Secrets Of The Gauley River: Do You Know About The 6 BIGGEST Rapids?

The Gauley River in West Virginia is about to change. White water rapids are about to become the norm for almost 2 months, and white water rafters are coming to experience it.

Why? Because of the Big 6.

upper_gauley_crew_by_ace_adventure_raftWell, that and a lot of other stuff, too. But the Upper Gauley River is famous for some of the biggest, baddest, meanest, funnest (funnest?!) rapids anywhere. The Big 6 are the ones that guides tell their kids about to scare them.

The Big 6 rapids are, in order:

  • Insignificant
  • Pillow Rock
  • Lost Paddle
  • Shipwreck Rock
  • Iron Ring
  • Sweet’s Falls

Now, the rapids in between those ones are nothing to sneeze at. But the Big 5 are the ones most folks want to know about.

Here’s a quick rundown of each one:


It’s long. It’s technical. And it’s the first major challenge of the day. There are a lot of ways to run it, but whatever you do, look out for the big pourover in the middle (a pourover is a steep boulder with enough water on top of it to, um, make things interesting). Go right of it, go left of it, but don’t go over it. After you pass the pourover, no worries; just a hundred yards or so of monster waves to go.

Pillow Rock

If you’ve ever seen those old maps from the Christopher Columbus days that had big blank spots labeled “The End Of The World”, the mapmakers were imagining what Pillow Rock rapid looks like. All the water in the Gauley gets squeezed down over a steep staircase of boulders and shot (hard) at a gi-normous rock (the Pillow Rock). Line that puppy up and head for the Pillow, which is all of that nice, fluffy whitewater bouncing off the corner of the rock. Keep an eye out for Inertia Hole and Volkswagen Rock on your way down, too. We’d give you a description here, but it’s a pretty safe bet that if you run into them, you’ll know.

Lost Paddle

This is the Big Daddy of the Big 6. Lost Paddle is a ¼ mile long Class V rapid with four distinct drops (some say five). It doesn’t really matter how many drops there are; just expect to paddle some of the biggest whitewater on the river as you charge through the Hawaii-Five-Oh Wave, around Six Pack Rock, and into Tumble Home. At the end, make sure to look back upstream and say out loud, “We really just did that.”

Shipwreck Rock

Here’s what you need to know about Shipwreck: there’s a big rock in the middle. Like, as big as a building. The river gets funneled to the left and right of the rock, and make sure you do to. The wave trains on the sides are typical Gauley River classics, big, fun, and powerful. Stay well away from the center throughout the rapid, and you’ll get to tick another one of the Big 6 off of your list.

Iron Ring

You’re familiar with the phrase “short and sweet”, right? Well, that’s what you get with Iron Ring. Emphasis on “sweeeeeet”. Just make sure you get to the right of Woodstock Hole. It’s named after the music festival; big enough for a couple hundred thousand people. You’re going to get extra close to your video boater on this one, so you’d better be ready with a cheezy grin at the bottom.

Sweet’s Falls

Some people say that the river saved the best for last. Sweet’s is a beautiful combination of whitewater, obstacles, and coliseum. And yes, you’ll be paddling a raft over a 12 foot waterfall. Seriously. Watch out for Ejector Rock, Energizer Hole (it keeps going and going), and the infamous Box Canyon. When you’re done, you get to sit back and take in the scene in luxury; Sweet’s Falls also happens to be Ace Adventure Resort’s lunch spot.

The Gauley has more than 100 rapids on it. These are just the Big 6.

So, what’s your favorite? Take a sec and tell us a Big 6 rapid story in the comments. We’ve got a ton of stories (hey, we’re river guides), but we’re interested in yours.

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