Experience Whitewater Adventures in the Blue Ridge
The author enjoying the New River Gorge in West Virginia.
(photo by Leisure Sports Photography)
Looking for a different way of exploring and enjoying our great outdoors? Ever take a glance at the water below you when crossing a bridge and wonder where it goes? Like getting wet on a hot, summer day? If so, consider trading in your car for a boat. Rivers all along the Blue Ridge Mountains, from the Kennebec in Maine to the Chattooga straddling South Carolina and Georgia, offer some of the best opportunities anywhere to see nature from a unique perspective and to enjoy loads of adrenaline-filled fun.
As with most outdoor activities, before embarking on any water sports, do your homework. With the proper precautions, whitewater is an inherently fun and safe endeavor. If you decide you want to try things on your own, such as in a kayak or canoe, make sure you have the proper gear and know how to use it. Your best bet is to take a lesson or join a club. Some great instructors include those at Zoar Outdoor in Massachusetts, Riversport in Pennsylvania, Valley Mills Kayak School in Maryland, and the Nantahala Outdoor Center or Endless River Adventures in North Carolina. Folks at these places and others will teach you the basics, from proper stroke techniques to Eskimo rolling to hole playing. They will also teach you safe river reading and running, and ensure you understand the difference between straightforward Class I rapids and killer Class VI. Local clubs can be found throughout the Blue Ridge, and in addition to providing help with safety and logistics, offer up some great friendships.
Not ready to strike out on your own? Consider whitewater rafting with an experienced guide. In most rafts, you’ll be an important part of the team, responding to your guide’s enthusiastic cadence for strokes to get you through the biggest rapids. Whitewater rafting opportunities can be found in every state along the Blue Ridge, but the state best known for its whitewater has to be “wet and wonderful” West Virginia. And the rivers that make it famous are the New and the Gauley. The New (which, ironically, is the second oldest river in the world, behind the Nile) is known for its bodacious rapids, huge holes, and a beautiful float through a remote gorge. The Gauley receives its fame from world-class rapids and scheduled fall releases from upstream Summersville Lake. For a list of licensed rafting companies in West Virginia, click here.
Finally, don’t forget that to keep enjoying these awesome natural resources, they must be protected. Two great organizations that focus on both river running and river protection are American Whitewater and the American Canoe Association. Joining groups such as these is a good way learning about the rivers you paddle, while also giving something back.
See you on the river!
Dave Perault is an Environmental Science professor at Lynchburg College in Virginia. When not teaching about the environment, he can usually be found outside enjoying it.