Gauley Season in West Virginia
By Haynes Mansfield
In a remote corner of West Virginia, a small town named Gad once existed on a riverside. Primarily a farming community, the town was purchased by the US Army Corp of Engineers during the 1960s and the residents of the town relocated.
This paved the way for the building of a dam, part of a flood control project to protect West Virginia’s Capital, Charleston, from potential flooding. The valley where Gad once stood became a lake, a huge reservoir containing 2,700 acres of water and over 60 miles of shoreline.
The Army Corp of Engineers broke with tradition and named the dam and the reservoir after the second closest town. Instead of the “Gad Dam,” the dam was called “Summersville Lake.” Today, the Summersville Lake Marina stands at roughly the same area where the town of Gad could once be found.
The opening of Summersville Lake made three seasons of adventure possible, in several different ways. In the spring and summer, the lake plays host to boating enthusiasts and swimmers, like most lakes. It’s also a popular spot for lake kayaking and stand-up-paddleboarding.
But, the unique topography of the lake also makes it a premier rock-climbing destination. Climbers travel to Summersville Lake to climb on the shores of the lake, or to boulder (climbing without ropes) on the cliffs that line the water.
In the fall, the river that was dammed to create Summersville Lake, the Gauley River, comes alive once more. The gates are opened on the dam for scheduled releases to drain the reservoir and create a whitewater playground. This is Gauley Season, and it only happens once a year, for six weekends.
While boaters have mourned the loss of the rapids that once flowed through the undammed Gauley River, the section downstream of the dam is known for being some of the best whitewater in the world. Yup. In the world.
ACE Adventure Resort, located just a short distance from the Gauley River and Summersville Lake, specializes in adventure. ACE has been a pioneer in the outdoor industry, leading rafters on trips on the Gauley River and the nearby New River, and also on activities on Summersville Lake and in The New River Gorge. Because of the nature of the Gauley River, it’s necessary that you only raft the Gauley (or any section of river that has Class V whitewater rapids) with an experienced guide, like the ones at ACE.
The notorious Upper Gauley is the stuff of legends. This hard-hitting, fast-paced section of whitewater descends through the Gauley Canyon, a remote and undeveloped portion of West Virginia.
This is a true wilderness, and only those who choose to raft the Gauley have the opportunity to bask in the full beauty of this place that has been left untouched by housing developments, shopping centers, and coffee shops. Five Class V rapids await your arrival, and ACE’s professional guides will show you the way through every one.
The final Class V rapid, Sweet’s Falls, drops over a 14-foot waterfall, before you paddle over to ACE’s private, riverside lunch spot for a meal prepared for you by your guides. This is dinner and a show–you’ll get to watch other rafters take on Sweet’s Falls while you enjoy your meal!
The Lower Gauley, the often-forgotten younger sibling of the Upper Gauley, is as beautiful as epic. This incredible section of the river features Class III-V rapids, and some of the most dramatic landscapes in all of West Virginia.
Think: sheer cliff walls and huge boulders that look like they came from a world of giants. This section of river puts the “heaven” in “Almost Heaven,” and would have certainly been mentioned in that John Denver Classic if he had ever gone rafting on the Lower Gauley.
Want to raft both sections of the Gauley River? Make a day out of it with a Gauley Marathon and raft the Upper and Lower Gauley in the same day! 25 miles of whitewater (we know, it isn’t QUITE a marathon), plus lunch along the way. Or, raft the Gauley and camp on the side of the river on a Classic Gauley Overnight Trip.
You’ll raft the Upper Gauley on day 1, then enjoy dinner prepared for you by your guides at your riverside camp, then raft the Lower Gauley on day 2. Hundreds of rapids, yours for the taking.
If camping isn’t your thing, ACE’s 1,500-acre resort features a range of cabins to choose from including rustic and affordable options to multi-story log houses with all the comforts of home.
Most cabins include hot tubs so you can make your stay in the mountains of West Virginia even more relaxing. And, with dozens of other activities at ACE, you can hike, bike, zipline, rock climb, and more, all in one place. Experience the Gauley River with ACE Adventure Resort this fall.
Gauley Season in West Virginia