Monday, July 18, 2022


new river gorge national park

The region around one of the world's oldest running rivers has become the United States' newest national park. The New River Gorge became the country's 63rd National Park as part of a COVID-19 relief bill passed in December 2020 by Congress as part of Blue Dog Democrat Joe Manchin's demands for supporting the overall legislation within the Senate. Whether or not you support how the park was authorized, I hope most people support that now more than 70,000 acres will be preserved and maintained by the Federal government to be a natural playground for rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking and whitewater rafting as well as a habitat corridor for protecting wildlife in southern West Virginia. Head to New River Gorge for outdoor adventures and scenic views that are sure to have you geeked about this National Park.

The gateway into New River Gorge National Park is the Canyon Rim Visitor Center located a ten-minute drive from the town of Fayetteville and an hour from the State Capital of West Virginia, Charleston. From the visitor center there are views into the gorge to watch the New River flow by way below you. It is called the "New River" because when the area was being settled in the 1760's they found it wasn't included in a survey of the territory done by Peter Jefferson (father of Thomas Jefferson) in the 1750s. So, they simply called this waterway New River and the name stuck. 

new river gorge national park

Despite the name, geological studies have shown that the New River could have existed for as much as 360 million years making it one of the world's oldest consistently existing running rivers. Interestingly, it is one of only a handful of rivers on the planet to run in a northerly direction instead of to the south. Watch the New River continue to flow through its prehistoric route from great vantage points at the Canyon Rim Visitor Center.

new river gorge bridge


This visitor center is situated next to the focal point of the region and a state landmark, the New River Gorge Bridge which rises 876 feet from the ground. An engineering marvel, the New River Gorge Bridge is the longest single arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere, third highest bridge within the United States, and fifth highest vehicle carrying bridge on the planet. It has been featured on the West Virginia State Quarter printed by the United States Mint and a postage stamp issued by the United States Postal Service. 

A boardwalk and observation decks provide great views of this West Virginia landmark. All of the structural segments for the New River Gorge Bridge are made with a steel that oxidizes with age giving it a protective rust covering and dark russet coloring. The oxidation prevents the steel from needing to be painted and as sunlight changes throughout the day the reflection off it alters the appearance of the bridge's coloration so there are different views to take in based upon the time of day and weather conditions in the gorge. 

new river gorge bridge

Canyon Rim Visitor Center provides a wonderful spot for taking selfies and landscape photographs with the New River Gorge Bridge as a backdrop. You don't want to miss out on getting a good view of this landmark when passing through the area. Don't miss out on the observation decks that are a short walk from the New River Gorge National Park's Canyon Rim Visitor Center.

new river gorge

Prior to construction of this massive single arch bridge being finished in 1977, it was a 45-minute drive along a narrow, winding road up and down the gorge's Appalachian Mountain slopes crossing the New River on a one lane wood bridge. Don't even think of a semi-truck making the trip and parts of the trek would require vehicles to pull off the road to allow oncoming traffic through. That original road is now maintained as a scenic drive that lets people navigate hairpin turns down to the bottom of the gorge, cross the narrow bridge and head up the slope on the other side of the river. Or you can cross the New River Gorge Bridge in about a minute. The bridge not just incredibly improved accessibility and travel times for locals but enhanced transportation options throughout southern West Virginia.

new river gorge


Inside the Canyon Rim Visitor Center there is a theater that shows an 11-minute movie on the history of the New River Gorge as well as points out attractions and activities that are popular at the national park. A small gift shop has an assortment of souvenirs. There is also a gallery with educational displays focused on the industrial history of the New River Gorge and the promotion of the area as an outdoor recreation destination.

From 1880 through 1940, New River Gorge was a hotbed of mining activity as the bituminous coal found here was attractive for it burning relatively smoke free. Because the coal had few impurities in it there was a lot less smoke generated when burning it compared to other sources of coal from around the country and even the world. The Titanic was fueled with bituminous coal originating from New River Gorge mines during their heyday. That coal is still in the wreck at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean a lasting relic of West Virginia's New River Gorge coal mining past.

new river gorge
new river coal

In the 1940s, the mines in the area were becoming depleted and it was becoming harder and more expensive to extricate coal from them. The mines shutdown and moved operations to new places. The riverbanks that had been hubs of activity filled with commercial, industrial and residential buildings became ghost towns over the next few decades. Now what had at one time been vibrant communities are just ruins much of which have been overgrown and reclaimed by nature. There are a number of these ghost towns that are within the boundaries of New River Gorge National Park that can be explored by adventurous hikers.

new river whitewater rafting


The sandstone geography of New River Gorge has brought people back to the area; though instead of searching for black gold they are looking for adventure. The way the rock erodes along the river creates some of the most exciting whitewater rafting conditions in the country. Plus, the cracks and crevices in the sandstone rock formations and cliffs along the Gorge create ideal hand and foot holds for climbers. This makes New River Gorge a fantastic spot for adventure sports!

My son and I took a Fathers Day Weekend road trip to New River Gorge National Park to do some rock climbing and whitewater rafting in an Appalachian Mountain summer getaway. We were looking for some adrenaline pumping excitement during this vacay and we absolutely found it at New River Gorge!

new river gorge

My son loves climbing at the Planet Rock Climbing Gym near us as well as making his way up those rock climbing walls you see pop up at festivals and community events. He had never had a real-life rock climbing experience though so we were going to give him that chance during our New River Gorge road trip from Detroit. I also have always wanted to go whitewater rafting so this was an opportunity to check that off my bucket list. Our adventures on the gorge weren't just about having an exciting good time but also provided an opportunity for bonding together as we participated in these challenging activities together.

new river gorge


If adventure sports aren't your thing, there are still activities to make a trip to New River Gorge National Park worthwhile. Enjoy a swim at the base of a waterfall, visit a museum in a historic train depot, check out a preserved early Appalachian subsistence farm or take a hike around the miles of trails within the park. The trails are well maintained with many routes having stairs and boardwalks to moderate the difficulty level of a walk through the woods. Tunnel Trail is a popular route being only a half mile long and passing under large rock outcrops.

Other popular trails include Castle Rock, the Endless Wall, and Grandview Rim. 

castle rock trail

Castle Rock has you wander past fortress-like rock walls and exposed coal seams. Beware there are unsecured steep drop-offs at points along the trail that can be a dangerous tumble. You'll feel like an explorer trekking along this trail even though it is one of the most popular and traversed ones at the park.

grandview rim trail

Grandview Rim provides just what is promised a grand view of a horseshoe shaped bend in the New River from the upper rim of the gorge. The trail is rated moderate because of several steep hills. It has great scenic overlooks of the New River flowing below you. 

endless wall trail

Endless Wall follows a cliff top 1,000 feet about the New River providing a remarkable vantage point of the gorge. Diamond Point along this trail is considered one of the best overlooks of the New River Gorge within the national park. It is also one of the best places to watch rock climbers and whitewater rafters as they navigate the cliffs and rapids below your vantage point on the trail. It is rated easy to moderate but you don't want to be afraid of heights if you hike this trail.

thurmond depot


The City of Thurmond was a coal mining boomtown and was one of the busiest railroad stations in the country from 1900 - 1920. During this era, fifteen passenger trains per day stopped here and its depot had more than 75,000 passengers pass through it per year. The historic Thurmond Depot has been restored as a museum with exhibits and historic furnishings highlighting the golden days of railroading.

Not much else remains from the boomtown days of Thurmond, but the park service has a walking tour guide brochure so you can wander around the place and image what the place was like in its glory. A block of the original commercial district that lines up along the railroad tracks that was home to a bank, pharmacy, saloons and stores is being preserved by the national park as well as the depot. 

thurmond ghost town

The walking tour also shows you were other buildings and structures used to exist including the Lafayette Hotel which contributed to the town getting the nickname "Dodge City of the East" and a massive Engine House railroad maintenance building where trains were repaired.  The spot where water towers that provided trains with the liquid to produce steam is marked, but they are long gone. A coal tower though still stands by the train tracks that was used to load locomotives with the coal needed to operate the steam engines. These tracks are still active so you may get a closeup look at a train as it rolls through this ghost town.

sandstone falls


At the opposite end of New River Gorge National Park from the Canyon Rim Visitor Center is the area's largest waterfall. The falls are 1,500 feet wide as they span the width of the New River. Elevations differentiate through this span with some spots the water dropping more than 25 feet and others less then 10 feet. Sandstone Falls Boardwalk provides a nice view of the falls from nearby islands and observation decks. It is a very accessible walkway with an easy difficulty trail rating making this the perfect spot for a casual stroll. The flatrocks around the boardwalk are home to plants that are found nowhere else within the New River Gorge.

If you want to get into the water, there is a less known spot the locals are aware of on the west side of the river that is a nice swimming spot with calm pools at the base of multiple small waterfalls. Here is where to go to take a dip in the river near the falls. There is also a rocky beach on the island below the main waterfall that is promoted by national park rangers. I was warned though during our visit that it is easy to get swept away by the current there and it is a popular fishing spot so the riverbed there is covered with hooks so wear your sandals in when plunging into the water here. The message here is clear, always ask locals about the good and bad about a spot like this. Remember always put safety first!

adventures on the gorge


Our Fathers Day Weekend road trip to the wilds of southern West Virginia was an incredible experience. It was an exciting, memory-making summer vacay. New River Gorge National Park is a great place for summer fun! Our adventures on the gorge absolutely earned America's newest national park a Geek Daddy nod of approval.

While New River Gorge may seem out of the way, it really isn't that far when it comes to considering a road trip destination. New River Gorge National Park is actually within a road trip doable drive of 500 miles for 60% of the country's population. If you prefer flying, it also is a convenient hour drive away from the airport in Charleston. Find out more information to plan your own New River Gorge vacation at

new river gorge

Oh, one more important thing to know before you go! There is no fee to enter New River Gorge National Park. Since this is not a fee park, you don't need to spend money on park passes, senior passes, and access passes. Just be aware since they don't ask for them here, they also don't sell National Park passes. Therefore, if you are park hopping don't count on buying passes for your next stop here.

rock climbing

Happy Travels!

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