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  • Writer's pictureMarie Williams

6 Places to Visit in New River Gorge National Park!

View of the New River Gorge Bridge from Canyon Rim Visitor Center overlook

The New River Gorge, once designated as a National River, became our newest National Park in December of 2020. Located in West Virginia, this park offers many ways to explore and play in it; whether it's whitewater rafting, hiking, fishing, or just absorbing all of its beauty, there is something to do for everyone. The park protects 53 miles of the river and covers a whopping 70,000 acres.

Oddly, with the most contradictory name, New River Gorge, is anything but new. In fact, it is the oldest river on our continent and is suggested to be nearly 65 million years old. In addition, the gorge, with its deep rock layers, has exposed rock dating to 330 million years.

Where to Stay

The New River Gorge became a prominent area after the railroad was built along the river, which allowed coal mining to become prolific and profitable. Coal mining towns began to pop up and the area flourished for a while. After some time, many of these coal mining towns turned into ghost towns and are now home to touristy areas for visitors. The town of Fayetteville, West Virginia is a popular destination and is located in the northern end of the park. There are many restaurants, hotels and shops to visit in Fayetteville, however, we stayed in the city of Beckley. Beckley, WV is located in the SE part of the park and hosts many hotels, restaurants, museums and shops.

Where to Go/Visit

Canyon Rim Visitor Center

The first place I visit in a National Park is the Visitor Center. The New River Gorge hosts four Visitor Centers. Depending upon the season, some of these Visitor Centers might not be open. Check here to see if open. Also, there is no fee to enter this park.

The Visitor Centers are listed in order from north to south.

  1. Canyon Rim Visitor Center (near north end of park)

  2. Thurmond Depot Visitor Center (center of park)

  3. Grandview Visitor Center (center of park)

  4. Sandstone Falls Visitor Center (near south end of park)

I wanted to visit the New River Gorge Bridge, so I planned to visit the Canyon Rim Visitor Center. Here you can get advice from a park ranger on your itinerary and look at program schedules and exhibits.

Canyon Rim Boardwalk

While at Canyon Rim Visitor Center you must visit the Canyon Rim Boardwalk. This boardwalk leads to panoramic views of the gorge and New River Gorge Bridge. This .2 mile walk is easy. ( A fully accessible ramp leads to the first scenic view ). There are 178 stairs that descend to the second / lower overlook, which gives you even better views of the New River Gorge Bridge.

The New River Gorge Bridge is an impressive sight to behold. It was built in 1977 and is the longest single arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere. This boardwalk is a great way to get a photo of the New River Gorge Bridge if you don't plan on hiking the Long Point Trailhead explained below.

View from Long Point Trailhead

Long Point Trailhead

Long Point Trailhead was my favorite hike in this park. Long Point Trailhead is considered a moderate hike and is 1.6 miles / one way. Also, bikes are allowed on this trail just until you reach a bike stand, then you must walk to the picturesque outcrop. Bikes can be rented at Arrowhead Bike Farm. Arrowhead Bike Farm is located just down the street from the Long Point Trailhead parking lot. More to follow about this quaint farm.

The hike begins with an easy walk through an open field, then through a forest. When you get close to the culmination of the hike, you will encounter a somewhat steep decline to traverse. Have no fear, for this is only temporary! Around the bend you will come upon a rocky outcrop with gorge-ous views of the New River Gorge bridge and gorge itself. This is such a beautiful area to sit a while, enjoy the scenery, and take a perfect photo with the bridge behind you. I must say, if you have a fear of heights, this may be challenging for you, just stay close to the center of the outcrop and you will be fine. Once you've soaked up the panoramic views around you, turn around and return the same way you came.

To reach the trailhead from US 19, follow WV 16 south through the town of Fayetteville. Turn left on Gatewood Road (sign indicates Kaymoor and Cunard). Follow Gatewood Road for 1.9 miles, and turn left on Newton Road. The trailhead parking area is 50 yards ahead on the left.

Visit Arrowhead Bike Farm

After our hour long hike at Long Point Trailhead, we decided to stop by Arrowhead Bike Farm for a rest and a bite to eat. This spot is so idyllic! For one, you can rent a bike to ride through the park, and secondly, you can purchase food and beverages to enjoy in the shaded patio area. In addition, they offer camping and RV sites for rent. This was such a quaint spot for a little break in New River Gorge National Park.

View by Grandview Visitor Center

Grandview Visitor Center / Main Overlook

This visitor center hosts a breathtaking overlook of the gorge and New River. (see above photo) This is a popular area to witness a beautiful sunrise. We visited this viewpoint just before our journey on Castle Rock Trail. This trailhead is located right next to the overlook.

Castle Rock Loop Trail

This scenic hike allowed us to get close to the sky scraping rock walls in New River Gorge. You can also see exposed areas of coal, for which this area become known because of this needed resource.

This was my very first "strenuous" hike as labeled by the National Park Service. This is determined by the elevation, change in incline/decline etc.... However, this trail is labeled strenuous because of the narrow path and close drop-offs. There are a few areas that require one to walk slowly and carefully. Therefore, this hike is not considered safe for young children. The hike is .6 miles one way and intersects with the Grandview Rim Trail. Once you reach the Grandview Rim Trail turn left and it will lead you back to the Grandview Visitor Center, which is another .5 miles.

Castle Rock Loop Trail begins near the Grandview Visitor Center. The trail winds along the towering and rocky cliffs with some twists and turns. It was a fun and exhilarating hike, especially since we passed by a fellow hiker that stated that he had seen a bear in that area the week before. Gulp!!! We did not see a bear along this trail, however, we did see one during our return to the Visitor Center on the Grandview Rim Trail. Just a reminder, always be vigilant in bear country.

Main Overlook at Grandview Visitor Center

Read my blog about what to bring when visiting a National Park here. I also provide information on what to do when encountering wildlife in a National Park.

Whitewater Rafting

If whitewater rafting sounds like fun to you, the southern end of the park has Class I to III rapids. ( Learn more about the Rapid Classification System here).The north end of the park hosts Class I to V rapids, which are for more advanced rafters. There are many outfitters that you can book a whitewater rafting tour with. Follow the link here to check out the outfitters located within New River Gorge National Park. Maybe on my next visit I will take the plunge and try a whitewater adventure!

Wish List

The New River Gorge National Park is a beautiful and an expansive park to visit. I wanted to visit Sandstone Falls, which is home to the largest waterfall on the New River, however, in order to get there from the Grandview Visitor Center you will need to drive a distance to Sandstone Falls Visitor Center. Sadly, I only planned one full day here and dusk was upon us, so we headed to our hotel in Beckley for a good night's sleep. Sounds like a great reason to return.


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