Kris Maria Wanders
New River Gorge National Park and Preserve: Weekend Itinerary
Updated: Aug 16, 2021
Have you heard? There's a new National Park in town! Er, in the country...in West Virginia, to be exact! New River Gorge National Park and Preserve became America's 63rd and newest National Park as of December 2020. In my humble opinion, the entire state of West Virginia is underrated, but it is truly amazing how long this park has flown completely under the radar. It offers some of the best adventures on the entire East Coast- hiking, rock climbing, rafting, you name it! Between the epic adventure opportunities and rich cultural history, the park is deserving of its upgraded status to say the least. I recently spent a long weekend getting to know this park, and I'm going to tell you ALL about where we went, the sights we saw, the trails we hiked, where we ate (and drank, duh), where to stay, and anything else I can think of! You ready?
About the Park
The area has actually been managed by the NPS since 1978 when it was classified as a National River. Despite its name, the New River is ironically quite old. Now, the surrounding land will also be protected as part park and part preserve (only the second park outside of Alaska to get this designation). The park will make up roughly 7,000 acres in the center where New River Gorge Bridge is located. Other than that, it seems the plan is to keep the park relatively unchanged- other than increasing parking and other accommodations as they prepare for more visitors.
I’m sure there are mixed feelings about increased tourism in these small WV towns, but there is a lot to be gained. This natural beauty and the centuries of history it holds are now protected at the highest level- huge win! Just be mindful when visiting that towns like Fayetteville (with 3,000 residents) aren’t exactly tourist hubs- nor do they intend to be. Fayetteville's small town charm is what makes it stand out. It is also the closest town to the park, so if you're looking for places to eat or accommodations other than camping, this is likely your place.
Things to Do
If you know me, you know I'm primarily a hiker, but that's far from the only option in this park. New River Gorge is really an adventurers dream!
White Water Rafting:
The New River offers some of the best white water rafting in the country. While I didn't experience it for myself (this time), I heard from plenty of people who highly recommend it! There are several adventure companies in the area that you can book a guided trip with, in addition to adventure resorts you can stay at. You can choose a calm family outing, the most challenging rapids, or even an overnight trip camping along the river.
Ancient sandstone cliffs visible from many of the park's hiking trails are quite the draw for climbers. With 1,400 different routes and cliffs ranging from 30 to 120 feet in height, the park has become one of the most popular climbing destinations in the country. I'm no rock climbing expert, but you can get more helpful info from the park's website.
Now THIS is my area. There are plenty of incredible hiking options in this park, and most of them are pretty moderate. Between overlook points, short trails, and loop trail combos, there is really something for everyone. The park is very accessible with options for every skill level. The trails are extremely well maintained, and they all seem to be dog-friendly! Just note some parking areas fill up quickly on the weekend. Click here to skip right to my trail reviews.
Not really sure what to call the numerous activities that center around a bridge, but New River Gorge Bridge is so impressive that it deserves its own dedicated section...
New River Gorge Bridge
New River Gorge bridge is definitely this National Park’s main attraction, for obvious reasons. Built in 1977, this steel arch bridge is the 3rd highest vehicular bridge in the US (at 876 feet above the River). The bridge is 3,030 feet long and reduced what was once a 40 min trip across the New River to just 1 minute. Those are some pretty impressive stats. On Bridge Day (the 3rd Saturday of October)- West Virginia's largest single-day festival celebration- you can catch a wide variety of activities going on here, including BASE jumping! Thousands of people gather on the bridge to watch adrenaline seekers jump 800+ feet into the gorge below. You can also participate in rappelling or high line from the catwalk underneath the bridge. If that's all too extreme, you can also just hang out, eat some good food, and shop from local vendors!
Can't make Bridge Day? No worries! You can still do the Bridge Walk Tour where guests walk the full length of the bridge along the 24"-wide catwalk. For the non thrill-seekers, head to Canyon Rim visitor center for some incredible bridge views. No hiking or extremes required, just ~150 stairs!
You can peep this amazing bridge from quite a few places throughout the park, including many of the most popular hiking trails. Let's talk hikes!
Where to Hike
Over 3 days, we covered many of the park’s best hikes and views. Here’s what we did:
Grandview Rim Trail to Turkey Spur Rock
An out and back route starting from Grandview Overlook, this trail is 3.3 miles long.
Taking Castle Rock trail (a little more difficult with loose rock and uneven footing) on the way back will provide both great views of the gorge and towering rock walls!
Glade Creek Trail
One of the longer hikes in the park, this trail is 6 miles point to point or 12 out and back.
It follows a gorgeous clear water creek with several blue holes perfect for swimming. It’s shaded, and there are at least two waterfalls! If you're short on time, you can access a beautiful swimming hole 1 mile into the trail (from the campground trailhead). The other waterfall is about 5 miles in, just up the Kate's Falls trail.
Long Point Trail
This 3 mile round trip trail takes you to an epic viewpoint of New River Gorge bridge! It's also pretty moderate, with little elevation gain.
Kaymoor Miners Trail
This trail is short in length (~2 miles RT), but a total leg burner. It features the ruins of an old coal mine, which played a large part in the area's history. The ruins are fascinating, but the 821 stairs + additional incline are a serious challenge! If the Kaymoor Trail is open, there's also a waterfall you can get to.
Endless Wall Trail
Depending on whether you make a loop or go out and back, this trail is roughly 2.5 miles. It features views of the bridge and “endless” (hence the name) rock walls along the rim of the gorge. You'll likely see many climbers ascending or descending the cliffs.
Not able to hike? No problem! There are several overlook points with epic views that require little to no effort, including:
Canyon Rim Visitors Center:
This one does require about 150 stairs, but if you can manage, they’re worth it for the epic bridge view you get there.
Where to Eat
Since food and drink is a critical part of any trip, I'm going to highlight four places we loved and also give you some guest recommendations from a helpful friend!
1. Pies and Pints: Pints are hopefully obvious (the craft beer selection is on point!), and we're taking pizza pies here! There are other food choices, but you have to try the pizza. Even though it has ample seating options, it is one of the more popular restaurants in Fayetteville, so you might want to make a reservation!
2. Smokey's on the Gorge: This BBQ joint is a little on the pricier side, but its location on the rim of the New River Gorge offers quite a dinner view!
3. Burrito Bar: Located in a hillside home, the Burrito Bar at Breeze Hill is easy to miss. Don't miss it! Not only are the burritos to die for, the drink selection is fantastic! Enjoy a craft brew, seltzer or a homemade kombucha on their outdoor patio.
4. King Tut Drive-In: Located in Beckley, WV, this place is more about the experience...though the food is great too. You can get a variety of diner food, from sandwiches to plated meals, delivered right to your car!
In addition, a WV local and friend recommends these Fayetteville eats:
-The Pink Pig (BBQ)
-Wood Iron Eatery
-Fire Creek BBQ & Steaks
-Wanderlust Creative Foods (Asian)
-Cathedral Cafe (An old, ivy covered church with big stained glass windows)
-Elliotts Whitewater Bar and Grill (it's part of the Quality Inn. Bar food mostly)
-Tudors Biscuit World (more of a chain place but an option)
-Secret Sandwich Society ( burned down. I've heard they have a food truck in the area but -haven't been able to confirm)
I wish I could be of a bit more help here, but accommodation was the only thing we probably could have planned better. We stayed at two basic hotels (one in Lewisburg and one in Fayetteville), and they were just adequate. It seems as though hotel lodging options are slim (these are small towns- so it isn’t surprising). That said, they’re booking up fast with the increase in visitors to the area. If you want a cute Airbnb, definitely look a bit in advance. Many of the best and most plentiful accommodation options are the more outdoorsy ones- camping, cabins, etc. There are a few adventure resorts in the area too that do guided excursions like rafting and climbing (e.g. Adventures on the Gorge).
If you have time outside of all those other adventures, there a few other cool things worth checking out too.
1. Sandstone Falls
Located between Hinton and Fayetteville (roughly 1.5 hours from Fayetteville), Sandstone Falls is the largest waterfall of the New River and is considered one of the Seven Natural Wonders of West Virginia. The falls mark where the New River meets its confluence with the Gauley River. The National Park has set up several observation points of the falls, including some that are handi-cap accessible! There is also a nearby Bald Eagle Nesting site. According to the park website, the drive to Sandstone Falls will take you on two of the most scenic roads in the park…including the only scenic riverside drive. When you arrive at the falls, the Visitors center is a good place to start!
We didn’t make it to the falls ourselves, but my friend Kevin was kind enough to provide some beautiful photos! Be sure to check out his instagram @Kevin_13_photos
2. Thurmond Ghost Town
Another option for history lovers is to visit the Fayette County town of Thurmond. This historic coal town on the C&O Railway was once the highly prosporous center of New River Gorge. A switch from steam to diesel locomotives and less reliance on coal led to the town's steady declined. Today, it’s basically a ghost town, but the once busy banks, businesses, and saloons are relatively untouched. The park also restored the Depot as a visitors center in 1995 to help preserve the town’s history. It’s really neat to see!
Tip: You can also view it from above if you decide to hike the Rend trail.
That's all I have for you! Thanks so much for checking out my post, and I hope it has inspired you to make a trip to the newest National Park. Let me know if there's something I missed. Oh, and be sure to pin it for later!
Thanks again ya'll.