The Gauley River NRA (National Recreation Area) is a very cool place with lots to see and do. You must be prepared for some rather rugged conditions, however. None of the roads are paved and a lot of the access roads are in pretty bad shape. Beginning with Ramsey Branch. You won’t find too many roads worse than this. You should have a high clearance 4WD vehicle to go down here as well as your wits about you, and it’s advised for the whole area as well. The roads on the other side, mainly Panther Mountain Rd., aren’t quite as bad, but some of the branch roads, like the road down to Bucklick Branch, for instance, can be pretty gnarley.
This whole area is more than a day trip really. If you only have one day, I’d say your most satisfying trip will be to follow the rail trail on the south side. You will be in sight of the river virtually all the way in and out. The north side has fewer stops and is a longer drive with fewer falls, but definitely still worth the effort. No matter which way you go, bring a lunch and make sure your spare tire is in good repair.
The South Shore
So, let’s start on the south shore. This is where Ramsey Branch is located. Go to my Ramsey Branch page to get directions to this location, as it is the beginning of the adventure on the rail trail to the tunnel and Confluence Falls on the other end. Unfortunately, they have barricaded (closed) the tunnel due to structural defects. I suppose you could walk in if you were of a mind but you can’t drive it any longer.
Speaking of driving, this rail trail is somewhat overgrown. I drove my full sized pick up truck to the tunnel and back, but it’s one lane and if you care about your paint, you may want to think twice and maybe consider hiking or bikes or ATV’s to run the 7 miles one way. There aren’t many places to turn around easily, though I have managed on all the trips I have made down there. You just have to be careful and selective with your locations and have 4WD. Crew cab trucks are not recommended due to turning radius for turning around.
“Camping is allowed throughout the park on federally-owned lands unless otherwise posted. The National Park Service does not own most of the land within the boundaries of the Gauley River National Recreation Area. Be aware of private property and respect the rights of land owners. Unless developed sites are offered, camp sites must be at least 100 feet away from any river access area, developed trail head area, top edge or bottom of any cliff, park structure or historic ruin. The maximum stay is 14 days at the same camping area. There is no camping fee.
Open fires are allowed where campfire receptacles are provided and must be contained in these designated containers. Campfires are prohibited within 100 feet of any river access area, developed trail head area, top edge or bottom of any cliff, park structure or historic ruin. Use only dead and down wood. Be sure your fire is out and cold before leaving. Do not burn tires or drive nails into trees. The use of chain saws is prohibited.”
So, beginning with Ramsey Branch. It is approximately a 1/4 mile creek walk. This access area is called Wood’s Ferry Crossing and there aren’t any signs. If you’re asking directions from locals, this is an important thing to know. When you get to the bottom of the access road, just before the rail trail along the river, you will see a short access area on the right that leads to a tunnel that goes under the rail trail and gives river level access. This is one spot I’ve seen campers. So pull into this area and park. There will be room for maybe two vehicles here. Don’t block the way down to the tunnel. Ramsey Branch flows through the tunnel and into the river. Get your waders on and walk up stream for awhile. It’s not bad and it’s not too deep either. When you get to Ramsey Branch Falls, you will certainly know it. It’s an absolutely gorgeous grotto with the beautiful waterfall right in the middle falling into a large pool. You will want to spend a lot of time here.
Back at the vehicle, get ready to drive up river. Pull back out and continue toward the river and turn right onto the rail trail. It won’t be long, maybe a little more than 1/2 mile and you will come to the first waterfall. It will be roadside, as are most of the scenes on this trip. There is room to pull off and stop. You’ll find room to stop at all these places. There’s usually room enough to pull off so others can get by, not that you will actually run into anyone down here. It’s pretty secluded, however, you should know that during the rafting season, they bring a full sized school bus full of rafters and equipment down here. You will go by their deck where they launch. There are some small waterfalls here as well. Further down you’ll find more falls and then the grand daddy, probably one of the tallest in the state, at Confluence Falls. Make sure and call the owner first if you plan to go up to see this one. You should be forewarned that this is not at all easy to get to. The owner will want to show you how to access the fall from up top on his property, and I’m not sure what that’s all about but he said we would have to climb down and I know it’s at least 70 feet from the top to get down in. I opted for the climb up the hill from the river. Anyway, call him and ask permission please. He’s a nice guy. You may even want to stay at one of his rentals. Nice places.
I haven’t mentioned Laurel Falls yet. It’s a really nice spot but not really on this little outing, but it is in the proximity and can be accessed (with difficulty) from the rail trail. It’s in the other direction from Ramsey Branch and would require way too much time to include here, but you can go to it’s page and get directions and maybe hit it another day.
South Shore Falls:
The North Shore
The North Shore of Gauley is a bit different. When you travel on Panther Mountain Rd. (CR 22) you don’t get to see the river all the way in and out, though, there are a couple of spectacular views from up high in a few spots. You won’t even know it’s there sometimes.
So, let me say a few things here about the driving. It’s not a very interesting drive from Mason Branch to Peter’s Creek on the dirt road (CR 22) which can be pretty nasty at times (about 8 miles) with Bucklick Branch being about 5 files in from Mason Branch and Peter’s another 3 after that. However, Bucklick is only a short drive from Peter’s. So look at the map and you decide how to go. It’s almost 20 miles from US 19 by way of WV 129 to Peter’s Creek but it’s all paved. It’s about the same distance if you drive Panther Mountain Rd (CR 22), but about 8 miles of it is winding dirt road. Everything down to Mason Branch is paved from WV 129.
So there are basically three locations on this side of the river. Mason Branch, Bucklick Branch, and Peter’s Creek. Mason has two falls, but on the way in there’s a small creek next to the road with a number of nice falls. So, I’d say there are at least 4 and maybe 5 photo worthy falls here. Bucklick has three, but the main one at the bottom is the best and biggest. Peter’s Creek is the big boy. Creekwide and when it’s wet you may have a hard time staying out of the spray. It can roar at times. Visit the individual webpages listed below for details on access. Peter’s, for instance, is a walk.
North Shore Falls: