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Coming up, a group of friends and I will be going on a whitewater rafting day trip down the Lehigh River Gorge in Pennsylvania. After a brief crash course in river safety, we’ll climb into a group raft, wearing helmets and life-jackets, and then paddle down the feisty river on a dam-release day, which will hopefully mean Class II and III rapids. We’re promised a great ride on waves and bends in a steep-walled canyon where thick vegetation, rock outcroppings, and stunning waterfalls is to become the perfect backdrop to our tumbling rapids.

This will not be my first trip paddling, screaming, and splashing my way down rocking rapids. My very first run was on one of the top 10 world-class white water rivers in the world, the upper section of the Gauley River in West Virginia. Located about 60 miles southeast of Charleston, the Gauley is over 100 miles long with more than 668 feet of vertical drops and over 100 rapids. Wow! The river is generally rafted in two sections by most outfitters and in three sections by others with both single day and two day trips offered.

The most intense white water of the Gauley River is found on the upper section, which is the part I rafted. Your rafting experience will start at the base of the Summersville Dam where you’ll watch the release of the hydro-electric water, transforming the Gauley from a trickling creek to a raging river. (And, yes, it looks intimidating!) Once on your raft with paddle in hand, you’ll navigate through dozens of rapids. The most notable will be the “Big Five” Class V+ rapids: Insignificant, Pillow Rock, Lost Paddle, Iron Ring, and Sweet’s Falls, a 13-foot-waterfall. The Middle/Lower Gauley has fewer rapids that are more spread out, but also have a few big dramatic rapids that can pose challenges.

The Upper Gauley rafting season is limited and runs every Friday through Monday after Labor Day and concludes on the third weekend of October in conjunction with the Bridge Day Festival—the world’s largest BASE-jumping event where jumpers jump off the 876-foot high New River Gorge Bridge.

The following are the 2011 release dates:

  • Friday, September 9 – Monday, September 12
  • Friday, September 16 – Monday, September 19
  • Friday, September 23 – Monday, September 26
  • Friday, September 30 – Monday, October 3
  • Friday, October 7 – Monday, October 10
  • Saturday, October 15 – Sunday, October 16

Here are some recommendations to jot down…

Outfitter: Rivers Expeditions, 900 Broadway Avenue, Oak Hill, WV  25901 (800) 463-9873 http://www.raftinginfo.com/

Accommodations:The Resort at Glade Springs, 255 Resort Drive, Daniels, WV 25832 (866) 504-9849 http://www.gladesprings.com

Onsite Activities: Two championship golf courses, indoor and outdoor tennis courts, equestrian center, full-service spa and nautilus fitness center, and more than 40 other activities on a private, 4,100-acre estate, including biking, rafting, guided fly-fishing, sporting clays, and more.

Nearby Activities:Hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, bungee jumping, fishing trips, jet boats and ATV tours.

Getting There:The closest major airport is the Yeager Regional Airport (CRW), 52 miles away in Charleston, WV. Amtrak also has a route, the Cardinal/Hoosier State line, that travels to Charleston. Taxis and car rentals are available in Charleston. Otherwise, major roads and highways will get you there.

Special Note: If you are a coffee drinker try Mattie’s Mountain Mud, a fresh-roasted organic coffee served by many restaurants in the area. The Secret Sandwich Society in nearby Fayetteville is a great place for breakfast and lunch with their incredible homemade sandwiches, chips, soups and pickles. Try the Jefferson, my favorite!

The rafting season in West Virginia is short, so book early if you are planning to raft the Gauley! There are plenty of other fit and fun activities to participate while there, so be sure to pack your sneakers, sunscreen, and hat. You’ll love staying at the Resort at Glade Springs, wishing you had discovered this place and rafting experience sooner. So gather your loved ones or friends and grab your bags, then head toward West Virginia for a wet and wild time.

Be Fit. Be Strong. Be Well.