Gauley River Rafting Guidebook
The Gauley River offers some of the best Class IV-V whitewater in North America. This river is best run during planned releases, which we’ll highlight in this guide. Gauleyfest is one the biggest whitewater festivals in the country, with thousands of boaters across the world flocking to West Virginia every year to enjoy the numerous rapids. There are two sections to the Gauley, the Lower section having Class III-IV rapids, and the Upper section the more intense section, with many Class IV-V rapids. In addition to its intense whitewater, this rural section of the Gauley River National Recreation Area is beautiful, as the river winds its through the Appalachian Mountains (albeit violently).
Gauley River Map & Guide
Class II Rapid
Class II rapid or river feature.
Class III Rapid
Class III rapid or river feature.
Class IV Rapid
Class IV rapid or river feature.
Class V Rapid
Class V Rapid or river feature.
Put-In / Take-Out
Used at Upper Gauley River Put-In and Mason Branch Take-Out
Point of Interest
These include creeks, side hikes and historical markers.
Well known surf waves, jump rock locations, and safe swim areas
WARNING: Conditions change frequently and may make this guide useless. This guide is NOT a replacement for sound judgment or experience.
Upper Gauley River
The Upper Gauley River offers some of the best whitewater in the United States, if not the world. With scheduled dam releases coming out of the Somersville Dam every fall, this river roars to life, with numerous Class V rapids scattered throughout the run.
Upper Gauley River Put-In to Mason Branch is 9.3 miles.
Moderate to Expert.
Feet per Mile
Upper Gauley River Put-in to Mason Branch is ~35 FPM
Upper Gauley River Put-In to Mason Branch is 45 minutes round trip. Google Map directions.
Mile 0 – Upper Gauley River Put-In: River Right. On river right, just below the Summersville Dam is the Upper Gauley River Put-In. At very high water, this put-in can have intense eddy-lines.
Mile 0.02 – Entrance Rapid: Class III. Still within sight of the Summersville Dam, the Upper Gauley River begins with an immediate Class III Rapid. Enter center on this rapid, and stay left of the boulder garden on river right.
Mile 0.68 – Initiation Rapid: Class IV. Initiation is the first major rapid on the Gauley. There are 3 drops in this rapid, all of which have significant moves to make. The First Drop has a few submerged boulders to watch out for. The main hazard on the Second Drop is a hole in the center-right, which has current pushing through a nasty sieve. Follow the tongue on the left and you’ll be fine. Avoid that hole at all costs. The main feature to look out for on the Third Drop is the large undercut rocks on river right. At the top center is a wave, with tongues to the right and left. The left line is the more conservative line, as staying right can push you towards the undercut rocks.
Mile 1.15 – Little Z Rapid: Class III. Little Z is a fun technical rapid, with many ways to go. The right line is the most direct line, with some fun whitewater hits. The left line involves staying left of the diagonal rock, and some fun rock-dodging.
Mile 1.63 – Upper Collision Creek: Class II. Read-and-run rapid with a fun wave train in the middle.
Mile 1.72 – Collision Creek Confluence: River Left. Collision Creek enters the Gauley River. This Creek is sandwiched by Upper & Lower Collision Creek Rapids.”
Mile 1.81 – Lower Collision Creek: Class III. Great wave trains on this rapid, but watch out for a boulder-ridden section on river left towards the bottom of this rapid.
Mile 2.01 – Lower French Kiss / Geek Wave: At the top of this rapid is one of the best playspots on the Gauley, and it’s very likely you’ll see kayakers in this wave. There are waves on either side of slightly submerged boulders, both of which often excellent surfing.
Mile 2.26 – Slant Rock: Class III. Slant Rock begins with a little bit of boulder dodging at the entrance. The main feature to avoid is the large boulder on river right at the end of this rapid. Work left to avoid this.
Mile 2.5 – Bud’s Boner: Class III. Bud’s Boner, named after an error made by guide Bud in the 70s, is a straightforward rapid if you find the correct entrance. Enter center and then work left to stay away from the large rock on river right. Then exit the rapid through the slot on the right side of the large boulder.
Mile 2.88 – Insignificant Rapids: Class V. Insignificant is the first Class V of the Upper Gauley. The entrance involves skirting around some boulders and then making sure you go right or left of a very large wave/hole about halfway down the rapid. Then work left to avoid an undercut boulder. Learn more about Insignificant Rapids.
Mile 3.11 – Screaming S-Turn: Class III. Screaming S-Turn has several sharp pourovers at the bottom of the rapid. There are lines to the left and right of these, but make your move early and commit.
Mile 3.23 – Pick a Slot: Class III. Find your line wherever you want here, just avoid the boulders.
Mile 3.38 – Iron Curtain: Class III. Great wave train on the left side of this rapid. Watch out for the large undercut boulder on river left.
Mile 4.13 – Pillow Rock Rapid: Class V. Enter right with momentum towards the left. Watch out for a large hole in the center of the current. A lot of the current pushes you towards the “Pillow Rock”, which you want to get as close to touching as you can, without actually hitting it. Just below Pillow Rock is a very ill-placed boulder called Volkswagen Rock, with a small slot to the left, and a lot of room to the right. You do not want to hit the rock that is upstream of the Pillow Rock. Learn more about Pillow Rock Rapid.
Mile 4.51 – Scales: Class III. Enter this rapid in the center channel and work to avoid the house boulder on either the right or left.
Mile 4.63 – Bubble Rock: Class III. Straightforward at higher water, this rapid becomes quite tricky at low flows.
Mile 4.86 – Hungry Mother: Class III. Hungry Mother has an awesome surf wave in the middle of the rapid. Be very careful, as below this feature, the river diverges into 2 channels. The right side has a very dangerous undercut rock, so you’ll want to advise swimmers to swim left as best they can.
Mile 5.58 – Meadow River Confluence: River Left. The Meadow River joins the Gauley River. Just downstream lies Lost Paddle Rapid, which is the longest rapid on the Gauley River. During big storms, this river can add significant amounts of water to the Gauley, so just be prepared for a bump in flows.
Mile 5.62 – Lost Paddle Rapids: Class V. Lost Paddle Rapid consists of several drops and is the longest rapid on the Gauley River. Unfortunately, it is very hard to scout this rapid in its entirety. Each drop of this long rapid involves a mix of technical moves and big whitewater. Learn more about Lost Paddle Rapids.
Mile 6.3 – Conestoga: Class III. The main feature to watch out for in this rapid is the extremely retentive hole at the bottom, in the middle of the current. The easiest way to avoid this hole is to go left. Moral of the story, avoid this dangerous hole.
Mile 6.56 – Iron Ring Rapid: Class V. Once a Class VI rapid, Iron Ring must be taken seriously. We strongly recommend scouting on river left, as there are several things to watch out. The river bends to the left, with current pushing to the right. There are 2 large drops in this rapid, make sure you T-up the waves in both drops. Learn more about Iron Ring Rapid.
Mile 7.01 – Keegan’s Falls / Dead Possum Falls: Class III. This rapid has a wide ledge hole on the left side of a pointed rock in the center of the channel. The right channel here is a nice glassy tongue keeping you away from some nasty sieves on the left.
Mile 7.6 – Double Dilemma: Class V. Double Dilemma is one of the trickier rapids on the Upper Gauley River. Enter to the left of a barely exposed rock, and then work hard right to stay away from the boulder garden on the left side of the channel. There is a chute to run to the right of the weird rock, but it is quite tricky for rafters, unless you’re in a smaller boat.
Mile 7.8 – Fingernail Rock: Class III. The main feature to avoid here is the Fingernail Rock, which is undercut. The easiest way to run this is straight down the middle, working to avoid this feature.
Mile 8.1 – Sweet’s Falls Rapid: Class V. Sweet Falls is a big drop into a large hydraulic feature. The river bends to the left. You’ll want to hit this feature with a slight left angle, and avoid going too far left or right. Below this rapid, all of the current is pushing toward a difficult to avoid flip rock. Immediately after the falls, start working to get away from this rock. Learn more about Sweet’s Falls Rapid.
Mile 8.63 – Thumper Rapid: Class III. Thumper is the second to last rapid on the Upper Gauley Section if you’re taking out at Mason Branch. It’s a large boulder garden, with the most space for a rafter on the left side tongue. Kayakers can go right, but there are many boulders to watch out for.
Mile 8.75 – Nemesis Rapid: Class III. There are several lines in this rapid. The center drop has a lot of current pushing towards a hard to miss rock. Going left of this rock is the most straightforward line.
Mile 9.24 – Mason Branch Take-Out: River Right. Take-Out on River Right after Nemesis Rapid. This can be busy during fall flows.
Lower Gauley River
The Lower Gauley begins right where the Upper Gauley stops. It’s considered to be mellower and just a tad more scenic than the Upper Gauley, but is also chock-full of advanced whitewater. Don’t sleep on the Lower Gauley, this is an awesome section, and you’ll get to see just a few more miles on the river.
Mason Branch Put-In to Swiss Take-Out is 15.65 miles.
Moderate to Expert.
Feet per Mile
Mason Branch Put-In to Swiss Take-Out is ~23 FPM
Mason Branch Put-In to Swiss Take-Out is is 45 minutes round trip. Google Map directions.
Mile 9.24 – Mason Branch Put-in: River Right. Put-in here for the Lower Gauley. Also the takeout for the Upper Gauley. May be busy at times
Mile 10.2 – Gillespie’s Hole: Class III. The entry to Gillespie’s Hole is best done on the far left, and then working to avoid (or surf) Gillespie’s Hole in the middle of the river.
Mile 10.97 – Chicken Ender: Class III. The Chicken Ender Hole is a large hydraulic, that can surf you at most flows. There’s a line to the left of this hole. If you choose to surf this feature, make sure you’ve got enough safety set. A lot of boaters elect to doink off the rocks on the far left bank, causing you to spin just behind the Chicken Ender hole.
Mile 11.05 – Ender Wave Take-Out: Alternate Take Out/Put-in For the Upper & Lower Gauley sections. Can be less crowded during Fall releases.
Mile 11.12 – Fuzzy Box of Kittens: Class III. Straightforward rapid, with a large hole on the left side of the main current, that can flip you. There is a pool below here if there happens to be carnage.
Mile 11.5 – Wood’s Ferry: Class IV. Wood’s can be run down the center, and you’ll go through some large waves. At the exit of this rapid, look out for a large boulder in the center of the channel. The left line is recommended, as the right line is quite undercut.
Mile 11.82 – Ramsey Branch Confluence: River Left The Ramsey Branch enters the Gauley River from river left.
Mile 13.39 – Laurel Creek Confluence: River left. Laurel Creek enters the Gauley River from river left.
Mile 13.8 – Chainsaw/Screaming Right Turn Rapid: Class III. The river makes a sharp right turn, with some rocks in the middle of the turn. The left channel is very wide and puts you in a fun wave train.
Mile 14.69 – Back Ender: Class IV. Watch out for many large undercut boulders on river right. Enter right and work left to stay away from these. There’s a fun wave hit on the bottom of this rapid.
Mile 15.16 – Koontz Flume: Class V. For Koontz Flume, stay away from the right bank at all costs, as there are many scary undercut boulders. The current will push you this way. Enter center, and stay center for this rapid, going through some pretty awesome hits along the way. Learn more about Koontz Flume.
Mile 15.62 – Canyon Doors Rapid: Class IV. This is a beautiful rapid, with a large cliff on river right you’ll want to gawk at. However, there are numerous boulders and holes at the entrance to this rapid. The simplest entrance is the right entrance, between a ledge hole, and a shallow boulder. Watch out below for a large boulder pile which is full of sieves.
Mile 15.9 – Junkyard: Class III. This rapid is typically entered on the far right through a narrow slow. Once past this slot, there are fun waves everywhere.
Mile 17.04 – Peters Creek: River Right. Peters Creek enters the Gauley River on river right, just upstream of a small bridge.
Mile 17.05 – Old Railroad Trestle: An old railroad trestle passes over the Gauley River. Be mindful of the pilings of this bridge.
Mile 17.95 – Upper Mash Rapids: Class IV. Upper Mash has a rock-strewn entrance. Generally, boaters stay left to avoid a very nasty pourover in the center of the channel. Below this pourover is an inconveniently placed wrap rock. Make your move as soon as you pass the pourover.
Mile 18.09 – Lower Mash Rapid: Class V. Enter just left of a large triangle-shaped rock. Lower Mash boasts an enormous hit. Hit this with a lot of momentum, and then work right hard to avoid a group of boulders in the center of the channel. Learn more about Lower Mash Rapid.
Mile 18.42 – Diagonal Ledges Rapid: Class III. Enter center through a fun wave train. Keep your eyes peeled for a group of large boulders toward the exit of this rapid.
Mile 19.2 – Heaven Help You / Heaven’s Gate Rapid: Class V. Most boaters enter this rapid on the left, and work back to the center. The current pushes you in between a large pourover on the right, and a large boulder on the left. Thread the needle between these two features, and then keep an eye downstream for some large sievy boulders. Learn more about Heaven Help You Rapid.
Mile 19.69 – Rocky Top Rapid: Class III. The entrance to this rapid has numerous routes. The easiest entrance is on the far right, but boaters pick all sorts of ways to enter this rapid. After the entrance, there’s a lot more room to enjoy some fun waves.
Mile 19.97 – Upper Staircase Rapid: Class III. Upper Staircase is best run to left of center, and enjoying some great waves. Watch out for a big pourover towards the bottom of this rapid.
Mile 20.23 – Lower Staircase Rapid: Class III. Like Upper Staircase, you’ll enter left of center and then just hold on for some fun waves. Watch out for a nasty rock on the right at the bottom of this rapid.
Mile 20.71 – Roller Coaster Rapid: Class III. There are some boulders at the entrance. Most boaters enter left of center and enjoy the awesome waves of Roller Coaster.
Mile 21.03 – Horseshoe Creek Confluence: River Left. Horseshoe Creek enters the Gauley River from the left
Mile 21.04 – Cliffside Rapid: Class III. There is a large boulder garden in the center of the river here. Enter left of this large boulder garden. Watch out for the left bank here, and the exit is riddled with large boulders.
Mile 21.37 – Rattlesnake Rapid: Class III. Enter left or right of the rock island at the top of this rapid. A lot of boaters will go left to hit the most of the large wave.
Mile 21.59 – Rooster Tail Rapid: Class III. This rapid is commonly entered on the left, pushing through some fun waves. Keep your eye out for a rock towards the bottom right of this rapid, with water shooting off of it.
Mile 21.96 – Pure Screaming Hell: Class V. This should be scouted from the right bank. The Gauley River ends with a Class V bang, before some mellow cool-down rapids. Pure Screaming Hell has a technical entrance with current pushing right. You’ll want to work left to stay away from a very nasty sieve. Hit the huge hole at the bottom of this rapid with all you’ve got, and make sure you’re T’d up. The left side of this hole is a bit more forgiving. Below this is a large pool, but make sure you stay clear of the rocks on the right bank.
Mile 24.89 – Swiss Take-Out: River Right. Take-out on river right at Swiss.
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