Monday, September 2, 2013

Jet-Boating on the New River

I’ve had the good fortune over the years of spending time in the New River rafting, kayaking, and even swimming. I recently added another method of New River transportation to my list when we tried out the New River Jet Boat at Hawks Nest State Park. While not quite as adrenaline-inducing as some of my other adventures, it was still a lot of fun.

We called ahead to get the information we needed. To our surprise, the woman who talked to us had a distinctive British accent. The cost is only $23, and the trip times are not fixed, but somewhat flexible. You can get to the boat by taking the tram from the Hawks Nest Lodge (the preferred method), or by hiking down the Ansted Rail Trail (1.8 miles one way), or by driving down the narrow dirt road to the Hawks Nest Marina.

The marina is at the narrow “lake” formed when Union Carbide built a dam in the 1930s to divert water from the New River into a tunnel through the mountain to generate electricity for their plant in Alloy, West Virginia. Unfortunately, the rock that the tunnel builders had to cut through was primarily silica, and the dust the tunneling produced caused many of the men to get lung disease. The Hawks Nest tunnel has been characterized as the worst industrial accident ever, because hundreds of Depression-era laborers died from the silicosis they developed.

The jet boat can hold 15 passengers in three rows of four seats, plus two seats at the back on either side of the engine bay and one at the front next to the captain. There were only eight other passengers on board when we went. Rather than sitting next to each other (side by side), we chose to both take a seat on the side, with me sitting directly behind Anna. This made it easy for us to talk to each other, yet we both enjoyed a “ring-side seat.”

The captain of the aptly named “Miss M. Rocks” (as in “avoid those rocks”) was a retired raft guide, who regaled the passengers with informative stories about the area (along with a collection of corny raft guide jokes). The boat first heads downstream for a view of the rock formation that supports the Hawks Nest Overlook, and then further down to the Hawks Nest Dam, including the gates to the water tunnel. Then he turns upstream, going under the railroad bridge and past numerous fishing cabins nestled on both sides between the river and the railroad tracks. Some of these cabins are in better shape than others, but all of them seem to have an interesting “personality.”

The jet boat can go pretty fast when he opens up the throttle, and soon you round a bend where the famed New River Gorge Bridge comes into view. You begin seeing submerged boulders as the man-made lake becomes the wild river that nature intended. The captain is able to skillfully guide the boat through the shallow water until finally reaching some impassable rapids, where he turns the boat sideways to allow a clear view of the bridge, before reversing it 180 degrees to allow the other side of the boat to get a great view. A bonus on our trip was that we got to see one of the eagles that are nesting in the New River Gorge fly over the river.

The New River Jet Boat ride is a great way to introduce folks, both young and old, to the beauty of the New River Gorge, and to let them get a distant glimpse of the famous arch span from the water level. We enjoyed talking after our trip to Sue and Rick, the couple who run this business (she has the British accent; he has the corny jokes). I highly recommend a ride on the jet boat, especially for those who, for whatever reason, won’t be taking a raft trip down the New River.


  1. My grandson (who is now four) has taken this trip with me twice and enjoyed it more the second time around. He's now looking forward to going again next year.

  2. Lovely, If you think a day was relaxing, you should try it for a week. It is the most relaxing de-stressing holiday ever. There are cruisers to suit all budgets and tastes. Mooring up outside a pub or even just throwing the mud weight overboard in one of the large broads and being surrounded by water. Sailing Manhattan