Those who spend their day-to-day lives appreciating its wonder and talking to people who take on its adventure say whitewater rafting is an activity that can be shifted and shaped to meet just about anyone’s capabilities and desires.
“We certainly have the handful of people who show up and are surprised that they’re going to get wet,” said Wendy Hart, with a laugh, “which I’m not quite sure how you get far as along as getting here without realizing you’re going to get wet.”
OK, well, it may not be quite that adaptable.
But rest assured, for the most part, enthusiasts say, whitewater rafting in West Virginia is one of the state’s great wild and wonderful experiences, an outdoor adventure of rolling rapids and scenic sights that has something for just about everyone.
“West Virginia whitewater rafting is remarkable in that you really can find a trip for any experience level or excitement level,” said Haynes Mansfield, marketing director at ACE Adventure Resort, which provides a bundle of outdoor activities and recreational opportunities within 1,500 wooded acres of land adjacent to the New River Gorge. “That’s one of the unique characteristics to whitewater rafting in West Virginia compared to a lot of other places on the East Coast.”
With waterways and river rafting, outfitters spread across the entire state of West Virginia, folks are bound to find something that suits their preference for engaging with the spectacle, beauty, and purity of whitewater rafting, said Mansfield and Hart, who is the owner operator of Cheat River Outfitters in Albright, West Virginia.
“For somebody who is looking for a new way to get out and appreciate their home state and see why the Mountain State is so incredible and why we were given the gold standard of being a national park, whitewater rafting on the New River is the best way to do that,” Mansfield said.
Of course, the typecast whitewater rafter is often a thrill-seeker in search of an adrenaline rush, someone looking to tackle the raging rapids and punishing unpredictability of West Virginia’s main rivers, the New, the Gauley, the Cheat, and the Potomac and Shenandoah.
Yes, there are plenty of options for those rafters, Mansfield and Hart say, with perhaps the most well-known and most-hyped being the Upper Gauley and its 25 miles of 100 rapids, which features ample crashing Class V rapids and steep, heart-stopping drops. The New and Cheat rivers also have their top-tier, exhilarating challenges of Class V whitewater for such extreme adventurers.
Beyond the stereotypical whitewater adventures, though, the ones packed with both flare and fear, there are others that can be an experience for anyone and everyone as they meander through exciting rapids to get the blood pumping but also peaceful pools to take in the glory of preserved nature.
“Not everything has to be adrenaline-based and overcoming obstacles,” said Mansfield, with ACE Adventure offering four total options along the New and Gauley rivers. “The upper New is a trip that is fun and scenic with small rapids that also gives you time to absorb what’s now the newest national park. You can see bald eagles out on the river in their natural habitat, you can see river otters playing out on the water. And it’s also a chance to just spend time with your family.”
“You don’t have to have any particular knowledge of whitewater,” said Hart, with Cheat Rivers Outfitters offering four different ventures along the Cheat and Youghiogheny rivers.
Both ACE Adventure and Cheat River Outfitters, as well as most other rafting outfitters, ease the tension for beginners or second guessers even more by having a well-trained and well-experienced guide in each and every raft that embarks. The guides are the captains, if you will, of the expedition, mapping out and instructing rafters for the water ahead when necessary but also lying back when rafters have things under control themselves.
“You’re there to be the motor — you’re propelling the boat — but your guide is the one steering and directing where you go,” Hart said. “You can just sit back and really enjoy the environment, enjoy the ride, and enjoy a day on the river away from real life for a little while.
“We definitely get some people who are coming with friends or family and don’t have a real good idea of what they’re getting into, but they’re often pleasantly surprised. More often than not, people really do like it a lot more than they thought they were going to like it. They do the beginner run because they’re nervous or they’re not sure if they’re going to like it, and they get done with that and they’re like, ‘Wow, that was so awesome,’ and they either want to do it again or they want bigger and better.”
“Folks are typically blown away and ready to do it again,” echoed Mansfield. “They want to come back as soon as possible.”
What whitewater rafting is itself, however, is only part of the appeal, Hart said. The other piece of the equation is what it isn’t.
It isn’t scrolling on Twitter. It isn’t burrowing into emails. It isn’t tapping buttons on a controller.
“Having that connection to technology is an impossibility,” Hart said, “and I think that’s appealing to people.”
A day of whitewater on the river doubles as an hours-long technology detox. Instead of being consumed by screens and apps, folks can open themselves up to breathe in the wilderness.
“That need to connect with nature is somehow built into the essence of our being as humans. It’s healing, it’s beneficial,” Hart said, “and we appreciate the opportunity to share the river with people in that goal of helping them to connect to nature.
“The biggest thing with rafting and the core beliefs that drive Cheat River Outfitters are the value of wilderness and the value of recreation. It’s just the value of connecting with nature through all of her ups and downs.”