The Gauley River National Recreation Area encompasses 25 miles of the Gauley River and six miles of the Meadow River in West Virginia. Covering 11,000 acres of riverfront land, this national park is seemingly built for outdoor enthusiasts. Visitors can look forward to hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, boating, white water rafting, and fishing within the park.
The Gauley River National Recreation Area is steeped in cultural and natural history. But it’s most famous for its exciting V+ rapids sought after by white water rafting fanatics. It’s one of the most exciting rivers for this adventure sport in the east! September is peak season for white water rafting when the overflow water is released from Summersville Dam. Up for a challenge? There are over 100 extraordinary rapids to navigate here!
Back on land, there are some scenic hiking trails to discover tucked beneath oak, beech, hemlock and dogwood trees. Keep an eye out for rare and endangered wildlife and birds along the way, such as the Allegheny woodrat, eastern hellbender, and the cerulean warbler. The area is also home to some spectacular Appalachian blue violet and Balsam squaw-weed! It's also a popular spot for rock climbing.
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Transportation in Gauley River National Recreation Area
The main entrance to Gauley River National Recreation Area can be found along Route 129 West at Mount Nebo, off US Route 19, south of Summersville in West Virginia. Not much of the park is accessible via roads; it’s much easier to get around along the river by kayak, raft, or boat.
The only area of the park accessible for cars is at Summersville Dam. Keep an eye out for low-hanging branches. If you’re traveling to the campground, it’s about a mile down a gravel road. There are no paved roads in the park. When you get to the foot of the dam, turn right and follow the road until you see fire rings and campsites. Camping is available here free of charge and you can set up camp wherever you find a spot, as long as it's at least 100 feet from a river, cliff, or cultural site.
Campgrounds and parking in Gauley River National Recreation Area
Campsites in Gauley River National Recreation Area
Gauley Trailwaters Campground
The Gauley River National Recreation Area is home to a primitive campground at Gauley Trailwaters. Run by the National Park Service, this camping area is free to use and can be found just below Summersville Dam.
There are 18 drive-in sites for tents and RVs, as well as undeveloped sites you can pitch camp in. Previous campers have camped here with a 26-foot Class C RV, but larger sites may be available if you call ahead. Free camping is available anywhere in the park but you should set up at least 100 feet away from any river, trailhead, cultural site, or cliff.
Gauley Trailwaters Campground is pet-friendly. Facilities include picnic tables, fire rings, drinking water, vault toilets, and garbage disposal. Flush toilets are available about 50 yards from the free camping area on the road in.
Seasonal activities in Gauley River National Recreation Area
If raging white water rapids aren’t your idea of a good time, there’s plenty to keep you busy at Gauley River National Recreation Area. It’s a great fishing spot - grab your pole and try your luck at catching smallmouth bass, walleye, trout, and more in the Gauley River. The best time for fishing is in the off season months of spring or fall. Take note that a WV fishing license is required to fish in the park.
There are some unusual species of wildlife to be found within the Gauley River National Recreation Area. The oak, beech, hemlock and dogwood trees provide homes for some rare and endangered wildlife such as the Allegheny woodrat and eastern hellbender. Birders will be in their element too as the park is known to have some extraordinary cerulean warblers. Don’t forget those binoculars!
It’s not just water-based fun at the Gauley River National Recreation Area. There’s plenty to do on land too. If you’re an avid rock climber, you’ll find some great opportunities on offer within the national park. There are some fantastic sandstone cliffs lining the upper part of the Meadow River where you can challenge yourself with a climb all year round.
White Water Rafting
The Gauley River National Recreation Area is one of the most popular destinations for white water rafting in the east. When the water is released from Summersville Dam in September each year, there are over 100 highly-technical rapids for you to navigate along the river. Most of the rapids are Class V rapids or higher, so you’ll need to be prepared for a challenge. Famous rapids include Insignificant, Pillow Rock, Iron Ring, Lost Paddle, and Sweet’s Falls.
The Gauley River National Recreation Area is a popular fishing destination in the spring and fall months. With two rivers to choose from, the Gauley River and the Meadow River, there’s plenty of river frontage to enjoy. Fish species found within the park include smallmouth bass, trout, and walleye, plus many more. Please note that you will require a West Virginia state fishing license in order to fish in the park.
Surrounded by all sorts of trees and native plants, it’s no surprise that the Gauley River National Recreation Area is a big birding destination. Many of the bird species found here are rare and endangered which makes spotting them even more enjoyable! Keep your eyes - and binoculars - peeled for all sorts of migratory bird species, hawks, and other birds of prey. You may be lucky enough to spot a cerulean warbler among many more!