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 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.