The Gauley River is also known for offering some of the best fishing in West Virginia. Although the nearby New River is a more popular destination, the Gauley offers privacy and seclusion. Anglers come from across the nation looking for smallmouth bass, muskie, and some of the best walleye fishing in the state. The largest walleye ever caught in West Virginia was pulled from the Gauley in 1990. From March through May, and during October the tailwaters of the Gauley, just below Summersville Dam, are stocked with trout. During the summer children can have fun fishing for bluegills. If you plan to fish the Gauley you're probably going to have to hire a professional guide with a raft. Unlike the New River to the southeast, there aren't many points of access.
If you are looking for land based adventure consider visiting Carnifex Ferry Battleground State Park. Located on the northern banks of the Gauley River just west of Summersville, the 156 acre park protects an important Civil War battle site and is one of over 300 Civil War Trail Discovery Sites.
As Virginia splintered apart and West Virginia struggled for statehood during the Civil War, Confederate troops moved northward and took a key strategic position on the bluffs that overlooked the Carnifex Ferry. On September 10, 1861, Union troops under the command of General William S. Rosecrans forced the Confederate army from their position and pushed them south and east of the Gauley River. This military action was key in allowing statehood in the Union for West Virginia to go forward. These events are recreated every September during Civil War Weekend culminating with a reenactment of the battle.
There are 4.9 miles of hiking trails available through the steep terrain of the park. All of the trails offer views or access to the Gauley River. The longest of these is the two mile Patterson Trail. The trail forms a loop around the perimeter of the park. The highlight of this trail is three scenic overlooks of the Gauley. In the fall you can watch for rafts and kayaks navigating the churning water below and enjoy the changing colors of the hardwood forests that cover the walls of the gorge.
If you enjoy military history consider hiking down the Old Carnifex Road. This 1.5 mile trail begins near Picnic Shelter Number Three and ends at the banks of the Gauley River. The road was used by the Confederate Army in their 1861 retreat before crossing at the ferry.
From the main overlook you can hike down the 6/10 of a mile long Fisherman's Trail. The trail offers the shortest hike for direct access to the Gauley River and ends at famous Pillow Rapids. The trail is extremely steep and rocky but offers a rewarding view of the Gauley and a rare up close opportunity to see the rafts and kayaks navigating the river. Parts of the Fisherman's Trail passes through private property so be sure to stay on the trail at all times.
Within the boundaries of the Gauley River National Recreation Area there aren't any public campgrounds. Located on a small peninsula on the shores of Summersville Lake, Battle Run Campground, run by the Army Corps of Engineers, offers 117 campsites, some right on the lakeshore. Open from April to October, the park offers excellent facilities including electrical hookups at 110 sites, flush toilets, laundry, showers, dump station, boat ramp with a public marina, playground and a swimming area.
Spectacular sandstone cliffs surround the 2,800 acre lake that is exceptionally clear due to the lack of development in the area and it's annual flushing down the Gauley. The lake offers outstanding fishing for bluegills, bass and walleye. Its deep water and large size also make it a haven for personal watercraft, water skiing and boating.
Diving is also very popular and Summersville Lake has been called, "the little Bahamas of the east." Long Point Marina is the region's center of diving activity and even has a dive shop. In the summer water temperature can hover around 80 degrees and visibility of 30 feet in not uncommon. Divers are treated to spectacular underwater cliffs, caves, shelves, natural archways and huge boulders. During the fall water levels can drop as much as 80 feet allowing divers to explore other areas normally not accessible by standard scuba techniques and gear.
For only 11,145 acres the Gauley River National Recreation Area and adjacent Summersville Lake offers a wealth of activity. Although the lure of whitewater is what makes this area famous, history, fishing, diving and just relaxing in the heart of West Virginia is waiting for you. Whether you visit for a day or an extended vacation, the Gauley River will creep into your veins. John Denver was right, West Virginia is, "almost heaven."
Just The Plain Facts
Name: Gauley River National Recreation Area
Location: Central West Virginia, Charleston
Nearest Major Air Service: Charleston, West Virginia, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Fees & Permits: Park access is free. West Virginia fishing permits are required.
Why Visit: Best whitewater rafting east of the Mississippi, excellent fishing and diving.
When To Visit: September to October
Essential Gear: If you are going river rafting, plenty of courage. Outfitters and tour operators should provide you with wet or dry suits, life jackets and helmets. Other gear strongly recommended.
You Should Know: Do not attempt to navigate the Gauley River unaided by an experienced guide. People die on the Gauley every year. Tours fill up fast so make reservations as far in advance as possible.
More Information: Gauley River National Recreation Area, PO BOX 246, Glen Jean, West Virginia 25846, (304) 465-0508. Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park, PO BOX 435, Summersville, West Virginia 26651, (304) 872-0825. Battle Run US Army Corps Campground, Summersville, West Virginia 26651-9802, (304) 872-3412.