Depending on which section you choose, expect about 6 miles, more or less.
Destination Distance From Downtown
3 of 5 diamonds
The New River is broken into two sections, the Upper and the Lower. The Upper section is great for families and has Class I and II rapids. The Lower New is geared more toward intermediates and has Class-IV rapids. During the spring—usually April and May—the water levels are very high and are appropriate for experienced paddlers only.
Time To Complete
Regardless of which section of the river you choose to run, expect about a 3-hour river trip at normal summer flows.
Spring, Summer, and Fall
Summer draws the most paddlers, and for good reason. The New River Gorge is scenic and beautiful, and typical summer water levels are accessible to most paddlers. More adventurous boaters will hit the New in the spring.
The Upper New is actually a collection of river sections, all of which supply a string of big pools and ripply shoals to Class III rapids. Mercifully low on obstacles, holes, and hazards, these sections are perfect for beginner boaters looking to gain experience in uninterrupted, rollercoaster-like wave trains.
Meanwhile, the Lower New is the realm of paddlers comfy in Class IV territory—and be forewarned, it is dramatically different at various water levels. “But that’s the way it is with all rivers,” you say? Not like this. The New is the epitome of high-volume river running, but with a relatively small channel, where even a foot of water level can change the game.
And at typical summer levels, say 0-2 feet on the Fayette Station Gauge, the Lower New is essentially a Class III-III+ rock garden. You should still expect a couple monstrously huge rapids, though, like Middle and Lower Keeney. Below 0 feet, chutes and rocks with pillows and pourovers are the norm, and the biggest challenges are rocks.
From 2 feet to around 6, the waves get enormous and the holes get clingy. This is the range that made the New River Gorge famous, as it virtually defines East Coast big water. While it can be intimidating to put in at this level, it’s also ridiculously fun—if you have the requisite big water skills. Foreknowledge of hazards (or a solid roll) becomes crucial.
When asked about their favorite levels, local boaters will give you all sorts of answers, but most seem to gravitate to levels when the waves are gigantic and well-defined. 2 feet is a crowd pleaser, as are 3 feet, 3.75 feet, and 6 feet.
Then comes spring, which is a different story entirely. If the Fayette Station gauge sits above 6 feet, you need to be on top of your big-water A-game. The lines get wider, but the potential swims are long. Set up early, so you have time to get to where you want to go. End up in the river-right eddy below Middle Keeney, for example, and it’s the Hairy Fairy for you—across 2 football fields’ worth of rogue waves and surging curlers, mere meters above a mass of sieves called the Meat Grinder. Unfortunately, far right is where this run begins at the top of Upper Keeney—so what are you waiting for? Get moving.
At truly high levels—let’s say 10 feet and above—the Lower New is virtually a 7-mile-long Class V rapid. Oh sure, there are only a few major obstacles to avoid—like Whale Hole, Barry’s Hole, and Lollygag—but avoid them you must, or suffer the fluffy unfiltered fury of the waters below.
Who is Going to Love It
Pretty much everybody who runs whitewater, and owns something that floats, loves the New River. With a wide variety of sections clocking in at every difficulty level through Class IV+, the New can challenge you one day and relax you the next. If you’re new to the boating game or just timid, stay further upstream. If you’re experienced and adventurous, don’t wait for the Lower—it’s a classic for good reason.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Since we’re really talking about a collection of different river sections, it’s tough to provide directions. Stop in at the Canyon Rim Visitor Center in Lansing for the best and most up-to-date info. American Whitewater's West Virginia river summary page has all the info you need and more on shuttles and rapid descriptions.