The New River's headwaters gather high in the mountains of North Carolina. Fed by mountain streams, the river makes its way northward through the southwest portion of Virginia before entering West Virginia as Bluestone Lake, an 1,800-acre impoundment.

Below Bluestone Dam, the New builds strength for the plunge down the mile-wide, 1,300-foot-deep New River Gorge, perhaps the most concentrated stretch of white water in the United States, with more than 21 major rapids in Classes IV and V in a 15-mile stretch.

The heart of the New is the New River Gorge National River, a 50-mile-long, 600,000-acre corridor from Hinton to Fayetteville that was made a unit of the National Park Service in 1978. The establishment of the New River Gorge National River ensures that this unique region will be preserved in its natural, free-flowing state for future generations.

There are three sections of water in this 50-mile stretch. The 23 miles from Hinton to Prince is (with the exception of Sandstone Falls, which must be portaged) fairly gentle water that can be negotiated by canoeists and rafters of moderate skill under normal conditions. The next stretch, the 12 miles from Prince to Thurmond, contains stronger water, including Class III rapids that can be hazardous. The last section, the 15 miles from Thurmond to Fayetteville (Fayette Station is the name of the older town along the river), includes spectacular -- and dangerous -- Class IV and V rapids. This section requires helmets as well as life jackets and should be run only by experts or with a licensed guide.

The New River is best known for its smallmouth bass, but also is home to muskies, walleye, crappies, carp and other game fish. The fishing season lasts roughly from April through October. Annual nonresident licenses sell for $20, six-day licenses for $5. Both are available at sporting stores in the state.

MORE INFORMATION: The National Park Service, New River Gorge National River, P.O. Drawer V, Oak Hill, W.Va. 25901, (304) 465-0508 or 465-0509, will send material on the park, outfitters and accommodations. So will New River Travel Council, 500 Vermillian St., P.O. Drawer J, Athens, W.Va. 24712, (304) 252-7328. Simm's New River Dories, Dept. SA , P.O. Drawer 243, Glen Jean, W.Va. 25846, (304) 465-0855, specializes in taking fishermen down the New River.