One of the highlights of our Epic Road Trip of 2019 was rafting along the Snake River in Wyoming and so we wanted to have a similar adventure on our 2021 road trip. As luck would have it, we were intending to visit America’s newest national park, as of December 2020 – New River Gorge National Park and Preserve – and that area is known for spectacular white water rafting on the New River and Gauley River. I couldn’t wait!
We booked a whitewater rafting tour with New & Gauley River Adventures on the allegedly more exciting waters of the lower end of the New River – paying a bit extra for an extended trip to include stops for swimming and boulder jumping – as a highlight of this whole trip. For a family of six, an outing like this is not cheap so it’s a pretty big deal for us. We had looked around and really liked the range of outdoor adventures and family-owned nature of this company. We were not disappointed! Naturally, however, upon our arrival at camp, the weather forecast showed a 90% chance of rain. Then, a flash flood warning was issued. Exciting times!
Turns out, a number of people cancelled their river trips because of the weather that day – but not us! We figured we were going to get wet anyway, right? We signed the waivers, listened intently to a safety talk, grabbed some gear and loaded up into a rickety bus that had seen better days. We then set out on our journey to the launch site, which was approximately 30 minutes away, with a comedic guide and a brave driver who deftly maneuvered that bus along some roads that looked as though they were never ever intended for vehicles of that size.
At our launch point, we were told which guide to go to and we found ourselves with Jason, who we would later learn also has four children. He took one look at our youngest and suggested that since her paddle was way taller than she was, she should go in the middle. This was perfectly fine by us – in fact, we were happy to hear it! Andrew had been apprehensive about this whole idea anyway and had already lost sleep over the idea of his youngest offspring – or any offspring, really – going overboard. Apparently, some people do not take kindly to these suggestions from the expert guides but we trusted him fully and were happy not to have her near the edge of the raft. The boys were eager to take on this river – our oldest in particular, so he was put up front. Of course, with 6 people just in our party, there wasn’t room for many more but two people joined us – an older gentleman with a young man. I’m guessing our group was not the most exciting for our guide – perhaps we were even a bit more on the stressful side – but he took it all in stride.
We received an education from Jason about how he wanted us to paddle. He was very specific and once we got out on the water, we did some practice. He used the term “drunk caterpillar” several times but in the end, I think we did okay. He would issue commands like “FORWARD ONE!” or “LEFT BACK TWO!” and we would all do our best to comply.
It was a truly great rafting experience! Our expert guide took care of us, making sure we knew exactly what was coming up, how he expected us to paddle, where to swim if we fell out, what potential hazards lay ahead and he shared interesting information about the area and the rivers. The geological history here is amazing! Although the name suggests otherwise, the New River is actually one of the most ancient in the world, sharing many features with the world’s oldest river – the Nile River in Africa. It has even been said that “the New River might be the most inappropriately named river on Earth.” I found it interesting that it is one of the rare waterways in North America that runs north, so the water was actually quite warm, having come from the south, which also makes it a pathway for northern animal migration and incredible biodiversity. Fascinating!
Back to our guide – he frequently checked on our youngest, who was young to be on a river of this level as we were going through some Class III, IV and even V rapids, and she was a fantastic listener. She laid low and hung on when she needed to! Waves would crash over the raft, filling it with water over her head – but only briefly – and she came up with a huge grin on her face!
Andrew paddled his heart out, our boys had a blast, one jammed his foot under the seat as tightly as he humanly could to be absolutely sure he would not fall out and the eldest tried to time her paddles well without smacking the youngest in the face. I took pictures when I could and frequently looked at my little one to make sure she stayed in the boat. It was so. much. fun!!
We embarked on this journey with several other boats and we were definitely the “slow boat” in that we had the youngest and oldest with us. Our guide made sure we took the rapids in as safe a way as possible while also being fun and thrilling while minimizing (but not eliminating) the chances of capsizing – we did have one close call! He sometimes had the older gentleman tuck down in the boat as well, which was wise. Our boat usually did not go back into the rapids for a second – or third – attempt, but rather we floated on the river’s edge and watched the others. This was perfect as they put on quite a show. Running a family boat is very different from a boat with a bunch of young guys on college break or a bachelor’s party and there were some people obviously just itching to get dumped in the water. We actually hauled in a few passengers and even a guide who had become separated from their rafts. It all added to the experience.
We stopped at Jump Rock so that all those who wished to hike to the top of this gigantic boulder and then jump off into the river could do so and the three oldest kids all did exactly that. They may have had second thoughts when they got to the top, but they all did it – how brave! I don’t think I could have done it!
Further downriver, we stopped at a clearing on the riverbank where the guides set out lunch for everyone and we were grateful for the sandwiches and chips and so forth, not to mention a chance to stretch our legs.
Soon we headed back to our boats to finish our journey on the river. We had a few more exciting rapids to experience, enjoyed a calm float, and were treated to a fantastic view of the New River Gorge Bridge – which, by the way, you can also pay to walk under! There is a 24-inch-wide catwalk spanning all 3,030 feet of the bridge, which incidentally is the longest single span arch bridge in the country and sits 876 feet above the New River. ACK!! We skipped that experience on this trip but maybe next time…. Check out Bridge Walk for more info.
We all LOVED this whitewater rafting experience and would highly recommend it! I would not hesitate to use this company – New & Gauley River Adventures – again next time we are in the area. Great guides, we felt we were in safe and experienced hands and we all made it through the rapids unscathed! Jason must have made quite an impression on our youngest, who never actually did any paddling but listened intently to all the commands, because a week or so later, when we were on a pedal boat on a placid lake in a state park many miles away, she suddenly started commanding us from her perch in the back: “FORWARD, TWO!!” I thought it was hilarious. But sadly for her, we did not comply.