Close this search box.

Best Fests: River Festivals

Who says festivals have to be on dry land? Grab your paddle and head for the put-in at these river festivals:

Gauley Fest

September 20-21
Summersville, W.Va. 

Basics: Started back in 1983 as a victory dance to celebrate the derailment of a dam project that would have disrupted flows of the mighty Gauley, this bash has grown to become the largest paddling festival in the world. In addition to plenty of class V action, you can score some great gear deals and catch up with a who’s who of boat industry folks in the whitewater marketplace. By night, expect plenty of rowdy paddler hijinks in the campground, where moonshine drinking and late-night boxing have been known to occur.

Bands: Not announced yet, but not typically the focus of this fest. Expect some local or regional acts that will keep the party going strong.

Set Break Escape: Enjoy what you’ve come to celebrate and run the class V rapids of the Gauley. If you’re not a whitewater boater, jump in a raft with one of the area’s many outfitters.


French Broad River Festival
May 3-5
Hot Springs, N.C.

Many come for the stellar line-up of live music, which this year includes Langhorne Slim and the Law, Sol Driven Train, Yarn, and Col. Bruce Hampton. But this is also a great chance to enjoy the French Broad with a popular raft race, a Paddle with Pros clinic, and a river cleanup. Through the years, the good times at this fest have raised boatloads of cash for river access protector American Whitewater. 

Cheat River Festival
May 4
Albright, W.Va.

Friends of the Cheat hosts this annual bash, which features a downriver race, 5K, live tunes, and an art market. It’s a fun day, held to help protect one of the Mountain State’s most important waterways.

New River Festival
June 7-8
Fayetteville, W.Va.

This two-day party is taking place to raise awareness for clean water initiatives in the New River watershed. Camp at the Old Rivers Resort and catch live tunes from Dangermuffin and Gangstagrass. You can also take part in kayaking clinics, mountain bikes rides, and whitewater rafting trips.

Festival for the Eno
July 4-6
Durham, N.C.

A staple summer event in the Triangle, this festival raises funds for river protection with a full slate of live roots music, art booths, sustainability workshops, and local food. 

Russell Fork Rendezvous
October TBD
Elkhorn City, Ky.

See some of the region’s best paddlers run the rowdy whitewater of Russell Fork, while you also enjoy live music, local food, and bonfires on the banks of the river.

Check out the rest of our Outdoor Festival Guide!


Share this post:

Discover more in the Blue Ridge: