The Best Watersports to Try in West Virginia

White-water rafting | © James McCauley / Flickr
White-water rafting | © James McCauley / Flickr
Photo of Kristina Gaddy
9 April 2018

West Virginia has many opportunities for watersports, from classic kayaking and canoeing, to more unusual ways to see the water such as white-water rafting and supping. Here are five activities to try while you’re in the Mountain State that will provide an unforgettable experience.

White-water rafting

West Virginia is well-known for some of the best white-water rafting in the Mid-Atlantic region. In the southern part of the state, the New and Gauley Rivers have up to Class V rapids, and a number of outfitters can get you on the water. In the northern part, the rapids are a little less well-known, but the Cheat and Youghiogheny Rivers also offer awesome opportunities to experience the thrill of a churning river.

New River Gorge

Bridge, Natural Feature
Map View
New River Gorge
New River Gorge Bridge, WV | New River Gorge Bridge, WV

The New River Gorge Bridge might be the most photographed landscape in the entire state of West Virginia. As part of a National Recreation Area, the New River Gorge has hiking, biking, rafting, and amazing views of one of the oldest rivers in North America, both from the bridge and from trails alongside the river.

Cheat River Outfitters

Natural Feature
Map View

Cheat River Outfitters offer trips on both the Cheat River and the “Upper Yough,” or Youghiogheny River. The Cheat Canyon and Upper Yough offer the most advanced runs, with up to Class V rapids, while the Cheat Narrows is better for kids and people who might not want such a big thrill. Cheat River Outfitters is about an hour from Morgantown, West Virginia and two hours from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and perfect for a day trip on the river.


If fast rapids in a big raft full of people isn’t your thing, then gliding down a calm river in a tube might be more your speed. Tubes used to be the big, black inner tubes of truck tires, but are now specially made for riding down rivers. So you can get a tube that has a nice bottom in the middle and even a cooler-tube to store the beverages you might want to consume while enjoying pure relaxation. Check before you go to make sure water levels are high enough, and make sure to bring sunscreen, a hat, and footwear that can get wet. Harpers Ferry and the Greenbrier River both have great places to tube.

Harpers Ferry

Museum, Natural Feature
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harpers ferry
Harpers Ferry | Harpers Ferry

The Harpers Ferry area swarms with people wanting to escape the heat of Washington, D.C. and the D.C. suburbs during the summer season. River Riders, Harpers Ferry Adventure Center, and River and Trail Outfitters all offer tubing with trips of different lengths.

Greenbrier River Campground

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River Tubing | © Kristina Gaddy for CultureTrip

In southeast West Virginia, you can take a leisurely tube ride along the Greenbrier River. The Greenbrier River Campground south of Lewisburg will drop you and your tube off, set you down the river, and pick you up a few miles downstream. The distance on the river isn’t that far, you’ll be floating the 2.5 miles (4 km), but it takes about half a day.

Fly fishing

Elk Springs Resort & Fly Shop

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Fisherman on Cheat River | Fisherman on Cheat River

Is fly fishing a watersport? That might be debatable, but it is a unique West Virginia activity that will get you out into the water. The Elk Springs Resort & Fly Shop offers an opportunity to try this very special type of fishing. You can rent gear, or get a guide to take you out for half- or full-day trips.

Supping and boating

West Virginia has two great man-made lakes that offer lots of watersports, from jet-skiing to canoeing. But when you visit Sutton Lake or Summersville Lake, make sure to try supping and pontoon-boating.

Summersville Lake Retreat

Park, Sports Center
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1024px-Summersville_Lake_deep_water_soloing_-_2 (1)
Summersville Lake Deep Water Soloing | Summersville Lake Deep Water Soloing

At Summersville Lake, near the Cheat River in south central West Virginia, you can also rent sup boards and pontoon boats to cruise around the lake. The lake is massive—2,700 acres (11 km2)—and created by a dam. The lake has both scenic cliffs that drop into the water and shorelines that are the perfect depth for swimming in the summer. The Summersville Lake Retreat also has cabins and camping for extended stays in the area, and there are many other cabin and house rentals in the area.

Sutton Lake Marina

Park, Sports Center
Map View

Stand-up paddleboarding, mostly known by the way cooler name SUP, is an alternative to kayaking or canoeing. You stand up on a surfboard-life board and use a long paddle to navigate flat water. It challenges your balance and you don’t feel quite as claustrophobic as sitting in a kayak. If you’re in the Sutton Lake area, you can rent sup boards at the Sutton Lake Marina for two, four, or eight hours, plus get a lesson in how to maneuver on the board. If you want to go for a more relaxed, luxurious day, this is also the place to rent awesome pontoon boats. The marina offers many different models, including ones with built-in slides. This is how to really cruise the lake in style.