When I asked Marc which state he wanted to visit in 2017, he immediately said, West Virginia! When I asked him why, the response was just as fast: whitewater rafting. So, just like that, I knew I would be tackling another bucket list activity (one I was pretty nervous about). As it turned out, this memory would become one of my most treasured adventures yet!
In Part 1 on my review of adventures on the New River Gorge in West Virginia, I went ziplining. I had some anxiety about my fear of heights, but it was a fairly stress-free day. Whitewater rafting, though, I knew it would be different. Getting sucked into the rapids and drowning was a big concern. On a lesser level, I wasn’t too fond of the idea of falling out of the raft. Luckily for me, I wouldn’t encounter either scenario.
I want to start out by saying that whitewater rafting is probably one of the more intense things I’ve ever done. In Class III and IV rapids, there is the potential for injury and it takes a lot of endurance and the ability to stay composed in a lot of fast action. I learned three very important things on this trip and I learned two of them on the bus ride down to the river.
Important Fact #1: You do not hold on to the raft with your hands! You have to keep both hands on your paddle at all times. As soon as I heard that, I was flabbergasted–how was I supposed to not fall out?!?!
They way you stay on the raft? Instead of sitting on those long cylinders running horizontal through the raft, those are for you to wedge your foot under while you sit on the side of the raft. Paddling, I learned, is the best way to make sure you don’t fall out. Huge raging rapids? Keep paddling, it helps you push through and stay seated. It is really true!
Important Fact #2: If you fall out of the raft, they will not return for you, you must swim to the raft out of the rapids. This isn’t because they want to leave anyone behind, they physically can’t in most instances. Rafts really aren’t made to be propelled upriver through rapids, so they’ll get to a calmer place and wait for you.
We pushed off and immediately took on a little 6 foot waterfall (which by the way fell like a HUGE drop) and after that, we felt pretty much ready to take on the rest of the river. The New River has a very pleasant alternation between rapids and peaceful floating. Some people might not enjoyed the “downtime” on the river, but I personally loved the breaks from the rapids as well. It was a nice chance to catch your breath, chat with your fellow rafters (and our awesome guide!), and enjoy the beauty of the river. About 20 minutes into the trip I looked back at the bend in the river and felt awed by the gorgeous towering mountains and curved river behind us. I felt such an immersion into the natural surroundings of this area in a way that would be difficult to recreate any other way. A blue heron flew along the river bank and every time we got close to him, he flew ahead several yards. This miraculously continued on for about 15 minutes (our guide said he was probably trying to hunt). It felt as though he was accompanying us for a small portion of the trip! 😊 I remember two things clearly when I think back to this trip and while one is the exhilaration of the rapids, the other is how beautiful it was to take in the gorgeous setting and relax.
We had a kayaker following the rafts who took lots of action shots for us. I really recommend not bringing anything you can’t attach to your person, or that isn’t waterproof. Seriously … it’s not going to be with you by the end of the trip.
Swimmer’s rapids were an unexpected surprise. At several points in the river we encountered low class rapids mild enough that you could get into the river and swim through. Biggest piece of advice is to lay on your back and never let your feet drag. That’s how you get caught on rocks and sucked under. The water was warm (it’s one of two rivers in the world where the river runs south to north!) and at the first swimmer’s rapids I slid right in. The swimmer’s rapids were very fun and I only had a moment or two where I felt a strong pull and had a brief moment of panic. This leads me to my last important fact for whitewater rafting.
Important Fact #3: Before you exit the raft, learn how you will get back in it! We jumped out and upon returning, I learned you could either use your upper body strength to pull yourself back into the raft (of which I have slim to none), OR the guide can grasp the front of your life jacket and haul you back into the raft like a dead fish. Guess which one I got?
Needless to say it was not graceful, but pretty funny and says a lot about how fun it was to go through the swimmers rapids, because I still got out several more times!
We stopped for lunch along the way and had a wonderful picnic (we were starved)! It was beautiful to sit on the river bank and enjoy a nice meal. I loved getting to know our raft mates—they were so fun and truly had the ability to make or break the experience. Thankfully, they were a blast to hang out with and even had a go pro! They sent me one of their pictures 😊 I’m so glad we had the group we did!
Our guide was also fabulous! He would steer us away from the other rafts and all of a sudden we were in a cave! He knew the best way to direct the raft for an awesome experience, one we very much appreciated!
We got to raft under the New River Gorge Bride and it was amazing to look up at that sight for the conclusion of our trip.
Note that you are expected to help carry the raft back to the buses, so be prepared to keep using those arm muscles after the rafting is over!
In terms of accessibility, you must be able to balance, paddle through rough water, and have an active amount of energy. I don’t have a lot of upper body strength and I did just fine holding my own (although I did have sore arms afterward!). You will be tired after this trip and it does require a fair activity level. I would rate 5 out of 10 stars for accessibility. You don’t have to be in peak physical fitness, but I would suggest making sure you meet the minimum requirements. They’re there for a reason! Also, no one mentions this, but there are no bathroom breaks on this excursion … unless maybe you want to go during the lunch break (definitely no bathroom structures there either). So make sure you go before you go!
All in all, whitewater rafting felt scary, and there should be a healthy appreciation of the risks involved, but in the end our guide was amazing and did guide us through the rapids safely, I held my own, and got to experience a once-in-a-lifetime adventure in a beautiful place. The incredible experience far outweighed the nerves once I was on the water. 😊
So, have you ever whitewater rafted? Have you ever heard of or visited Adventures on the Gorge? Are there any fears, concerns, or questions of the unknown I didn’t cover? Comment below and let me know!
See my helpful trip tips below for more information! 😊
Per Person Cost: $ (>25) $$(25-50) $$$(50-100) $$$$(100-200) $$$$$(200+)
You check in at the Adventures on the Gorge resort and then a bus will take you to and from the river drop and pickup sites. Cool drinks after the tour is a nice bonus!
Lower New River Rafting Trip: $$$ (This was the one we did! We did an all-inclusive package, but it can also be booked independently starting around $99)
Minimum Age: 12 years old (there is an Upper New River Rafting Trip with Class I and II rapids with a minimum age of 6)
Make sure you properly secure your helmet, hold onto your paddle, keep your life jacket on at all times, make sure your foot is wedged firmly, and above all else–if you swim in the river keep your feet up!
US Dollar: All tours should be booked in advance. Credit card or debit card is accepted. Make sure to have some cash on hand to tip your rafting guide after the trip—they do such a spectacular job!
For more information: https://www.adventuresonthegorge.com/adventures?type=whitewater-rafting