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How to ACE your first Gauley Fest


Thinking of heading up to AW’s Gauley Fest and want to know the inside scoop on how to get the most out of it?

Here are some tips designed to make sure your first Gauley Fest goes as smooth as your lines on the river. 

1. Summersville, West Virginia –  

It’s not all back-woods truck stops and dirt roads!  Yes, there’s bumpy gravel and single pavement strips up 2-lane roads but there’s also a Walmart and strip malls full off chain stores – just down the road in Fayetteville there are MANY great restaurants, bars,  and bike trails – plus the famous bridge.   The cell-service is pretty good, wifi at the normal places – you can get work done while away.      Still – I recommend a few precautionary steps for this busy weekend: 

  •  a.  Print maps / directions to the put-in and take-out  in advance as right when you need it, the cell service drops out and the shuttle roads aren’t marked well.  For those that don’t want to drive slowly on wash-boarded, dusty roads with raft busses there is a shuttle service at and more info at   
  • b. Bring some snacks / food  / beer / drinks just so you can snack anytime and not get hangry waiting at peak meal times.  There are always good food vendors at the festival, and Fat Eddy’s is right by the dam but you will be hungry at the take-out so why not plan for it? 
  • c.  Drive slowly and come tagged, insurance, and prepared to be pulled over – Summersville Police love writing speeding tickets but are friendly and helpful to those that respect the limits and laws.  
  • d.  Festival camping is FUN, noisy, very social.  If you want quiet time, bring ear plugs – or plan camping elsewhere in advance.   During Gauley Fest Weekend both the Summersville Dam (free) and nearby Battle Run campgrounds will fill up fast but so many other options are available.    Tons of hotels and air b n b’s and camping between Summersville and Fayetteville – book now!

2. The Gauley River – 

YES, it’s just as as FUN as everyone says!!  Big waves, big rapids, fun play spots, crisp eddy lines and towering splat rocks will keep the very best boaters challenged all day.   Thankfully, there are ‘raft lines’’ where the class 4 boaters with an experienced guide and bombproof roll will learn and love this river as well.   Why all the ‘’Class 5’’ hype?
  • a.  Anytime you mix huge boulders with bedrock shelfs you get …undercut rocks.   Combine with a plastic-grabbing gritty rock texture and you’ve got an added challenge many NC / western boaters aren’t familiar with.   Look for the wave trains and you’ll find the lines are wide open, but seek the more technical zones with caution.   There are so many safe places to play .. just treat every rock splat or boulder garden with the caution this topography deserves and you’ll still get all the play you can stand. 
  • b.  There will be rafts and kayaks all over the river – running all sorts of lines – with mixed results.   This adds challenge to paddling  on Gauley Fest weekend.    Expect to be surrounded by kayaks  – even in rapids and rafts charging between you and your trip leader.   Keep your group TIGHT:  stick together when scouting and in play-eddies too as it’s easy to get lost in the crowd of kayaks.    Give raft trips a WIDE berth in case they call ‘’all back’’ or bump to a stop on a rock.    For seasoned paddlers, Gauley on Saturday is a social fiesta!  For those nervous about the rapids consider putting on early or late to dodge the crowds.  
  • c.   Don’t think of it as a ‘’play run’’ .. it’s an isolated class 4+ river run with lots of people and play.    Bring a rope.  Bring water, break-down, duct tape and pin kit.   Don’t enter blind slots,  splat sketchy rocks …  and don’t surf waves others are avoiding. Despite the crowds, the squirt boats, pool toys and party atmosphere most everyone there is VERY experienced and skilled!   So plan a few ride at Geek Wave,  get a surf on Insignificant, climb up to join the spectators at Pillow Rock – don’t forget to jump off!   Be ready to celebrate as you watch the Sweets Falls action from below – that’s part of the party too!     ENJOY being part of this festive atmosphere of SOLID whitewater boaters making every rapid look easy and  … it will be.   

3. The FUN-draiser: 

Why does everyone come on this one weekend?  Lets back up to what this whole thing is really about.   It’s a  FUNDRAISER for American Whitewater!!    Decades ago river advocates negotiated recreational releases on this amazing river.   Today AW rounds up top paddlers and businesses to gather into one big field to show off their new wares, sell off their old ones,  hand out swag – beer – or hamburgers, and meet up with friends from all over the globe.  The vendors $PAY$ for space in order to market / network with YOU – and everyone who walks through the gate $pays$ to be there.   There will be bands, dj, videos, maybe some free food, likely free beer.   But is it worth the entry fee?  YES!   Because it’s not just he social event of the paddling year,  it’s a capitalistically crafted bake-sale to legally secure more whitewater releases and preserve access to rivers in the future!   Countless volunteers will have set up lights, electric and trash cans, be helping you park your car, buy your wristband, or park your car.   They will then have to clean up the mess when your aching body is heading the dam on Sunday.  They will not appreciate having to explain the cost,  explain the camping, or seeing a dog hidden under a sleeping bag because they are donating their time for the RIVER!     So before you roll down your window, here are the costs – 
  • Thursday, Friday, and Saturday: $50 (camping included)
  • Friday and Saturday: $40 (camping included)
  • Saturday only: $30 (camping included)
  • Saturday only: $20 (day use)
  • Dogs: $30 Thursday, Friday, and Saturday – (please keep your dogs on a leash and under you control at all times)
  • Dogs: $20 Saturday only (day use)
  • Kids 15 and under: FREE  
  • More info at

 4.   The Festival!

   Now – what to expect once you are in the gate?   Football-game type parking and field, music and videos, tents with gear, assorted food / drink stands, used boat sales by the entrance,  new gear of all sorts in the tents,  HUGE AW silent auction of kayak gear and trips, top paddlers, river legends, 2nd/3rd generation kids in groups, that guy who saved your boat on the Ocoee,  drunk rafters,  tailgating RV’s and lots and lots of people!    My tips:
  •   a.  shop EARLY for sale items you want, as they often sell out. 
  •   b.  keep careful track of ALL kayak gear – your new drytop looks just like mine on that guard rail. 
  •   c.  BRING YOUR KIDS!!  They will Love this safe, fun crowd –  but consider a midnight curfew , as the party gets rowdier once the lights go out. 
  •   d. Expect dj music and hollering rafters and people going big all night – but remember what you came here for – the river will be just as good on Sunday whether you can paddle it well or not.