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Posts Tagged ‘Kayaking’

Summersville, W.Va.
Visited: October 10, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 255 of 353
NPS Website

WHAT IS IT?
One of the world’s top ten most challenging white-water rivers.

Early Morning FearBEAUTY (8/10)
Uh, scenery? We barely had the time or the notion to look around and appreciate the gorgeous fall colors, the shimmering water surface, the churning rapids, steep waterfalls and school bus-sized rocks we were about to attack. Most of our Gauley River memories involve steely glares into the coming rapids, determined rowing and raging waters engulfing our persons. We had to wait until watching the video of our trip to see the beauty of our surroundings.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (2/10)
The Gauley NRA exists solely for a month’s worth of early fall whitewater rafting, or at least that is what we gathered. The Gauley River’s borders do not teem with remnants of coal mines, ghost towns and notions of the past. Heck, all those things are under the lake created by the Summersville Dam. Oddly, the Gauley was not a navigable whitewater river until AFTER the dam was built in 1966.

Unlike our trip on the nearby New River, our guide spared us history lessons and geography stories; we had more important things (Class V-VI rapids) to worry about. Maps show that the Gauley River borders the Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park, a Civil War fight. Who knew?

CROWDS (9/10)
The fall Gauley run brought a more practiced, younger crowd than most Appalachian whitewater runs. Our boat included a family of four and the eldest son’s two friends from Appalachian State. The parents and the App. State students had all run the Gauley, one by himself on a kayak! The family’s fourth member was a 17-year old girl. She had never been rafting before and was really scared; almost as scared as us.

The other boats consisted mostly of 20-35 year-olds hailing from all the surrounding states. The Gauley season also draws River guides from the entire United States. We overheard a few say that they would not miss this River for the world; it is just too fun. The amount of collective adrenalin among the Gauley boaters is astounding.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (1/5)
The Gauley River is located in south-central West Virginia, about an hour and a half drive southeast from Charleston. It is not the Gauley’s location that makes it inaccessible; in fact, it is a 4-7 hour drive from a host of major cities (Washington, D.C.; Pittsburgh, Pa.; Columbus and Cincinnati, Ohio; Lexington, Ky.; Asheville and Winston-Salem, N.C. and Richmond, Va.).

No, the Gauley’s diffidence comes from its short season and its eight Class V+ whitewater rapids. The rapids run because of a dam release. The Corps of Engineers release the water on a very limited basis: Sat.-Mon. from Labor Day through the third Saturday in October. The Class V+ rapids are especially prohibitive and should be attempted only by highly experienced kayakers or on a hired raft trip.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (1/5)
The NPS has no official Gauley NRA facilities. There is not even a Park brochure. The Corps of Engineers runs a VC at the Summersville Dam. We were too tired to drive there. The New River Gorge NR operates the excellent Sandstone VC and Museum, located where I-64 crosses the New, about 10 miles east of Beckley, W.Va. You can also get Gauley related info and books at the New River’s Canyon Rim VC.

The outfitter we chose, Appalachian Whitewater, has a terrific bookstore filled with T-shirts, souvenirs and myriad trip mementos. They also operate a base camp from where your trip departs. The camp includes a campground, overnight cabins, an on-site bar where you can watch the video of your trip, a pool, a free breakfast room, a hot tub for relaxation and a nice outdoor patio. In addition, their mid-trip lunch barbeque is terrific.

COSTS (1/5)
Running the Upper Gauley River ain’t cheap, generally costing about $140 per person. Check around for the best rate. We got lucky and found a 2-for-1 Monday special through the superb Appalachian Whitewater outfitter. There is a range of Gauley River rafting packages. Do your research.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (1/5)
If there are no NPS facilities, then there cannot be any NPS Rangers although the Sandstone VC Ranger was very nice. “You running the Gauley tomorrow? Ho, ho, ho that should be one heck of a ride.”

The whitewater outfitters standard boat carries eight. You can pay additional monies for a smaller boat and the resulting crazier ride.

TOURS/CLASSES (9/10)
We are alive and owe great thanks to our guide, Kevin. Before our trip started, he asked the boat what kind of run we wanted. We conferred and agreed that we wanted to go all out. Kevin obliged. Our boat flipped twice. The first time was the scariest. Kevin warned us that if we capsized in this Class V rapid, we might be underwater for 10 seconds or more. He was right.

After our untimely boat ejection, Kevin somehow mustered the strength to pull all eight of us out of the battering rapids and into the boat in record time. He then had the steadiness of mind to get us quickly back into active rowing position before the boat flipped again. We had faith in our guide to both save our lives and give us a ride so fun that our lives might need to be saved. A perilous but perfect combination.

FUN (9/10)
We could not help comparing our Gauley run to our New River whitewater trip. The Rivers are just a few miles apart, we used the same outfitter and they are our only two rafting experiences. Our conclusion:

Just because the Gauley was bigger, faster, scarier, more death defying, more insane, more non-stop with better food, better weather and done in cool wet suits does not necessarily make it more fun. We had an unbelievably spectacular time but we were also very sore and completely drained. Drained from adrenalin loss, intense concentration, life-sustaining paddling, fear and the absolute battering inflicted by the water. Was the New River more exciting? No, but it was more fun.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (8/10)
The Gauley is the ultimate eastern whitewater trip. Ultimate as in the last, as in the nth degree of anything you can do east of the Mississippi. It is not going to get any (insert superlative) than here. We can see how the Gauley is the most fun a skilled, serious whitewater enthusiast could ever have. However, for the neophyte here is definitely not the place to start. The Gauley is the extremest of the extremes. “What’s it like?” we asked our New River guide months ago. His response: “All I can say is gollllllly!”

TOTAL 50/80

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near Florida City, Fla.
Visited: January 21, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 133 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Struggling AnglerWHAT IS IT?
At 1.5 million acres, Everglades National Park is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. This review covers the areas of the park accessible through its main entrance located just outside Florida City, Fla. This stretch of road passes through numerous ecosystems, traveling 38 miles from the Ernest Coe Visitor Center to the Flamingo Visitor Center, located on the Florida Bay.

BEAUTY (9/10)
The section of the Everglades from the Main Entrance to Flamingo is the most beautiful area of the Park because it is the most diverse. A few inches’ change in altitude dramatically alters the landscape. Along the 38-mile drive, you travel through a pineland forest, hardwood hammocks, cypress trees, a freshwater prairie, a mangrove wilderness, a hurricane-created coastal marsh and finally a coastal prairie. Every change is clear and breathtaking. The sunsets are spectacular whether they overlook the pastel horizon of the sandy Florida Bay keys or are through the vertical wonder of Florida pines.

The wildlife is abundant and includes many endangered species. We were lucky enough to see the rare American crocodile but did not see either the manatee or the limpkin. The Everglades are the only place in the world where saltwater crocodiles live side by side with alligators.

The Everglades are an American original. Many of the trails feel more like a zoo than a National Park. The birds, fish and massive reptiles are so close that they seem to mingle with the tourists in such a great number that you are guaranteed to see all but the rarest species.

American CrocodileHISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (4/10)
South Florida is a very young land mass, appearing anywhere from 6,000 to 8,000 years ago, a veritable newborn. Native Americans are thought to have crossed the Alaskan land bridge over 10,000 years ago, predating the Everglades. Since their creation, the shallow Everglades slowly meandered on its way to the Florida Bay. Human interaction was limited to a few Indian tribes until the turn of the century when full-scale settlement began in South Florida.

Since then, humans have drained the Everglades, disrupted and redistributed the water flow with canals, dumped sugar cane runoff and untold other waste products into the “River of Grass” and demolished and filled portions for development. The Everglades are in critical condition and there are no plausible solutions, only stopgap measures. Everglades NP is our most endangered National Park.

CROWDS (3/10)
Our crowd interaction at Everglades NP ranged wildly from good to our worst National Park experience yet. First, for chronologies sake, the bad times.

Keep away from the Flamingo campground if you spend the night in the Everglades. We found the campground overrun with rowdy boaters eager to set off the next morning from the nearby marina. Quiet hours were ignored, the vodka poured freely and the overheard conversations were so loud, aggressive and offensive that we feared for our safety.

Lowlights included one group showering expletives upon Park Rangers. The reason: they dared to penalize the man for drunk boating and illegal fishing. Another nearby group collected and chopped down wood (illegal) twice, once at seven and once at midnight while using their idling pickup truck as a spotter. Their massive bonfire party began at 8 p.m. and lasted well past 2 a.m.

We have run into obnoxious and dangerous boaters at every National Park that allows motorboats. Our experience tells us that our Flamingo incident was all too common especially since we encountered no roaming campground hosts and no patrolling Park security, a first in well over 50 National Park campgrounds. Our sleepless, fear-ridden night nearly ruined our trip to the Everglades.

Roseate Spoonbill OverheadLuckily, our spirits were lifted at 8:00 a.m. around Eco Pond. We happened upon a Ranger-led bird walk and were greeted with an advanced lesson from both Ranger and fellow bird-watchers. Everybody had high-powered individual binoculars and one couple brought a portable spotting telescope that they happily shared. We spotted over 50 species of birds in our meandering two-hour walk. The perfect way to learn about birds is to go with people who know what they are doing. Other than the Ranger, we were the youngest in the group by at least twenty-five years.

Our walks around the Anhinga Trail, near the main entrance, were wonderful and representative of the classic National Parks visit. The boardwalks were crowded with tourists amazed and enchanted at the exotic floral and fauna they were seeing. So much excitement and so many happy kids.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5)
The Everglades NP Main Entrance is located 45 miles from Miami and 11 miles from Homestead. The Florida Turnpike, Route 821, ends at Homestead. From there, Florida Route 9336 weaves its way through Florida City and into the Everglades. The road continues 38 miles to the southern tip of mainland Florida, the site of the Flamingo Visitor Center.

There are six fully accessible self-guided interpretive trails along the road through the Park. They take the visitor through six dramatically different ecosystems. The trails allow anyone to amble through the forbidding mangroves, an incredible feat in itself. All the trails are completely flat and make for easy walking. Just don’t forget to bring insect repellent, the mosquitoes are always out in full force.

Glistening Red Mangroves

CONCESSIONS/ BOOKSTORE (3/5)
The brightly-lit gift store in the Ernest Coe VC at the Main Entrance followed the same design as bookstores in many of the destination parks – lots of coffee table photography books, key chains, magnets, generic National Park guides and gear. The only exception to the rule was the extensive stock of books for birders.

Flamingo had both an upscale gift store operated by an independent concessionaire and a grocer/convenience store at the marina, but we couldn’t find an actual NPS bookstore in the area. Be sure to get your reading material before you start down the 38-mile road.

COSTS (3/5)
Entrance to the Park is $10 per car. A tent spot at the Flamingo or the Long Pine Key campground is $14.

Like the Gulf Coast portion of the park, much of the Everglades NP serviced by the Flamingo VC is in the water. Canoes, kayaks and fishing skiffs can be rented hourly or by the day. Prices range from $8 an hour for a 2-person canoe to $155 for a 19-foot fishing skiff. Fishing poles and ice chests can also be rented as needed.

The canoe rental fees at Gulf Coast were much more affordable. There were many more motorized boats leaving the Flamingo marina than from their Gulf Coast counterpart. A canoe excursion from the northwest might be more peaceful and definitely cheaper.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (3/5)
The Flamingo Campground, the setting for our horrendous first night, would have been much better with a Ranger patrolling the grounds once or twice. In fact, this is the first NPS campground we have used where we haven’t had an evening visit from an NPS employee, if only to tell us about the evening slide program at the amphitheatre.

The Rangers leading the birders walk and the talk which turned into a walk at the Anhinga Trail were both excellent. Young and enthusiastic, they knew their stuff and both stayed with us long past the anticipated end of the lesson.

Stay at Home DadTOURS/CLASSES (8/10)
The NPS runs an interesting array of activities from both the Flamingo (the south) and Royal Palm (near the main entrance in the northeast) areas. The Rangers are the centerpiece of the Park’s highly enjoyable educational experience.

Both areas offer $15, three-hour long, walks through the swamp. Four Ranger-led slogs through the wet leave the south every week while Royal Palm offers the difficult hike every day. Space fills up well in advance.

The Bird Walk around Eco Pond happens from Thursday through Sunday only in the South. The wonderful Ranger who led on the birding excursion also handles many of the swamp walks. She knew every bird, butterfly, tree, spider and flower. Flamingo also offers a daily Ranger-led $20 four and a half hour morning canoe trip. These tours also fill up well in advance.

Royal Palm offers a daily $15 Ranger-led bike hike through the landscape of the north. Simple auditorium-based Ranger talks also take place daily in both areas.

The Park’s Visitor Center Museum is large, confusing and not nearly as helpful as the Rangers. The recent remodeling includes a new and outsourced film. A Discovery Channel logo proves very distracting while it constantly rotates in the lower right corner. The film relies on sped-up camera tricks and nice pictures and fails to scratch the surface of the Everglades’ complex ecosystems and the man-made problems that threaten them.

If the Ranger programs are not enough, two hour long private boat tours leave 8 times a day into both the mangroves and Florida Bay from the Flamingo Marina. Adult costs range from $12 to $18. They are narrated by a professional guide. There is a lot to do in the Everglades.

Drying AnhingaFUN (8/10)

The Anhinga Trail near the Park Entrance deservedly enjoys its world-class reputation for wildlife spotting. It is as much fun as you can have on a National Parks boardwalk. And believe what the Rangers say, come back and walk the trail at night. The sounds are amplified, the walk is safe and the atmosphere is enjoyably spooky. The twin beady eyes of the alligator will appear fluorescent red if you shine a flashlight from your eye level into the water. Their silent motion is interrupted only when they creep up on other gators and thrash their tails through the water in territorial battles.

The moon and the stars were so bright that we did not need a flashlight; although a squawking Great Blue Heron did shock us when we unknowingly crept only a few inches in front of his perch. Our terrific time at Everglades NP was dampened only by our night spent in the Flamingo campground with very little sleep.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (8/10)
Our two-day visit took us from one extreme to the other – in emotions as well as natural settings. We happened upon two stellar Ranger-led events at either end of the Park without even trying.

If Shark Valley VC offers the visitor an Everglades 101 course, traveling from the Main Entrance to Flamingo is the next level. If you go to Shark Valley, you pay your money, get on the tram, and are sure to see just about everything that ecosystem, a freshwater slough, has to offer.

The road on the east side of the park is long and winds through more landscapes than one should expect to see in a day, let alone along a single 38-mile stretch. Your visit here will be more self-directed; there are no guarantees and the Main Entrance is not as accessible as its name might imply. Your trip here will be more difficult than Shark Valley but could prove to be more rewarding.

TOTAL 52/80

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near Everglades City, Fla.
Visited: January 4, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 133 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Porpoises

WHAT IS IT?
At 1.5 million acres, Everglades National Park is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. This review covers the northwestern portion of the Park; the area serviced by the Gulf Coast Visitor Center.

BEAUTY (8/10)
There are two routes through the northwestern Everglades: 1) a narrow inland waterway that winds through the impenetrable mangroves and 2) one that skirts the mangroves and follows Florida’s Gulf Coast.

The inland route is mangrove monotony. The dirty brackish water never raises to levels more than five feet and the horizon stays perpetually level. Ospreys hover and shriek at every turn, wood storks fly overhead and egrets patrol the ground. We expected to paddle next to alligators but left disappointed; none appeared during our three-day canoe trip.

The coastal keys are tiny, white sand, prototypical deserted islands noted by gargantuan and intricate seashells, resourceful raccoons and porpoises diving their way through the gentle waves. We enjoyed a perfect pastel-colored Florida sunset while flocks of white ibises flew in a V-shaped formation overhead.

The route from the Keys through the Ten Thousand Islands and back to Everglades City is like being in a giant maze. The “Islands” are indistinguishable mangrove entities. Tides change the shallow waters’ navigability and create patterns and channels that differ from the published charts. Even with a map, navigation is impossible; everything looks the same. We managed to find our way home but not before paddling within yards of a perched bald eagle.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (4/10)
South Florida is a very young land mass, appearing anywhere from 6,000 to 8,000 years ago, a veritable newborn. Native Americans are thought to have crossed the Alaskan land bridge over 10,000 years ago, predating the Everglades. Since their creation, the shallow Everglades slowly meandered on its way to the Florida Bay. Human interaction was limited to a few Indian tribes until the turn of the century when full-scale settlement began in South Florida.

Since then, humans have drained the Everglades, disrupted and redistributed the water flow with canals, dumped sugar cane runoff and untold other waste products into the “River of Grass” and demolished and filled portions for development. The Everglades are in critical condition and there are no plausible solutions, only stopgap measures. Everglades NP is our most endangered National Park.

CROWDS (7/10)
Backcountry permits are issued up to 24 hours before departure. Rangers recommend getting to the permit desk early since all sites are first come, first served and can fill quickly. Backcountry campsites are limited, but there were still several options available when we inquired.

We had planned for excess people because of the holiday season and even some gators since we are in the Everglades, but we had no idea raccoons and water rats were considerations when preparing for our canoe trip. When we returned to the VC a few days later with our newly purchased hard-sided container and duct tape, we had even less of a problem securing the campsites we wanted.

Where We SleptFour other campers shared the chickee where we camped the first night. Space was tight on the two raised wooden platforms, but our fellow paddlers were pleasant and seemed as equally vexed by the winds, tide charts and sameness of the landscape as we were. We liked them.

Four other couples pitched their tents at Pavilion Key on day two. The stretch of sandy beach was long enough to leave ample room between all of us, giving us some privacy in an otherwise exposed environment. The noises we heard at night and the footprints we spied in the morning made us thankful we took an extra day to raccoon-proof our belongings.

Canoes and kayaks share the waterways with fishermen and motorboats at Everglades NP. Unlike our time at Voyageurs NP, where we were certain our canoe would tip with each speeding sportsman, fellow boaters at the Everglades seem to move at a slower, friendlier pace and didn’t affect our experience at all.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (1/5)
This portion of the Everglades is completely water-based. You cannot go out there without a boat. Canoes and kayaks are available for rent. Boat tours leave often from the Visitor Center dock. The Visitor Center is about 40 miles east of Naples in Everglades City. Everglades City is located on Florida Route 29 about eight miles south of the Tamiami Trail.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (3/5)
Consisting of two shelves opposite the backcountry permit desk, the bookstore is small but we couldn’t think of what else we might need. If you skip the boat tour and decide to venture into the Everglades on your own, do not leave without purchasing the water resistant Everglades nautical map. Souvenir items, postcards and some resort-priced beverages are available at the small gift shop/convenience store downstairs.

ShellsCOSTS (1/5)
There is no park entry collected at the Gulf Coast VC. This portion of the Park is water-based so you need to bring a boat, rent a boat or pay for a boat tour.

Do it yourself charges are as follows:

$5 for 7-day boat launch fee (motorized)
$3 for 7-day boat launch fee (non-motorized)
$10 for backcountry permit processing fee
$2 per person per night backcountry camping fee
canoe rentals range anywhere from $25 -$40 per day
$19.88 (tax incl.) for Everglades nautical map

An independent concessionaire located on the first floor of the Visitor Center runs two boat tours that leave the docks hourly:

Ten Thousand Islands Tour – $21 per adult, $11 per child, One hour 30 minutes in length
Mangrove Wilderness Tour – $35 per adult, $17.50 per child, One hour 45 minutes in length

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (4/5)
e entered the VC on three different occasions and met with at least four different Rangers. One was even willing to answer a question while on his way to the bathroom. Michael says thanks and sorry.

TOURS/CLASSES (7/10)
The Gulf Coast VC is small, existing more for issuing permits than exhibit-based education. Nonetheless, a great many panels are stuffed in the small area. A touch me table shows you the immensity of manatee ribs.

Rangers give a half hour talk everyday at 1:00 and give 4-hour long canoe explorations three days a week. Bring your own canoe or rent one.

We did not purchase a Boat Tour. That would have been a bit redundant. We saw a few leave. They looked crowded despite their amazing frequency.

FUN (7/10)
Our time in the Gulf Coast portion of Everglades NP was challenging. Vexing tide charts, shallow water, unpredictable offshore winds, pesky thieving raccoons, water rat prints in the morning right next to our tent (aaaaaah!) and 13 miles a day of paddling through repetitive landscape. We argued a lot.

The lows were balanced by amazing highs. Once we stopped paddling, our prospects improved immeasurably. The Everglades wilderness is a mysterious and wonderful place. We camped along a Gulf Coast beach, watched the sunset by ourselves and collected shells unlike any we had ever seen along any shore. Once the sun went down the absolute blackness was interrupted only by droning wave crashes and snorting porpoises.
Our night spent in the mangroves was even better, the sounds completely unknown. We camped at the Sunday Bay chickee; a raised wooden platform tucked into a small mangrove inlet. We sat up in our tent for hours trying to figure out the impossible things occurring in the near vicinity. Herons squawked and mullets jumped endlessly but other things we could not figure out.

We know this. Something definitely died. We heard water splash, high-pitched shrieks, wings flapping, and some deep growls. Was it an alligator (do they growl) or maybe a bobcat or Florida panther (how would they get into and around the mangroves)? We asked a Ranger what it was. “Could have been anything. It is the Everglades.”

SunsetWOULD WE RECOMMEND? (7/10)
It is true, we did argue a lot out on the water. We were disappointed by our alligator count: 0 and a little unnerved by evening marauders on the beach. Paddling is tiring and it took about a day to lose our sea legs and feelings of slight nausea. So those are the negatives.

The plusses: spending the night on a chickee is a very neat experience, as is camping on what feels like your own island. We lost count of egrets, herons, storks, pelicans and porpoises. There is a reason why thousands of amateur artists and photographers (ourselves included) try to capture the pinks, oranges and pastels of the Florida sun.

There are other options, other than a 3-day independent journey into the maze of mangroves. Those options are affordable and frequent. A Ranger leads at least one boat trip each day. If water-bound vessels aren’t your thing, the Gulf Coast VC might feel a little limiting. Don’t worry, there are more terrestrial activities further down the road at the Shark Valley VC.

TOTAL 49/80

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in southern West Virginia from Fayetteville to Hinton
Visited: July 27, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 67 of 353
NPS Website

New River GorgeWHAT IS IT?
53 miles of protected river that cuts a profound gorge into the mountainous countryside. The New River boasts both excellent fishing and challenging whitewater. Alongside the river’s borders lie the remains of once great railroad towns and abandoned coal mines.

BEAUTY (10/10)
The most beautiful place we have ever seen in the eastern United States. The trees are lush; the water is a warm 75°, the gorge dramatic, the river intense. Mist hovers above the water, exposed sandstone rock juts out from sheer cliffs, every bend in the river brings a stunning view. The New River Gorge Bridge, America’s second highest bridge crosses the canyon just south of Park’s northern River border. The man-made structure spans the River with a regal presence.

The New River Gorge feels like the tropics. Our entire boat vocally wondered if we were in a jungle. Maybe it was the three inches of rain the previous night or perhaps it was the inch that fell during our trip’s first two hours. It could have even been the hundreds of vultures sunning themselves in trees alongside the riverbank or even the intense greens of the flora. For us it was the smell, a smell of sticky growth and untold excitement. We all felt like we were in an adventure movie and a treasure was just around the corner.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (5/10)
Reminders of King Coal emanate everywhere along the River. You see abandoned mine shafts and black veins on the exposed gorge rocks. Still-working coal-carrying trains roar through the valley on the river’s edge. A once-thriving resort town and coal center, Thurmond, lies within Park boundaries. The town’s grand brick structures stand in ruin along the banks lending an eerie historical charm to the adventure.

The New River also enjoys a significant natural significance: it is the world’s second oldest river, junior only to the Nile.

CROWDS (9/10)
On the ride to the departure spot, a river guide stressed to a busload of eager rafters, “Get to know the person next to you. Make friends. They could be the one pulling you out of the water.” Once we launched into the New River, our guide, Wriston, introduced our boat of nine whitewater neophytes to the basic rafting techniques and to each other. Both introductions were equally important.

Over the course of our six-hour trip we would get to know each other real well. We paddled together, worked through difficult technical rapids together, ate together, swam together, pulled each other out of the boat together and after the trip was over, drank soda and beer together.

Our nine ranged from ages 13 to 60 with wide ranging geographical and life experiences. We quickly bonded as a team, faced difficult challenges and had a rip-roaring time.

Can You Sense the Fear?EASE OF USE/ACCESS (1/5)
The Park, while close by Interstates 64 and 77, is demonstrably prohibitive. To fully experience the River, you need to be on it. Unless you are an experienced kayaker, the difficult Class III through Class V Rapids (VI being the most difficult) must be tackled with an outfitter and on a whitewater raft. If you are just fishing, road access to the New River’s banks is challenging. Once you leave U.S. Route 19, the roads pare down to a narrow tortuous unmarked one lane. Be very careful if you are driving at night.

Scenic views from above do exist at and around three of the Site’s four Visitor Centers.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (1/5)
The NPS bookstore was not too unique.

COSTS (1/5)
20 different whitewater outfitters operate nearby the New River. Full-day trip prices range anywhere from $75 to $95 per adult. We stumbled upon a $62 Tuesday-only rate from Appalachian Whitewater and left ecstatic with the product we received. If we were to return, we would use the same company. Half-day trips are available from some outfitters.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (1/5)
The National Park Service takes a backseat to the many outfitters at the New River Gorge. It is probably for the best. There is no way that the federal government could offer a whitewater rafting excursion. This is not to say that the Park Service exists sight unseen at the New.

There are four Visitor Centers which provide information and give cursory explanations of the New. Our biggest complaint about the NPS Visitor Centers is their hours. They are all open from 9-5. Sounds fine, right? Sure, if you are just driving through the area and only want to look down into the Gorge. However, the full day rafting trips take place roughly from 9-5, making a VC visit impossible.

The NPS offers free camping at four separate campsites. We stayed at the Stone Cliff Campsite, a few miles from any VC. We arrived at 5:30 and were dismayed at the lack of any Ranger presence, especially since we were along the New’s riverbanks, it rained over three inches, there was no cell-phone service, the roads to and fro were extremely narrow and we were in the middle of Appalachia.

If the Visitor Centers stayed open a few more hours, they would greatly increase the numbers of people who need to use their services.

TOURS/CLASSES (10/10)
We could not have asked for more from our Tour Guide, Wriston. He gave us a great trip, a comprehensive West Virginia and New River Gorge history, plenty of corny jokes and an intensive lesson on how to whitewater. Our safety and well-being lay in his hands and on his commands. We never felt in danger.

We have gained a burning desire to whitewater again as well as the confidence to attempt more difficult waters. Like the nearby (and much more difficult) Gauley River in September. It is a National Recreation Area and consistently rates among the Top 5 whitewater trips in the world.

New River Gorge BridgeFUN (10/10)
Non-stop, roller-coaster, keep coming back for more-fun. And not just the rafting. We jumped off 15 foot high rocks, swam through a Class III rapid and relaxed in the 75° water underneath the New River Gorge Bridge. Here’s another example:

Wriston asked for a volunteer. Of course Gab blindly offered her services. Her mission: Sit on the front of the boat through a Class IV Rapid, hold on with one hand while waving with the other. Pretend you are riding a bull. She succeeded, screaming and yelling through the entire thing while the entire boat wished they had volunteered first.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (10/10)
Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes.

TOTAL 58/80

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