Warmer waters, a more gentle flow, and the opportunity for back-to-school primers make August ideal for family whitewater trips in southern West Virginia. According to veteran guide Rob Dobson, owner of West Virginia Adventures, the New River and Gauley River, the outdoor classrooms in which he teaches, are perfect for summer's-end adventures.
Whitewater trips need not be extreme affairs, Dobson said, and can usually be arranged at a moment's notice when managed by smaller rafting outfitters such as his own firm, the smallest of eight licensed to guide in southern West Virginia.
"Trips this time of year are easy to arrange," Dobson said, "and the pay-off in late summer is excellent, especially when it comes to family excursions with children."
A teacher during the off-season, he's particularly keen on the educational aspects of river trips, during which students may learn about geology, hydrology, and the history of the New River Gorge, the centerpiece of the National Park Service's New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.
"There's a reason the National Park Service chose to protect the New and Gauley rivers," he said. "A journey on either river reveals so much about the world around us, and our guides are adept at revealing that while the adventure unfolds."
Dobson said families with younger children appreciate warmer waters and gentler flow in August. Younger children are more likely to enjoy the trip, and families are able to spend more time enjoying the scenery and less time managing rapids. Normally, the waters of the New are warmer than those of other mountain streams, such as the nearby Gauley River, as they have been warmed over miles of slow descent through Virginia.
By mid-September, however, the focus of rafting will move from the New to the Gauley and shift to more technical, high-powered adventures.
"A month from now, in October, when the Army Corps begins to release water into the Gauley, we'll begin guiding high-adventure raft trips there, but August is a season of moderation on the rivers."
Dobson said he believes many clients appreciate smaller outfitters that can more easily craft trips and provide a more personalized experience. After more than a quarter century spent managing larger outfitters, he established West Virginia Adventures with the intent to stay small.
"Some outfitters put nearly a thousand people down the river each day, and it begins to feel more like a circus than a rafting trip," Dobson writes on the company website. "Often, we have only one trip a day, and this allows us to set our own pace on and off the river."
For more information on rafting trips offered through West Virginia Adventures, visit TryWVa.com or call their offices toll-free at 800-292-0880.
Author David Sibray is editor-in-chief of West Virginia Explorer.