The 105-mile-long Gauley River rises in eastern West Virginia (WV) in western Pocahontas County and flows southwestward across Webster County and Nicholas County to its junction with the New River in Fayette County at Gauley Bridge, West Virginia, where the Kanawha River begins. Its basin is almost entirely forested.
Its lower course descends through the Gauley River National Recreational Area, a world-class destination for whitewater rafting expeditions, above which it is impounded as Summersville Lake, the largest lake in West Virginia. The upper river and three of its primary tributaries, the Cherry River, Cranberry River, and Williams River, are popular fly-fishing streams. Its lower tributary river, the Meadow River, is a popular whitewater stream.
The Gauley descends swiftly from the peaks of Gauley Mountain, at an elevation of more than 4,000 feet above sea level, to its junction with the New River at the Kanawha River. Its drainage is roughly 1,430 square miles. Many hunting and fishing camps are now located along its banks. The Gauley is impounded near Summersville as Summersville Lake, centerpiece of the Summersville Lake Wildlife Management Area.
History of the Gauley River
The watershed of the Gauley remained mostly unoccupied as a result of its rugged terrain. The first European settlement in the region was at Peters Creek in Nicholas County in the 1700s. Coal and timber operations were established throughout the basin in the late 1800s, drawing more people to settle along the Gauley River and surrounding uplands.
On September 10, 1861, a skirmish erupted between Union and Confederate soldiers at Carnifex Ferry, a crossing on the Gauley River near the mouth of the Meadow River, now preserved as part of Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park.
Gauley River Communities
From source to mouth, the following select cities, towns, and villages are located on or near the Gauley River.
- Gauley Mills, WV
- Camden on Gauley, WV
- Cowen, WV
- Craigsville, WV
- Summersville, WV
- Swiss, WV
- Jodie, WV
- Belva, WV
- Gauley Bridge, WV
The name Gauley is said to be of French origin, a modification of the old French word, Gaud, which might in this application mean “ebulent” or “showy.
Chin-que-ta-na, Chinquetanacepewe, Falling Creek, Gaul River, Gawly River, Gualey River, River of Gauls, The Falling Creek, The Falls Creek, To-ke-be-lo-ke, To-ke-bel-le-ke, To-ke-bel-lo-ke, Tokobelloke. “To-ke-bel-lo-ke” is said to be a Native American phrase, from the Delaware tribe, meaning “falling creek”
Information on lodging, dining, and recreation on and near the upper Gauley River, upstream of Summersville Lake, may be found in our guide to travel in the Allegheny Highlands Region. Information on the river downstream of Summersville Lake may be found in the New River Gorge Region.