The West Virginia. Cyclopedia

New River

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The sources of the New River lie in the Appalachian Mountains among the high ridges which separate its drainage basin from those of the Pee Dee and Santee rivers (which drain southeastward into the Atlantic Ocean). The river crosses the Allegheny Front near the Virginia-West Virginia state line. Below (north of) the state line its valley narrows. From Hinton, WV, to the river's mouth at the junction of the Gauley River, the stream is entrenched in a steep and narrow canyon, the New River Gorge, protected by the National Park Service as the New River Gorge National River.

Although it is sometimes claimed that "the New River is the only river that flows north," the New River is actually one of many rivers that flow north in West Virginia. The Cheat River, Tygart River, West Fork River, and Monongahela River also flow north.

New River


New River near Sewell, WV

New River is formed by the union of its north and south forks in Watauga County, North Carolina (NC). From this junction, the New flows northeastward across the state line into Virginia, and at Radford, VA, turns abruptly northwestward across western Virginia and West Virginia to its junction with Gauley River, just above Kanawha Falls. Below the junction with the Gauley, the river is known as Kanawha River. In West Virginia, the river flows through the counties of Summers, Raleigh, and Fayette in its descent northward.


Topo Map (Mouth)
Topo Map Source

Name Origin

"New" River is a misnomer, as the stream is actually very old. See: Age of New River

Some sources claim the New River was first known by Europeans as Woods River, however both "New" and "Woods" were used on various maps from the about the same time period. See: Origins of the New River’s Name

A Google search will return about 60 Web pages stating Abraham Wood "discovered" New River in 1654, despite the fact that the Adena, as early as 250-150 B.C., were beginning the building of a network of about fifty conical mounds along the New-Kanawha River, in the area just west of Charleston, WV. Obviously, the native inhabitants had been aware of the existence of New River thousands of years prior to Wood's "discovery" of the river.

The accounts claiming "the Indians called the New River the 'river of death'" are most likely the product of 20th Century rural legend, rather than being based on factual information, as no written accounts or records of this reference can be found that were writen or published prior to the 1950's. The closest match to the "river of death" reference, with at least some degree of historical credibility, are accounts claiming the Shawnee called the river Keninskeha, meaning "river of evil spirits."

Native Americans, many early white explorers, and Thomas Jefferson regarded the Kanawha and New Rivers as being one, single river. See Kanawha River for more information regarding the "one river" concept.


Map-1791-Kanawha-River_small.gif</br> The Kanawha River and New River shown as one river, the Great Kenhaway River, on a map of 1791

Age of New River

Although often called "the second-oldest river in the world," the New River could actually be the second, twenty-second, or one-hundred-and-twenty-second-oldest river in the world, according to a web page devoted to the Geology of the New River Gorge. The New River is, however, remarkably old, predating the age of the present-day mountains that have been lifted around it.

The course of the ancient Teays River is marked by the valleys of the New River and the Kanawha River.

Whitewater Rafting

Today the New River and whitewater rafting are synonymous. Rafting on the New River entertains more than 100,000 vacationers from across the globe each year. The popularity of whitewater rafting on the New River in the 1970s contributed (in part) to the creation of the New River Gorge National River. However, at that time the whitewater industry was in its infancy, with only about one thousand rafting trips being made annually on the river. Typically the number of tourists visiting the New River Gorge Bridge construction site during one week was greater than the number of rafters during the entire year. In the decades following the completion of the New River Gorge Bridge (1977), the number of rafting trips made annually on the New River increased dramatically.

It's interesting to note that adventurous persons had rafted the New many decades earlier. A book published in 1875 documented the journey of a group of artists who "ran the rapids" of New River using a 60-foot batteau. A traditional story claims that in about 1870 railroad officials and engineers planning the route of the C&O Railway made their first preliminary survey of the New River Gorge by traveling New River via a batteau.

The whitewater rafting industry traditionally divides the New River within the New River Gorge into upper and lower sections.

For more information about whitewater rafting on the New River and commerical rafting trips, see: New River whitewater rafting and whitewater rafting outfitters.

Whitewater Rapids

Whitewater rapids are categorized from Class I-VI as follows: Class I is considered easy; Class II is novice; Class III is intermediate; Class IV is advanced; Class V is expert; and Class VI is considered almost impossible.

Double Z Rapids - IV+ Class rapids near Nuttalburg
Dudley's Dip Rapids - Class IV rapids near Nuttalburg
Fayette Station Rapids - Class IV rapids near Fayette Station
Grassy Shoals Rapids - Class III rapids near Prince
Greyhound Rapids Class IV rapids near Kaymoor, also called Greyhound Bus Stopper
Keeneys Rapids - Class III to Class IV rapids near Keeney's Creek, typically sub-divided as Upper, Middle, and Lower Keeney Rapids
Lower Railroad Rapids - Class III+ rapids near Caperton
Miller's Folly Rapids - Class IV to IV+ rapid near Kaymoor
Quinnimont Rapids - Class III rapids near Quinnimont
Silo Rapids - Class III rapids near Thayer
Surprise Rapids - Class III rapids near Buery
Upper Railroad Rapids - Class III rapids near Caperton

Falls on New River

Harvey Falls
Bull Falls
Richman Falls
Sandstone Falls

Hawks Nest Dam

Construction of Hawks Nest Dam, a hydroelectric dam, took place between 1930-33. The entire project, including another hydro-project at Glen Ferris, above Kanawha Falls, was completed in 1936. As part of the project, the New River was diverted from its natural channel by a tunnel bored through Gauley Mountain, three and one-half miles in length. The water intake of this tunnel is at the base of Hawks Nest State Park. The water exit is one mile above Gauley Bridge, about two miles above the confluence of the New and Gauley River.

Variant Names for New River

Conhaway River, Great Konhaway River, Kanawha River, Kunhaway River, Mon-don-ga-cha-te, Wood River, Wood's River, Woods River