White Water Rafting: Choosing An Appropriate TripHow do you know what trips are best suited for you? Here are tips for choosing the right rafting trip on your adventure vacation.
We have gathered some helpful tips on how to choose the most appropriate West Virginia white water rafting trip for your family or group. These tips are based on our decades of personal experience with our own families and friends, and our professional experience introducing thousands of guests and families to rafting with Class VI-Mountain River.
Rafting Basics: What is a guided rafting trip anyway?
Guided Rafting Trips: What To Expect
- Guided trips use the services of a professional outfitter who is typically highly experienced in the outdoor activity and area of your tour or trip. Outfitters train their guides to be proficient in the sport (river guiding, mountain biking, fishing, etc.) as well as to be knowledgeable about the local history, culture, wildlife, and ecology of the region. This is a great bonus with guided trips. You’ll learn a lot about the area of your tour or trip, and family trips tend to have guides who really enjoy engaging kids in outdoor recreation and nature.
- Guided trips take care of all the details involved in rafting; including access to any necessary gear, preparing and packing any meals, and transportation to and from the river logistics. Your “job” is simply to participate in the experience
The Three Most Important Factors in Choosing Your White Water Rafting Trip:
If kids are in your group, are their age restrictions that define which trip you can even consider doing?
- This is only relevant for groups with kids, typically those under age 17. There are strict weight limits on all rivers that are regulated by various federal agencies. These restrictions are made for the safety of your kids, don't try to get around them!
- The basic age level breakdowns for Class VI- Mountain River family white water rafting trips are: Upper New River: ages 6-11, Lower New River Gorge: ages 12-15 (age 14 during spring high water season), and Lower and Upper Gauley: ages 15+.
What level of physical exertion are you prepared to engage in during your white water rafting trip?
- This is a really important question and depends on your group or family’s general physical fitness level and each member’s tolerance for challenges. Are you gung ho and reasonably fit such that you can paddle hard all during the trip, fall out of the raft and aggressively swim at your guides' commands? Are you a couch potato with a faded memory of athletic days back in high school? Like most of us, maybe you are something in between? Be honest with yourself and your assessment of your group. Being on the wrong river trip is not the optimal time to find out you were too casual in your assessment.
- In general, rafting exertion levels mirror the river's classification of rapids. So Class I-II rapids on a river mean gently moving water and an easy float trip with little paddling effort required. The higher the rapids classification, the more intense the paddling will be (at your guide's instruction) in order to keep your boat on the desired course in the river. Class III rapids are fun and require technical skills to navigate. Class IV and V rapids are the highest level we run in the US. They provide incredible excitement, require precise technical skills to navigate and pose higher risks. Remember, this isn't a controlled theme park ride.
What season are you wanting to go rafting? Spring, summer, or fall?
The time of year you go rafting is also important. The season for West Virginia rafting is March into October. Air temperature and water levels can fluctuate significantly from spring to summer to fall. Spring and fall rafting often will need wetsuit and/or paddling gear rentals because of colder air and water temps. If you are a warm weather person, come in peak season (July!) along with everyone else. If you know how to dress for colder weather (see our What to Wear Rafting tips for great advice on this), then you have three times as many options plus fewer crowds.
What does the River Intensity Level rating mean?
- Whitewater rafting is a popular outdoor recreation activity that requires little or no prior experience or skills in order to participate with a licensed outfitter on a guided trip. Whitewater rafting varies from a float trip on gently moving water (Class I) to swiftly moving higher volume whitewater (Class II-III) to very fast, turbulent rapids (Class IV-V) that require precise maneuvering to run the river.
- Our intensity level ratings take into effect the 1) difficulty of the river (that is Class 1-2 vs Class 4-5, etc.) and 2) the time of year you are rafting it. Spring is typically more difficult white water because the rivers have higher water due to spring rains and snowmelt. An easy river at normal levels becomes more difficult at higher water levels.
- Here is our intensity rating key:
- Green Circle: Easy: Class I
- Very Easy: Class II
- Moderate: Class III
- Moderately Strenuous: Class III-IV
- Strenuous: Class IV-V
4. How can you to tell if you are ready for the next intensity level of whitewater rafting?
- You loved your last trip and want more action on the river.
- You like sitting in the front of the raft for the biggest action of splashing through the rapids first.
- You can paddle enthusiastically throughout the trip’s duration.
- You know you are having fun with you take advantage of opportunities to swim through rapids and play in the river at designated play spots (like jump-off rocks).
- For kids, they must meet the age and/or weight requirements for the next level of rafting trip intensity. Faking either of these age/weight requirements puts your kids at risk; don’t even think about it.