5 Water Activities To Try This Summer In The New River Gorge National Park & Preserve

Known for being a treasured outdoor playground, some of the New River Gorge’s most popular features include our rivers, lakes and streams that run throughout the region. As the weather warms up, find the perfect way to cool down in America’s newest national park this summer. 

Whitewater Rafting 

Home to some of the best rivers in the world, whitewater rafting in the New River Gorge is the ultimate adrenaline rush. The New River, flowing through an ancient thousand-foot deep gorge, is one of the world’s oldest rivers. 

The New has two distinct sections: the mild Upper, for laid-back family float trips, and the wild Lower, which features quintessential whitewater rapids. With the Upper section only having rapids that range from Class I–III, it’s a great spot for swimming and floating. Another gem about this part of the river is that it passes through the historic town of Thurmond, offering some of the most scenic views of the Gorge. The Upper New is suitable for ages 6 and up, making it great for families with children. 

After passing Thurmond, the Gorge gets narrower. From raging crosscurrents and hydraulics to submerged rocks and obstacles, the Lower New has fast-moving water that creates Class II–IV+ rapids. So, be prepared for plenty of paddling! End your adventure on the Lower New under the picturesque New River Gorge Bridge. More intense than the Upper, the Lower isn’t just for professional rafters – most trips are suitable for anyone 12 and up. 

Although typically rafted in the fall, summer water flows on the Gauley River make for an unforgettable and challenging trip for experienced paddlers, as well. 


Whether you are looking for a peaceful paddle on flat water or a thrilling whitewater kayaking trip, you have plenty of options in the New River Gorge. One of the best spots for flat water kayaking is Hawks Nest Lake. The New River flows through Hawks Nest, creating the lake in a dammed section of the river. The gentle waters and panoramic scenery make this lake a paradise for beginner paddlers and families looking for a refreshing day on the water. It is also possible to rent kayaks and paddle the calm Upper New River. Experienced kayakers can visit Mill Creek. This two-mile New River tributary that features Class IV rapids, can be accessed from the Hawks Nest Rail Trail in Ansted. 

Stand-Up Paddleboarding 

One of the newest additions to the water adventure scene in the New River Gorge is stand-up paddleboarding, better known as SUP. Get an up-close look at one of West Virginia’s best waterfalls, Kanawha Falls, while on a paddleboard! From the Kanawha River boat launch downstream, paddle to the relaxing coves hidden behind the falls for a one-of-a-kind sight. Another paddleboarding spot in the Gorge is on the New River! The trip allows you to paddle on a gentle section of the river — from a tranquil pool to the base of a small rapid. 


Stay cool this summer by diving into one of our swimming holes or local pools. Splash around Babcock State Park’s Boley Lake, or head to the Fayette County Park Pool for some family-friendly fun in the sun. Babcock State Park also offers camping, hiking, biking, fishing and boating opportunities while the Fayette County Park has picnic shelters, pool party rentals, disc golf and fishing. And our whitewater outfitters don’t just offer river trips! Let your inner child run wild at ACE Adventure Resort’s Wonderland Waterpark. The waterpark is 5 acres and features a 40-foot tall Wet Willie Water Slide, tower zip line, two giant water slides, 50 inflatable toys, lounging spots on the shore and more. Or catch a phenomenal view of the New River Gorge Bridge from the Canyon Falls Swimming Pool at Adventures on the Gorge. The 3,000-square-foot pool features a kiddie waterpark, ornate waterfalls and a large deck for sunbathing. 

New River Jet Boats

Hop on a New River Jet Boat for a leisurely and enjoyable water experience! The jet boats take off from Hawk’s Nest State Park and offer the best views of the New River Gorge Bridge from down below. Take a scenic van from the state park, then board the 21-foot jet boat for an exciting ride on the river. 

No day is too hot when you’ve got a place to take a dip — so, in celebration of the fun summer days ahead, try out a new water sport! As a bonus, many of these activities are family-friendly, making them a great way to enjoy quality time with your loved ones. Request a 2022 Travel Guide to start planning your getaway to the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve now!