Introduction to New River Gorge National Park
Nestled in the heart of West Virginia and the Appalachian Mountains, New River Gorge National Park is a breathtaking natural wonder filled with spectacular views of rolling hills.
It offers endless opportunities for adventure and exploration like hiking, rock climbing, white-water rafting, and fishing. With its rugged terrain, lush forests, and pristine river, New River Gorge National Park has quickly become a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts. But beyond the popular attractions, there is a myriad of hidden gems waiting to be discovered.
Take in the grandeur of the park from atop one of its many cliffs and relax by one of its tranquil riverside spots. Whether you’re looking for a day trip or planning an entire week getaway, we’ll take you on a journey beyond the bridge and explore some of the lesser-known areas of the new river gorge that are sure to leave you in awe.
So, grab your hiking boots, and let’s explore the wild beauty of this iconic national park.
History of New River Gorge National Park
New River Gorge National Park has a rich history that spans thousands of years. The area has been inhabited by indigenous people for over 12,000 years, and evidence of their presence can still be seen today. European settlers began to arrive in the region in the 1700s and slowly transformed it into a hub for coal mining and transportation in the 1800s.
The New River is said to be one of the oldest rivers in the world, dating back over 320 million years! Its winding course has left behind deep picturesque gorges and high cliffs that have since become memorable features of the park, attracting thousands of visitors each year. The area has an extensive history with Native American tribes who once called this place home. Remnants of former villages and burial sites can still be found throughout the park.
Since being established as a national park in 1977, this area has become a popular destination for outdoor adventurers who want to explore its incredible vistas and enjoy its abundance of activities.
The New River Gorge Bridge, which spans the 1,000-foot-deep gorge, was completed on October 22, 1977, and quickly became a notable symbol of the area. The establishment of New River Gorge National River in 1978 helped to protect the area’s natural beauty and cultural heritage, and in 2020, it was designated as a national park.
Apart from its rich history, the new river gorge is home to some wild animals like white-tailed deer, black bears, beavers, and numerous species of birds. The variety of plant species includes oak-hickory forests, spruce-fir forested areas, wildflowers, shrubs, and grasses.
Key Facts About New River Gorge National Park
Size: 72,808 acres (294.64 km2)
Number of Visitors:1,128,195 (2021)
Established on: November 10, 1978
Number of Hiking Trails: 40
Total Length of Hiking Trails: Over 100 miles (160 km)
Highest Point: 2,910 feet (887 meters) above sea level at Hawks Nest State Park
Lowest Point: New River’s confluence with Glade Creek at an elevation of 1,055 feet (322 meters) above sea level.
Other interesting facts:
- New River National Park is the only national park in West Virginia and receives over 1 million visitors per year.
- The New River that flows through the park is said to be one of the oldest rivers in the world, dating back over 320 million years. Its winding course has left behind deep gorges and high cliffs.
- The New River Gorge Bridge, standing 876 feet (267 m) above the river, is the third-longest single-arch bridge in the world.
- In addition to being home to some unique flora and fauna, this area has an extensive history with Native American tribes who once called this place home. Remnants of former villages and burial sites can still be found throughout the park.
- Every third Saturday of October, thousands of people from all over the country come to witness “Bridge Day” which celebrates the opening of the bridge in 1977 with live music, food vendors, and activities for all ages!
- Each year the New River Gorge hosts a number of competitions from rock climbing events to whitewater rafting races!
Climate and Weather
New River Gorge Park is known for its mild climate which makes it an ideal destination throughout the year. The park’s elevation above sea level affects the amount of precipitation each season, leading to cold temperatures in the winter months. But you can get more Weather Information on Weather.gov
In spring, visitors can expect warmer days with highs reaching about 50°F (10°C) and 60°F (15.5°C), while lows may drop to about 30°F (-1°C). As summer approaches, temperatures rise to about 70°F (21°C) and 80°F (27°C) with some potential heat waves during July and August. Rainfall is typical during these months but will usually not last more than a day or two.
Summers can be hot and humid, with temperatures reaching about 80°F (27°C) because the elevation keeps it cooler than surrounding areas. So, visitors can expect comfortable days of exploring the depths of the new river gorge.
Hiking is a favorite activity as most trails are open year-round, but you need to be cautious when out on the trail as conditions can change rapidly due to weather. Also, make sure to bring sunscreen and plenty of water if you plan to visit in the summer.
Fall brings cool temperatures and beautiful foliage to the park. Expect temperatures that dip down to about 40°F (4°C) and 50°F (10°C) at night, making it an ideal time for outdoor activities. The slight rainfall during this season may also be beneficial for outdoor activities.
The park’s foliage can reach its peak in late October or early November with spectacular displays of red, yellow, and orange. Even after the leaves have fallen, you can still find plenty of outdoor activities like bird watching and fishing.
Winter is the coldest time in the park with temperatures frequently reaching below freezing. The precipitation at this time may come in the form of snow, although not all parts of the park will experience it. Snowfall can make for unique scenery if you’re visiting from December through March!
Winter is a great time to explore the park as temperatures remain mild throughout the season. With average highs ranging from about 40°F (4°C) to lows of 50°F (10°C), visitors should bundle up before heading out on hikes or other outdoor activities.
If you plan to visit, be sure to check the weather forecast (from the National Weather Service) before heading out. Also, here is a guide to help you understand more about winter hiking.
Best Time to Visit New River Gorge National Park
The best time to visit the New River Gorge depends on what type of experience you’re looking for. Each season has its own unique charm, and there’s something to enjoy year-round in this stunning natural wonder.
If you’re an outdoor enthusiast who enjoys natural beauty, spring and autumn (April – May) are both great times to come. The temperatures are milder and provide better conditions for activities like hiking, camping, birdwatching, kayaking, or rock climbing.
Summer (June – August) is the peak season for tourism, with long days and warm weather, it is perfect for water activities like whitewater rafting & kayaking. You can also enjoy a picnic lunch by the shore or take a dip in the river. But, be prepared for high temperatures and crowds.
Fall (September – November) is a popular time to visit the park because the temperatures are cooler with vibrant foliage and fewer crowds. It’s also an ideal time for hiking and camping.
For those who are interested in seeing wildlife, it can be particularly rewarding to visit in the fall as this is when there is a diverse collection of birds.
Winter (December – March) is quiet and peaceful, with snow-covered landscapes and fewer visitors. It’s a great time for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and enjoying the park’s winter beauty. However, some roads and trails may be closed due to snow and ice.
Whether you’re planning a day hike or a week-long camping trip, having the right gear is essential for a safe and enjoyable visit to the Park.
Here are some recommended items to bring:
- Hiking shoes or boots – First and foremost, a good pair of sturdy hiking shoes or trail running shoes with good traction are essential. They provide better stability while walking on uneven terrain and exploring the many trails.
- Backpack – A backpack is useful for carrying water, snacks, and other essentials while hiking or camping.
- Water bottle – It’s important to stay hydrated while exploring.
- Sun protection – The sun can be intense, so it’s important to have sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses to protect yourself from UV rays if you plan on being outside for extended periods. In addition, you’ll want to dress in layers so you can easily adjust to changing weather conditions.
- Rain gear – The park can receive rain throughout the year, so bring a waterproof jacket and pants in case of wet weather.
- Insect repellent – Mosquitoes and ticks can be present, especially during the summer months, so an insect repellent will help you to avoid bites.
- First aid kit – Accidents can happen on the trails. So, packing a first-aid kit is always a good idea in case of minor injuries. Carry a basic first aid kit with bandages, antiseptic, and pain relievers.
- Map and compass – Even with well-marked trails, it’s always a good idea to bring a map and compass as backup. A map or GPS device will be helpful in navigating the various routes. Waterproof maps are especially useful if you plan on venturing out into more remote areas where cellphone service may be limited.
- Headlamp or flashlight – A headlamp or flashlight is useful for navigating trails in low-light conditions or during evening hikes.
For detailed tips and information when hiking and camping, this checklist will help you prepare extensively.
Things to do in New River Gorge National Park
There is always something for adventurers of all stripes and outdoor enthusiasts. There are trails, rock climbing spots, white water rafting & kayaking, fishing, and camping grounds for adventure, relaxation, or other recreational opportunities.
Visitors can explore historical sites like the Thurmond Historic District or the New River Gorge Bridge, which is one of the longest and highest steel arch bridges in the world. You can try out winding trails, paddle down serene rivers and take in breathtaking sights as you venture throughout this beautiful park.
Hiking and Backpacking
Trails in New River Gorge range from a quarter mile to 7 miles (400m – 11 km) in length. With over 100 miles (160 km) of trails, visitors can explore the park’s stunning natural beauty from a variety of perspectives.
For an overview of the landscape, take the Grandview Rim Trail. It is a moderate three-mile (4.8 km) trail offering expansive views of the gorge and sunsets from its highest point near the lookout point overlook. Other popular trails include the Endless Cave Trail, which is a 5-mile (8 km) loop that takes you through historic coal mines and deep caves, and the Junkyard Loop Trail which journeys along steep ridges and valleys.
Top Hiking Trails in New River Gorge National Park
There are 40 trails worth visiting in New River Gorge National Park. But, here are five of the most interesting ones not to miss.
- Endless Wall Trail: This trail is considered one of the most picturesque trails in all of West Virginia. Spanning 2.4 miles/3.86 km (One-way) along the rim edge, this moderate to difficult hike takes you through lush forests and spectacular views of jagged cliffs. It takes about 4 hours to complete and offers natural wonders such as ancient sandstone formations, wildflower meadows, and rocky cliffs. Along the way, you’ll also spot some interesting wildlife like white-tailed deer and turkey vultures. But it would be best to visit the Hiking Safety page for information about how to have a safe hike.
- Kaymoor Trail: At just 8.6 miles/13.84 km (One-way), this easy trail is great for beginners or those looking for a short outing. The trail winds its way down to the bottom of the gorge where you can take in stunning views of kayakers navigating your way through churning rapids. But be sure to check with the national park service for more details. Also, bring your camera as there are plenty of scenic and recreational opportunities along the way!
- Kaymoor Miners Trail: This 1-mile-long (1.6 km) moderately difficult trail is one of the oldest paths and offers breathtaking views of 19th-century mining ruins, lush forests, and towering cliff faces. It takes roughly 2 hours to complete.
- Long Point Trail: Located on an isolated stretch of land, this 1.6 miles/1.29 km (One-way), moderately strenuous up-and-down trek is perfect for those seeking solitude. You will enjoy stunning views of wildflower meadows, crystal-clear streams, and wildlife as you make your way to the summit. This hike takes about 1-2 hours to complete, so plan accordingly.
- Rend Trail (Thurmond-Minden Trail): Spanning 3.4 miles/5.47 km (One-way) long, this easy hike is great for hikers looking for a longer trek. The route has several unique geological features like old coal mines and abandoned railroad tracks. Plan to spend 2-3 hours taking in all that this trial has to offer!
You can get maps of all the trails by visiting the park’s official hiking page.
For those looking to stay overnight to seek an adventure, there are a few backpacking options. But here is some important information & regulations concerning backpacking in the park.
The free, official NPS app includes an interactive park map.
There are several primitive camping options with limited restroom facilities and hookups if you prefer to camp more traditionally. If not, there are private campgrounds located outside the park’s boundaries offering convenient amenities like fire rings, real bathrooms (with showers), and picnic tables.
You should, however, note that the best areas for camping are located adjacent to popular trails such as Glade Creek, Brooklyn-Southside Junction, and Stone Cliff. The other sites are located along the river and are accessible by boat.
Here are the campgrounds (each with its own unique features and amenities). But feel free to check the camping areas in this campground map
Grandview Campground: Located on the southern end, Grandview Campground offers stunning views of the New River Gorge Bridge and its surrounding mountains. The campground has about 16 sites, including several RV sites with hookups. There are also hiking trails and scenic overlooks within walking distance.
Glade Creek Campground: Nestled in a quiet forested area, this primitive campground is a popular choice for those seeking a more secluded camping experience. The campground has about 11 sites with a picnic and fishing area. Also, there is a small portion of the Glade Creek Trail.
Stone Cliff Beach Campground: This primitive campground has 7 camping sites with one vehicle site for a small RV. However, there are no hookups available for visitors.
Army Camp Campground: Located on an unmarked dirt road, this primitive campground has 11 sites that can accommodate smaller RVs. Trailers are also allowed in the campground.
War Ridge/Backus Mountain Campground: This primitive campground is located on a ridge top with 8 drive-in sites for tents or small RVs. Note that all the sites are managed on a first-come, first-served basis, and reservations are not accepted.
Brooklyn Campground: This primitive campground has 5 sites managed on a first-come, first-served basis without reservations.
Thayer Campground: There are 4 walk-in sites with 4 tents upstream from the Slater Creek Crossing. This campground has fire rings with no toilets or showers. In addition, RVs and trailers are not allowed in the campground.
For group camping, the Burnwood Group Campsite located off U. S. Route 19 across from Canyon Rim Visitor Center, and the Meadow Creek Campground located near Sandstone Visitor Center offer camping opportunities for visitors.
With over 1,400 established routes ranging from beginner to advanced routes, climbers of all skill levels can enjoy the breathtaking views of the gorge from a vertical perspective.
- The Endless Wall is considered one of the premier climbing destinations in all of West Virginia, with its stunning sandstone walls and variety of routes.
- The Long Point Trail also offers plenty of challenging climbs as well as spectacular views.
- Beginners should check out Bridge Buttress, which has plenty of routes that are rated 5.6 or below.
- More experienced climbers can scale up to 5.11 at areas like Kaymoor Top (known as one of America’s hardest climbs) and Junkyard Wall which offers some of the most exciting and intimidating routes in the region.
- The Cathedral Area is also popular among climbers due to its sheer limestone cliffs.
Mountain biking is another great way to explore the rugged beauty of New River Gorge National Park. With mountain biking trails ranging from easy to difficult, you can find plenty of routes that will challenge you no matter your skill level.
For beginner riders, consider exploring the Cunard Mountain Biking Trail, which runs along an old railroad grade and offers views of the gorge and wildlife. The Northside Trail is another great option for beginners because it meanders through wetlands and pine forests and occasionally skirts along the rim of the gorge.
Intermediate riders should try out the Pipeline Mountain Biking trail, which follows an old pipeline and features plenty of twists, turns, and drops.
More experienced riders should check out the Fern Creek Trail, which offers some of the most challenging sections in the park. The rugged terrain includes steep climbs, fast descents, and technical switchbacks. But be sure to stay alert with your mountain bike on this route.
Water Rafting and Water Sport Activities
The park is a great spot for whitewater rafting and kayaking. With its winding rivers, you can go whitewater rafting down one of the park’s three main rivers (New, Gauley, and Meadow) or a leisurely kayak trip along the calmer sections of the river. You could also spend at least a day out on the east coast side of the river.
Also, there are licensed outfitters offering guided trips on the New River. Visit any one of the commercial outfitters to schedule an adventure on the New River.
Rapids range from Class I (gentle) to Class V (extremely difficult), allowing for plenty of options. So, it’s important to consider factors like water levels, weather conditions, and safety tips when planning a rafting trip.
For more information, please visit https://whitewater.wvdnr.gov/.
Fishing is a great way to experience the park’s beautiful wildlife. If you’re more into fishing and boating, then head over to Bluestone Lake, located just outside the park.
With its winding rivers, there are plenty of species to catch, ranging from smallmouth bass and rock bass to rainbow trout, catfish, and sunfish.
Boats are permitted on the lake but be sure to check with the National Park Service before launching any watercraft because certain areas may be closed or require special permits. Also, there are restrictions on harvesting specific species, and you need to make sure to familiarize yourself with these guidelines before setting out for the day.
To enjoy a quality fishing experience, you need to understand the basic safety precautions.
Here are fishing regulations according to the National Park Service.
“Except as provided below, fishing shall be in accordance with the laws and regulations of the State of West Virginia (36CFR2.3).”
“For the West Virginia State fishing regulations go to the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources website.”
“The fishing regulations apply to all “finfish” found in the park. Other taxa, including amphibians, mollusks and crustaceans (e.g. waterdogs, crayfish) are not considered “fish” for the purpose of NPS fishing regulations and addressed by NPS regulations governing wildlife (36CFR2.2).”
Wildlife, birdwatching, and Historic Site Viewing
New River Gorge National Park is a prime destination for wildlife, birdwatching, and appreciating the park’s rich history. Birdwatchers will be delighted by the wide variety of birds that call the park home – from soaring eagles to wily blue jays.
For history enthusiasts, the park offers numerous sites worth exploring. A few historic sites include the civil war-era homesteads, the ancient Native American burial grounds, and the Sandstone Visitor Center where you can learn about the park’s history and culture, as well as its ancient inhabitants.
There is a small museum that houses artifacts from the park’s past.
The park features several trails suitable for cross-country skiing. You can glide along the groomed tracks, surrounded by the park’s scenic vistas and peaceful winter atmosphere. Alternatively, you can enjoy sledding on designated hills in the park or strap on a pair of snowshoes and trek through the snow-covered landscapes, taking in the serene beauty of the gorge and its surroundings.
However, winter sports in the New River Gorge National Park can be weather-dependent. So, make sure to check the current conditions, any closures or restrictions, and be prepared with appropriate equipment before planning your trip.
Where to Stay
When it comes to lodging, the New River Gorge Park offers both primitive camping and a few more luxurious options.
For a classic camping experience, there are numerous campsites scattered throughout the park with amenities such as fire pits, picnic tables, and access to fresh drinking water. But you need an annual or weekly permit for camping within the park. These permits can be obtained at any visitor center.
Those hoping to stay in a bit more style may consider booking a cabin or lodge in one of the nearby towns. The towns of Fayetteville and Beckley offer a variety of cozy accommodations for weary travelers – from luxury resorts to quaint bed-and-breakfasts.
How to Get There and Getting Around
The nearest major airport is Yeager Airport (CRW) in Charleston, which offers non-stop flights from major cities like Atlanta and Washington D.C. It is roughly an hour and a half away from the park, and you can take a shuttle or rent a car and take a scenic drive through the popular ghost town and former richest towns in West Virginia.
Other options include Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) in North Carolina and Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) in Pennsylvania, both of which are around a three-hour drive from the park.
Once you’ve arrived at New River Gorge, getting around isn’t too difficult either. Unlike most national parks in the United States, New River Gorge is free to visit with no entrance or parking fees. A free shuttle service operates between key points within the park during peak season, and you can explore different trails, picnic areas, and scenic vistas efficiently.
The Greyhound bus service also has a scenic drive route from nearby cities like Huntington, Beckley, and Lewisburg. It also stops in Fayetteville – just outside the park entrance. Car rentals, mountain bikes, or ATVs from local vendors nearby are available within the park.
If you’re looking for a unique way to experience the area, consider taking one of the river rafting trips offered by local companies. There are several guided tour companies for white water rapids and calmer stretches water transportation packages.
The natural beauty of New River Gorge National Park is truly unparalleled. From its towering cliffs and lush forests to its winding rivers and serene lakes, the park has something for everyone.
Whether you’re looking for outdoor adventure or simply a peaceful getaway, be sure to make this national treasure part of your next vacation. Visit New River Gorge National Park and discover why it’s been named one of West Virginia’s most beloved destinations.
Check out our other national park guides to find other inspiring destinations.