New River Gorge National Park and Preserve in West Virginia tops many bucket lists. It’s our newest national park, and it’s overflowing with outdoor adventures of all kinds, from hiking to scenic overlooks to high-flying ziplines with foliage-filled views. Of course, world-class whitewater rafting on the swiftly flowing New River is also a huge draw.
More than 70,000 acres of rugged terrain sidle up against one of the oldest rivers in the world in this mountainous national park. The narrow 53-mile slice of parkland stretches north from Hinton to Ansted, intertwining natural beauty with a long and illustrious mining history.
There are several towns east and west of the park that serve as base camps, including Beckley and Mount Hope, but Fayetteville is the place to be, if only because it’s a stone’s throw from the New River Gorge Bridge, an iconic crossing that was once the longest steel arch bridge in the world.
Completed in 1977, the 876-foot-tall bridge connects Fayetteville to the west with Lansing to the east. Bridge Walk offers three-hour guided tours that lead visitors across a 2-foot-wide catwalk that’s 25 feet under the bridge. Needless to say, this tour is not for those with a fear of heights.
Not to worry: A safety harness and a security railing keep visitors on the iron catwalk. Look down and you’ll become entranced by the views across the curious north-flowing river. From April to mid-October, watch for helmet-clad rafters furiously paddling the frenetic rapids below.
For those eager to ogle the span from terra firma, there are options, including viewing platforms at the park’s Canyon Rim Visitor Center in Lansing. There is an accessible overlook, as well as a lower overlook that requires visitors to descend 178 steps (then climb back up 178 steps).
A second option is a forested hike along the park’s Long Point Trail. An easy 1.5-mile walk leads to dramatic Long Point for sweeping views of the historic bridge and the breathtaking gorge. Pack a snack and settle in at the rocky outcrop to soak up spectacular vistas.
For still more views, motor along Fayette Station Road. Once the only way to cross the gorge on one- and two-way roads, including hairpin turns, there are numerous spots to pull over and snap photos of the bridge. Download the self-driven audio tour from the park’s website for historical narration that takes visitors back to a time when more than 40 coal mining towns lined the gorge.
No trip to would be complete without an exhilarating whitewater rafting adventure on frenzied, heart-pumping rapids. Book a day on the Lower New River with Adventures on the Gorge to furiously paddle Class II to Class IV rapids. Break up the day with a riverside buffet-style picnic lunch and a leap off of Jump Rock into the free-flowing New River.
“We have seen renewed interest in outdoor adventures the past two years,” says Roger Wilson, CEO of Adventures on the Gorge. “Many of our guests have said they want to make rafting a regular occurrence. We are here for them, even into the fall.”
Adventures on the Gorge also offers lodging options that range from deluxe cabins to glamping tents to camping sites for tents and RVs. In fall, two onsite restaurants and a takeaway coffee shop are open to guests and visitors.
For the ultimate adrenaline rush, Bridge Day is the granddaddy of all adventures at New River Gorge. This is the oldest and largest organized BASE jumping event in the world, taking place each year in October. This year’s festival takes place on October 15.
The one-day festival draws in 100,000 visitors to catch sight of parachute-fitted thrill-seekers as they toss themselves off the historic New River Gorge Bridge. Special activities typically include a 5K race, tandem jumps, a food festival, and rappelling from the New River Gorge Bridge.
Where to Eat
When it’s time to eat, there are options. Even better, they are really good options. When your tummy starts to rumble, here’s where to go in Fayetteville.
Cathedral Café is a former church that’s been converted into an eatery serving up breakfast sammies and grilled paninis. 134 S. Court St.
Tucked away on the lower level of a Quality Inn, Elliott’s Whitewater Bar & Grill has surprisingly good fare, including burgers and salads. It’s also a great game day sports bar. 103 Elliott’s Wy.
Tudor’s Biscuit World is part of a chain, but it may also be the best way to start your day. There are nearly 20 breakfast sandwiches on the menu. 323 N. Court St.
More than 100 hiking trails crisscross New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. Trails range in length from 0.25 to 7 miles. Here are three can’t-miss hikes at the national park.
Long Point Trail: This easy 3-mile round-trip hike begins 5 miles south of the Canyon Rim Visitor Center, rewarding hikers with a rocky overlook and big bridge views.
Endless Wall Trail: The 1.6-mile Endless Wall Trail (which is one-way) is wildly popular thanks to a walk along unbroken sandstone cliffs and far-reaching gorge views from Diamond Point.
Kaymoor Miners Trail: This strenuous 2-mile hike guides visitors along a forested trail, past a flowing waterfall, and then down 821 steps to the remains of coal processing plants.
What Else to Do
Outdoor adventurers, the New River Gorge area is a wonderland. Once you’ve checked off rafting, hiking, and taking in the bridge from every angle, here’s what else to tee up.
Ziplines: Fly across an eastern hemlock forest on the TreeTops Zipline Canopy Tour at Adventures on the Gorge. Get psyched up to conquer 10 ziplines and five sky bridges.
Horseback Riding: Book a 2.5-hour sunset trail ride with Equestrian Adventures in Fayetteville. What a way to wind down after a day spent splashing and paddling in the New River.
Kayaking: Rent a kayak from Summersville Lake Retreat for a flatwater paddle on Summersville Lake, West Virginia’s largest lake. The outfitter also rents canoes and stand-up paddleboards.