Gauley River

name = Gauley River
native_name =
other_name =
other_name1 =

image_size = 275px
image_caption = Sweet's Falls on the Gauley River
country = United States

state = West Virginia

region_type = Counties
region = Randolph
region1 = Webster
region2 = Nicholas
region3 = Fayette
city =
city1 =
city2 =
length_imperial =
length_note =
watershed_imperial =
watershed_note =
discharge_location = Belva, WV
discharge_imperial = 2680
discharge_max_imperial = 12900
discharge_max_note = (1987)
discharge_min_imperial = 341
discharge_min_note = (1976)
discharge_note = United States Geological Survey; [ USGS 03192000 GAULEY RIVER ABOVE BELVA, WV] ; retrieved April 19, 2008.]
discharge1_location =
discharge1_imperial =
discharge1_note =
source_name = North Fork Gauley River
source_location = Gauley Mountain
source_district =
source_region = Pocahontas County
source_state = WV
source_country =
source_lat_d = 38
source_lat_m = 25
source_lat_s = 42
source_lat_NS = N
source_long_d = 80
source_long_m = 10
source_long_s = 22
source_long_EW = W
source_elevation_imperial = 4000
source_length_imperial =
source_note = gnis|1552333|North Fork Gauley River]
source1_name = South Fork Gauley River
source1_location = Pocahontas County
source1_district =
source1_region =
source1_state = WV
source1_country =
source1_lat_d = 38
source1_lat_m = 22
source1_lat_s = 43
source1_lat_NS = N
source1_long_d = 80
source1_long_m = 12
source1_long_s = 52
source1_long_EW = W
source1_elevation_imperial = 3937
source1_length_imperial =
source1_note = gnis|1552974|South Fork Gauley River]
source2_name = Middle Fork Gauley River
source2_location = Pocahontas County
source2_district =
source2_region =
source2_state = WV
source2_country =
source2_lat_d = 38
source2_lat_m = 23
source2_lat_s = 21
source2_lat_NS = N
source2_long_d = 80
source2_long_m = 11
source2_long_s = 29
source2_long_EW = W
source2_elevation_imperial = 3844
source2_length_imperial =
source2_note = gnis|1552063|Middle Fork Gauley River]
source_confluence = Three Forks of Gauley
source_confluence_location = Webster County
source_confluence_district =
source_confluence_region =
source_confluence_state = WV
source_confluence_country =
source_confluence_lat_d = 38
source_confluence_lat_m = 24
source_confluence_lat_s = 33
source_confluence_lat_NS = N
source_confluence_long_d = 80
source_confluence_long_m = 14
source_confluence_long_s = 17
source_confluence_long_EW = W
source_confluence_elevation_imperial = 2917
mouth_name = Kanawha River
mouth_location = Gauley Bridge
mouth_district =
mouth_region =
mouth_state = WV
mouth_country =
mouth_lat_d = 38
mouth_lat_m = 09
mouth_lat_s = 42
mouth_lat_NS = N
mouth_long_d = 81
mouth_long_m = 11
mouth_long_s = 47
mouth_long_EW = W
mouth_elevation_imperial = 660
mouth_note = gnis|1551216|Gauley River]
tributary_left = Williams River
tributary_left1 = Cranberry River
tributary_left2 = Meadow River
tributary_right =
tributary_right1 =
free_name =
free_value =

map_size =
map_caption =
The Gauley River is one of the most popular advanced whitewater runs in the Eastern United States and is the chief feature of the Gauley River National Recreation Area. It is a tributary of the Kanawha River in central West Virginia.

Headwaters and course

The Gauley rises in the Monongahela National Forest on Gauley Mountain in Pocahontas County as three streams, the North, Middle, and South Forks, each of which flows across the southern extremity of Randolph County; they converge in Webster County. The river then flows generally west-southwestwardly through Webster, Nicholas and Fayette Counties, past the towns of Camden-on-Gauley and Summersville, to the town of Gauley Bridge, where it joins the New River to form the Kanawha River. Via the Kanawha and Ohio Rivers, it is part of the Mississippi River watershed.


The Gauley's largest tributaries are the Cranberry River and the Williams River, which join it in Webster County; the Cherry River, which joins it in Nicholas County; and the Meadow River, which joins it at the Fayette-Nicholas County border.


In Nicholas County, the Gauley is impounded by the Summersville Dam, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dam, to form Summersville Lake. The Gauley River National Recreation Area is downstream of the dam.

Whitewater paddling

The Gauley is run year-round by recreational boaters and from Spring to Fall by commercial rafting companies. During the majority of the year, boating is level dependent and the water level fluctuates dramatically depending on rainfall and the level of Summersville Lake. However, starting the Friday after Labor Day, the Army Corps of Engineers provides a series of twenty-two controlled releases for the express purpose of downriver recreation. These releases are collectively known as "Gauley Season" and are scheduled on six successive weekends, the first five of which are four-day weekends (Friday through Monday) and the last of which is just Saturday and Sunday. Typical release levels during "Gauley Season" range from 2,400 to 2,800 ft³/s (68 to 79 m³/s).

These releases are thanks to an act of the U.S. Congress, the first law passed in the U.S. to specifically mandate recreational whitewater dam releases. The releases bring millions of dollars annually to the local economy, as paddlers travel from all over the United States and overseas for this event.

The Gauley has two commonly-run sections: the more difficult 9.8 mile (16 km) [ Upper Gauley] (Class IV-V), and the easier 11-mile (18 km) [ Lower Gauley] (Class III-IV, V). Portions of the 5.5-mile (9 km) [ Middle Gauley] (Class III+, IV) are commonly run in conjunction with either the Upper or Lower Gauley, and it is sometimes run alone as a milder alternative.

There are dozens of rapids on the Upper Gauley; the most notable are the Big Five:
*Insignificant (Class V - ironically so named because the first expedition reported "nothing significant before Pillow".)
*Pillow Rock (Class V - accessible via a steep trail from Carnifax Ferry Battleground site. Extremely powerful and intimidating rapid.)
*Lost Paddle (Class V - a long, treacherous rapid consisting of four sub-rapids: First Drop, Second Drop, Third Drop, and Tumblehome.)
*Iron Ring (Class V - so named for a large iron ring which had been anchored in a rock near the rapid by loggers many years before. The ring was cut and removed by vandals in the 1980's.), and
*Sweet's Falls (Class V - named for John Sweet, a canoeist and pioneer of the Gauley.)

The Middle/Lower Gauley has fewer rapids and they are more spread out, but it also features big dramatic rapids that pose significant challenges. The list of Middle/Lower Gauley rapids includes:
*Wood's Ferry (Class IV+ - a shallow rapid with large ledge pour-overs on river-left, "PJ's Hole" just right of center, and at the bottom, "Julie's Juicer", a twisting hydraulic flowing off the left side of a large rock in the center of the river.)
*Koontz's Flume (Class IV - Easily identifiable by an enormous undercut boulder clearly visible for a half mile or more upstream.)
*Canyon Doors (Class III - Named for vertical openings in the canyon wall on river right.)
*Upper and Lower Mash (Class IV - A complex boulder garden leading down to a swift flush, big breaking wave, and pinning rocks.)
*Rocky Top (Class III - A boulder strewn rapid with Little Hell Hole on river right at the bottom.)
*Heaven's Gate (Class IV - Long wave train leading to a narrow "gate" between a large rock and a dangerous pour-over at the bottom.)
*Upper and Lower Staircase (Class IV - a very long wave train rapid with interspersed pour-overs and ledge drops on the upper section, a massive curler waves on the lower part.)
*Rollercoaster (Class III - a fun wave-train rapid)
*Cliffside - (Class III - technical maneuvering at the top leads to an interesting slot against the cliff on river-right)
*Rattlesnake - (Class III - a bumpy ride.)
*Roostertail - (Class III - another fast wavetrain with a conspicuous roostertail wave near the bottom that hides a sharp rock inside.)
*Pure Screaming Hell (Class V - A long approach past consequential pourovers on the right, leading to a pair of large holes, Purgatory and Hell Hole, in addition to a very dangerous undercut sieve on the far right.)

A significant issue regarding legal access on the Gauley exists. Most of the access areas between the public put-in at the dam on the Upper Gauley and the last take-out for the Lower Gauley at Swiss are privately owned by rafting companies. Use of the popular Mason's Branch take-out has been tenuous at best through 2005 and 2006 and no good access exists for private paddlers to actually park near the river. Most have to hike their boats in or out of the gorge. Recently the National Parks Service has been hampered in its efforts to purchase and develop a public access point by a congressional mandate specifying that public access at Woods Ferry rapid (halfway down the Middle Gauley) be purchased and developed before any other area. This was largely seen as an attempt by two large and influential rafting companies with joint ownership of a developed access area to force the NPS to purchase their land. Whether or not this was the case, the situation was resolved through the development of a disused right of way on public land at Woods Ferry. Although this access point is not sufficient to service the crowds of boaters who descend upon the Gauley every year, its existence now permits the NPS to pursue other options for providing much needed public access.


The Gauley area was the site of the Battle of Carnifex Ferry on September 10, 1861, a Union victory in the American Civil War.

Variant names

According to the Geographic Names Information System, the Gauley River has also been known as:
*Falling Creek
*Gaul River
*Gawly River
*Gualey River
*River of Gauls
*The Falling Creek
*The Falls Creek

ee also

*Kanawha River
*List of West Virginia rivers


External links

* [ A Video Tour of Each of the 49 Rapids]
* [ Gauley River National Recreation Area]
* [ National Whitewater River Inventory: Gauley River (Upper)]
* [ National Whitewater River Inventory: Gauley River (Lower)]
* [ US Army Corps of Engineers: Southern WV]
* [ A video profile of the Gauley River]
* [ Summersville Lake water levels and outflow]
* [ Gauley River whitewater rafting outfitters]
* [ Historical Documentary of Whitewater Rafting on the Gauley River]

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