide cascade of about a 20-foot drop. Park just below the falls, put in at the boaters campground, and paddle your SUP or canoe upstream through the flatwater, where you can explore behind the falls, and into all sorts of nooks, crannies and flat rocks perfect for soaking in the sun.

4. Paddle on the Lake

Summersville Lake is a gem– West Virginia’s largest body of water, and arguably its most beautiful.  You can easily spend days exploring the alcoves, cliffs, waterfalls and tributaries here, jumping into the clear blue water whenever you need to cool off.  

SUPs and sit-on-top kayaks are the way to paddle around Summersville rent them from an outfitter or at the lake marina. Try to hit it on weekdays, when the motorboat wakes are less prevalent.

5. The Lower New

“Wait a minute!” you’re saying.  “I thought the Lower New was wild whitewater! I’m looking for MILD water!”

Well, if you want a taste of the Lower New’s whitewater, but a bit more mellow, consider booking a low-water trip. These trips descend the river at levels when the waves are smaller and the obstacles easier to avoid.  

Because low water requires more precise maneuvering to avoid rocks, you can also choose to go as a passenger in a large, oar-powered raft manned by an experienced guide, as opposed to a more participatory paddle raft. Low water, large boats, and the security of not having to paddle? This might be the best way for the less adventurous or very young to enjoy the whitewater.

Of course, the best thing for beginners is to let an experienced guide show you the ropes!

Find a whitewater guide >