The return of autumn could result in an end-of-season boom for whitewater rafting on the Gauley River, the legendary West Virginia destination for paddling in fall.
"I expect that after temperatures cool off, we could see a more traditional Gauley season," says Heather Johnson, co-owner of River Expeditions.
"It's been a beautiful fall, but I think people who normally raft the Gauley have been occupied with summer pursuits as it's still been practically summer."
High temperatures across the Southeast have continued to reach the 90s but are expected to return to the 60s and 70s this weekend in West Virginia, Johnson said.
Thousands of rafters normally book excursions on the Gauley on weekends in September and October when water impounded upstream is released, creating ideal rafting conditions.
Most other eastern whitewater rivers have grown languid by late summer when the upstream segment of the Gauley's rafting section is among the boldest in the eastern U.S.
River Expeditions is one of a half dozen outfitters licensed to guide raft trips on the Gauley in September and October, though, like most state rafting outfitters, they also run trips on the Gauley and nearby New River in warm months beginning in March.
"Gauley Season" typically ends with a flourish on the next-to-last weekend in October. Many rafters on that weekend also attend Bridge Day, which celebrates the completion of the New River Gorge Bridge, which famously opened to traffic in 1977 at nearby Fayetteville, West Virginia.
Though rafting season ends after Bridge Day weekend, outdoor recreation in the region merely transforms, Johnson says. Rock climbing and bouldering reach their peak seasons in autumn and spring when temperatures on the cliffs are more comfortable and vegetation dies back.
Hiking also grows even more popular in fall and winter, and the ski resort at Winterplace, a drive of only 40 minutes south, attracts thousands of skiers to the region.
Johnson says the 100-acre woodland resort at River Expeditions has become a popular getaway for winter vacations and continues to attract guests who enjoy off-season access to the nearby New River Gorge National Park and Preserve and Fayetteville's legendary restaurants.
New River Gorge growing more popular as winter retreat
In search of a cozy cabin? The New River Gorge has become an increasingly popular winter retreat for travelers in search of cabin lodging, natural beauty, and great food. Off-season rates combined with world-renowned hiking trails, rock-climbing areas, and restaurants are attracting more vacationers every year, says Heather Johnson of River Expeditions, an outdoor-adventure resort that’s also among the Mountain State’s chief whitewater-rafting outfitters. Read more here.