September and October is Gauley Season in West Virginia, when paddlers from all over the world come to play on the river's dam-release whitewater. Depending on flow, there are nearly 80 miles of whitewater on the Gauley, but the party happens on the 26-mile stretch just below the Summersville Dam, where the Class V Upper and Class IV Lower sections deliver a fun mix of big-water raft lines and the boofs, rock splats and play waves kayakers love. The water flows Friday through Sunday for six weeks each September and October. The second Saturday of Gauley Season brings American Whitewater's Gauley Fest--a massive party that draws thousands. In October the gorge reveals its Fall splendor. The oaks form a vibrant crown of color over endangered eastern hemlock and waxy green rhododendron. Whether you're a Gauley regular in a well-used playboat, or a first-timer on a guided raft excursion, take a deep breath between rapids and soak it in.
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This story first appeared in the August 2015 issue of Canoe & Kayak.