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How to Enjoy New River Gorge National Park

Meet America’s newest National Park: New River Gorge!

There seems to be a dating app or website for every type of person. So why not make one for National Parks? Until someone creates a dating-style app for travelers, I’m showcasing some of the lesser known parks, like West Virginia’s New River Gorge National Park.

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Age: Declared a National Park in December of 2020, I became West Virginia’s first national park and the nation’s 63rd. However, New River Gorge isn’t exactly new to people in the region. I’ve got top-tier rock climbing, hiking and rafting opportunities all over the place.

Location: The Appalachian Mountains, baby! I’m not real close to a major city, but that’s what makes me extra fun. That said, I’m within a day’s drive of 2/3 of America’s population. The closest city is Roanoke, VA, about a two-hour drive southeast from me.  

Size: I’m 70,000+ acres of beautiful waterfalls, rivers, mountains, canyons and more.

new river gorge
photo by Dave Bieri

Best view: If there’s only one thing you do at the park, make it getting to Grandview. Grandview has six miles of hiking trails, offering unsurpassed views of the deepest section of New River Gorge. There’s plenty of trails to pick, from easy to more strenuous. The crème de la crème is the Grandview Rim trail, connecting Main Overlook with Turkey Spur. It’s a moderate 1.6-mile hike (3.2 miles round trip), with breathtaking views of the gorge and river far below. The road to Turkey Spur allows for an easy return or for a vehicle shuttle for those not wishing to hike back.

New River Gorge National Park
photo by Gary Hartley

Claim to fame: The New River Gorge Bridge—one of the most photographed spots in West Virginia! Completed in 1977, this engineering wonder allowed folks to cross the gorge in about a minute versus a 40-minute harrowing drive though winding mountain roads. It’s the longest steel span in the western hemisphere and the third highest in the United States.

History: You’ll find lots of it here—the railroad and mining boomtowns of Thurmond (population: 5), Prince, Quinnimont and more. My Nuttallburg Trails run through an old coal mining town and are really quite fun! But for something really special, check out the African American Heritage Tour. A digital guide tells the stories of the many black coal miners, railroad workers, and other community members that helped shape this region. This self-guided auto tour takes the user to seventeen historic sites in Summers, Raleigh, Fayette and Nicholas counties to learn about the history and experiences of the regions African Americans. Visit the website, or download the NPS app for New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. The visitor center offers a free CD version.

new river gorge

Hobbies: One thing that makes me extra cool is the white water rafting. From newbies to experienced rafters, I offer something for every age and skill level. There are a number of licensed commercial outfitters leading trip here. Sign up and show me what you got.

Not to be presumptuous, but if you were to spend the night…: The park doesn’t offer any lodging, and there are a few primitive camping spots (no water, limited restroom facilities). But don’t fret! You’ll find plenty of options surrounding the park. If I were you, I’d go for a cabin or lodge rental—so many great ones to choose from.

Favorite Season: There’s stuff to do year-round, so I like them all. Rock climbing is best during the spring and fall, white water rafting runs from April through October. Hiking can be done year-round.

Fun events: I love any excuse for a celebration! A few notable ones:

Bridge Day (October): Attention adrenaline junkies! Every third Saturday in October, thousands of people gather on the New River Gorge Bridge in Fayetteville, West Virginia to watch daredevils BASE jump into the Gorge below. Other activities include a 5K run, bridge walk (where you’re clipped to a safety cable and traverse the 3,000+-foot catwalk below the bridge), and tandem base jumping for the bravest of the brave.

Hidden History Weekend (September): Celebrate the wonders of Appalachian heritage, the sites and stories of southern West Virginia’s history. Enjoy exploring heritage sites, discover history highlights, and even challenge yourself to discover more heritage during this event. Enjoy this discovery of history in plain sight!

Thurmond Train Day: Party like it’s 1899! This annual even features historic walking tours of historic boomtown Thurmond and the railroad that built it. There’s also live music, opportunities to try a functional railroad hand cart and more.

 Since you’re in the neighborhood… Stop by the historic town of Hinton, with its quaint downtown. There’s a park named after John Henry, who really did work on the railroad back in the day. Snap a selfie by his statue, just outside the Great Bend Tunnel.

Have you visited New River Gorge? Share tips in the comments.

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