Oh "Wild and Wonderful" West Virginia! Every time I go, I’m blown away by its rugged natural beauty – fast-rushing rivers, mountains and rugged rock formations. For thrill seekers, it’s paradise. For me and others who like their thrills on the tamer side, it’s still a fun playground. Famous for its whitewater rafting, you can also zip line, hike, bike, rock climb and golf. And what’s great is you can be on a river in an hour or paddling your way through the most extreme rapids in five. So choose your distance and choose your adventure.
Adventures in Harpers Ferry
Only an hour from the DMV is Harpers Ferry where the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers meet. It’s the place where I first got my feet wet. Let me rephrase that: it's the place where I first“started paddling.” Here beginner to intermediate white water rafters can enjoy class l-lll rapids and breathtaking scenery. And to let you know how easy this is, kids as young as six (50 lbs) can go. For beginners it’s recommended you travel with a guide. If you wish to navigate on your own, it’s suggested you have previous rafting experience, or at least have no fear of the water since you will get wet. You can even swim during your trip. Other activities on the water include whitewater tubing or for a more relaxing day on the water try tubing on the Shenandoah River flat water.
If you want to get your adrenaline rush but not get wet, you can fly. Enjoy the Superman Mega-Zip Line and Quick Jump, including a 1,200 foot zip line reaching 50 mph. Or do the two to three hour guided Zipline Canopy Tour where you’ll fly above the ground next to the river using eight zip lines. There are also two to four hour, four to six hour, and multi-day biking trips. River Riders rafting offers all these activities.
The Gauley River
Now for the ultimate experience, it’s the Gauley River. Before attempting the Upper Gauley River you might want to take a run on the Lower Gauley River first. While it has more rapids (70), than the Upper Gauley River it’s not as fast paced. It’s recommended for intermediate to advance paddlers.
Okay adrenaline junkies, this one is for you. The Upper Gauley River is called the “Beast of the East,” for a reason. It’s ranked as one of the top five rivers to raft in world. A class V, it’s not for the faint of heart. Just imagine you’ll pound through the 37 rapids between large boulders. It’s absolutely heart-pumping. Angela Sundstrom, public relations for Adventures on the Gorge says, “It’s boom, boom, boom. There’s no time to catch your breath.”
The New River
For a milder, calmer experience in the same area you can do the Upper New River. It’s wide and children as young as six (50 lbs) are allowed. It says to all us scaredy cats, “you’ll be fine.”
For more excitement, do the Lower New River, a Class lll to V. Children 12 and older are welcome. It offers breathtaking scenery and chances to spot wildlife. A highlight is going under the 876 foot high New River Gorge Bridge.
Besides whitewater rafting, there other activities – stand-up paddleboarding, rock climbing, and zip lining from easy to extreme.
With so much to do you’ll want to stay a couple of days. Adventures on the Gorge offers two, three, and four night “Explore the George” packages. You can choose from the “Action Packed” or the “More Relaxed” options. The accommodations - luxury homes, multi-bedroom deluxe and other cabins options, hotel suites, and campsites - are located on the spectacular rim of the New River Gorge National River. On the premises there are three restaurants as well as two bars that serve West Virginia brewed craft beers.
There aren’t many places that you can do an exciting bridge walk, but this is definitely one of them. Don’t worry about falling off the bridge, you’ll be securely fastened onto a safety cable. The walk is between two and three hours for the 1.5 mile span. Reservations are needed. It’s covered, so it’s good rain or shine.
Both the Gauley and New River are about five hours from Washington.
Canaan Valley is about two and half hours away from the DMV. With so much to see and do, make it a weekend getaway. And a great place to stay is Canaan Valley Resort State Park where you’ll be surrounded by knockout views. There’s plenty to do at the resort and it’s close to other activities. Choose from the lodge, the cabins, the cottages or a campsite. You can bike or hike 18 miles of marked trails that travel through woodlands and meadows and near gurgling streams. Many of the trails are linked with the million-acre Monongahela National Park with jaw-dropping views. Play golf on the 18-hole championship course, do sporting clays, or ride the scenic chairlift. Opened in October 2016, you can now go paragliding, a high adrenaline sport. At a little over 4,000 feet in elevation, it’s accessed from the resort’s scenic chair lift. Beyond the resort is Blackwater Falls State Park where you’ll want to visit the falls of the Blackwater River whose amber-colored waters plunge five stories then twist and tumble through an eight-mile gorge.
Nearby is the town of Davis. I highly recommend dinner at Sirianni’s Café, a family-owned Italian restaurant. And for WV craft beers try Stumptown Ales and Blackwater Brewing.