The Best Things To Do at New River Gorge: Hiking, History & More
October 2, 2021
New River Gorge was designated an official national park in 2020, making it the newest addition to the national park system. However, that reclassification didn’t change much about the area, which was a national river prior to the designation. For many years, the gorge has been a destination for hiking, white water rafting, bridge jumping adventures and more.
New River Gorge National Park has free entry and is divided into several units. The most famous area surrounds the New River Gorge Bridge, but the park has a lot more to offer if you’re willing to drive a bit further. This blog covers hiking trails, ways to explore New River Gorge Bridge, a dreamy farmhouse accommodation, delicious post-hiking eats and more details on planning your perfect trip to New River Gorge National Park.
Please make it a priority to Leave No Trace when exploring the outdoors. This includes leaving nothing behind, respecting wildlife, minimizing campfire impacts, respecting those around you, planning ahead and traveling on durable surfaces. For more details, read about the seven principles at lnt.org.
The small town of Fayetteville, West Virginia is the best area to stay when visiting New River Gorge. It is just minutes from the New River Gorge Bridge and many of the most popular trails. Fayetteville is also home to a good selection of restaurants and shops. There are only a couple of hotels nearby, so I recommend choosing an Airbnb. There are a range of Airbnb options, just be sure to book early if you are visiting during a peak season.
I highly recommend the Airbnb that I stayed at, Five Spring’s Farm The home is a renovated guesthouse on a working farm operated by a retired landscape architect. The guesthouse is beautifully renovated using a lot of the materials of the house that previously stood here. The entire home is beautiful, but I especially loved the sitting room at the back of the house, which faces the field of cows that call the farm home. In front of the home, there is an organic garden full of plants. The host Pam gave us a tour of the farm to see the sheep, chickens and friendly dogs that live there. My stay was so special and I really feel that this is the type of experience that Airbnb is made for.
In my opinion, the best time to visit New River Gorge is in the fall. You can enjoy beautiful fall foliage, experience Bridge Day (third Saturday of October) and enjoy amazing white water rafting on the Gauley River (best in September and October). Average temperatures in October are a high of 62 °F and a low of 39 °F. In September, temperatures average a high of 71°F and a low of 50°F.
If you are interested in rafting, spring is also a great time to visit. The water levels will be higher in the spring and you’ll get to enjoy beautiful wildflowers. Like the fall, temperatures will be mild and not too hot.
The summer months bring the most crowds to New River Gorge, so you will have warm weather but will want to book your accommodations earlier. Temperatures are not extremely hot in the summer, with July averaging a high of 80° F and low of 60° F.
Finally, New River Gorge stays open throughout the winter and temperatures rarely dip below the 20° 's F. If you really want to avoid the crowds, winter could be a great time.
The closest major airport to New River Gorge is in Charleston, WV, located about an hour away. If you fly in, you will want to rent a car to explore the area. I personally drove from Cincinnati and it wasn’t a bad drive at four and a half hours.
Another good option could be to fly into Washington D.C. and combine your New River Gorge trip with a trip to Shenandoah. The D.C. airport is four hours away with Shenandoah in between.
The New River Gorge Bridge is the most famous element of the park and can be enjoyed from views across the gorge, views from below and even by walking on the catwalk below it. You will drive across the bridge to get around the area, but don’t expect to be able to enjoy the views while driving. Take some time to visit at least one overlook to take in the architectural beauty of the bridge.
- At 876 feet tall, the New River Gorge Bridge is the third highest bridge in the United States and the 13th highest bridge in the world.
- The bridge took three years to build and was completed in 1977. The bridge is the longest single arch bridge in the Western hemisphere and the 3rd longest single arch bridge in the world.
- Once a year, the Bridge closes to traffic and people visit from all over to participate in Bridge Day. On Bridge Day, people base jump and rappel from the top of the bridge to the bottom of the gorge and 1000’s of people come to watch. - You can also zipline from the Bridge’s catwalk on this day only. Bridge Day is typically the third Saturday in October but was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.
Head to the Canyon Rim Visitor Center for views of the gorge and information about the park. There is a deck attached to the back of the visitor center that has beautiful views of the New River. Right next to the visitor center, there is a short trail that gives you a fantastic view looking across to the bridge. To reach this viewpoint, take the sidewalk from the visitor center and head to a wooden staircase. There is an upper and lower overlook. An accessible ramp leads to the upper viewpoint, while 178 steps lead down to the lower overlook that will give you a closer view of the bridge.
Before the Gorge Bridge was built in 1974, travelers had to descend down into the gorge on one side, cross a small bridge right over the river, and then ascend back up. You can still drive this road today and it offers several great viewpoints. The road, Fayette Station Road, is one way and takes about 40 minutes without stopping. However, you’ll want to stop a couple times and take in the views. First, there are some overlooks right underneath the bridge on the east side. As you continue, you can park and get out at the Fayette Station Bridge, walk across on foot and gaze up at the New River Bridge. Then on the west side of the river, there is an area to take your river raft in or out of the water. Note that the road has some hairpin turns and is not suitable for large vehicles or RVs. You also may want to avoid it in icy conditions due to drop offs. This drive is a fascinating detour to enjoy some views and is especially beautiful at sunset.
The Bridge Walk is a unique experience that allows you to walk on the catwalk below the New River Gorge, 25 feet below where the cars drive. You can do this experience with the Bridge Walk LLC, a private company that has permission from the park service to run tours. The experience lasts about two hours and involves walking across the bridge one way with a shuttle back to the office. You are attached to a wire by a harness the entire time, so there is no way you could fall. During the tour, you will get to learn about the bridge from your guide and even have the opportunity to sit and dangle your legs off the edge (this is optional!).
Here are some things to know about the Bridge Walk:
- Make sure whatever you bridge is attached to you and don’t bring along extra items like backpacks. I purchased a silicone cell phone holder from their shop for $5 that worked great.
- Be sure to book ahead of time during peak seasons and weekends.
- Prices are typically $72 per person for the standard bridge walk but be sure to check their website for current pricing.
- If you’re afraid of heights, this is probably not for you! But I think it would be a great way to conquer that fear if you want, as you are harnessed in and can’t fall.
- It can be windy and cold on the bridge depending on the time of year. I recommend checking the forecast and wearing a windbreaker. The bridge walk occurs year round and our guide said his favorite time to be on the bridge was during a thunderstorm.
The Bridge Walk was definitely a highlight of my trip and I highly recommend doing it if you aren’t afraid of heights! The views of the gorge are incredible.
Pro Tip: Go last on the bridge walk to get clear photos of the bridge behind you. (You cannot change your order once you are attached to the wire.)
These are some of the best trails to hike during your visit to New River Gorge and each is of varying difficulty. Parking did not fill up during my trip in October, but it is somewhat limited and could fill up during busy times. Arrive early to ensure you get a parking spot or choose a different trail if the parking lot is full.
Some trailheads are located in residential areas, please be respectful of the locals and leave no trace while hiking. If you are new to hiking, I have several tips for beginner hikers to help you get started!
- 3 miles
- 321 feet of elevation gain
- Rated moderate
- Restrooms at Trailhead
The trail to Long Point descends downhill through a wooded path to reach an incredible view of the New River Gorge Bridge. The trail is well marked and has a slow decline until the last 0.1 mile, when it gets a bit steeper as you reach the view. Right before reaching the bridge view, there is also another offshoot to check out that has a view in the other direction of the gorge. When you reach the end, there is a large rock to stand on with an amazing view looking directly over at the bridge. This is a beautiful spot for photography and an amazing place to watch the sunset.
- 1.6 miles
- 869 feet of elevation gain
- Rated hard
- Restrooms at trailhead
The Kaymoor Miners Trail will lead you to the ruins of a mining town that thrived in the early 1900’s. It was abandoned in the 1950’s and is now maintained by the park service. You will see the track in which mining cars went up and down the hill, the remnants of a coal processing plant, coke ovens and the town of Kaymoor. Kaymoor was one of the largest mining towns in New River Gorge and employed 800 miners at its peak.
While the trail is short, it is difficult and descends 400 feet in a half mile. The trail begins in the forest with a series of switchbacks for the first half mile. Then, you will see the mining safety board, the former mining entrance and a large arch with the words “Your Family Wants You To Work Safely.” After that is the difficult portion of the hike: 821 steep stairs down to the mine ruins. The staircase has a few landings with signage to take a break. Be sure to be prepared for the steps and bring plenty of water!
At the bottom, you can get up close to a collapsed building and other equipment. There is a fence, so be sure to respect the boundaries as the building is not secure. While difficult, this hike is a fascinating way to see an old mining town and get up close to the history of the area.
- 2.8 miles
- 288 feet of elevation gain
- Rated easy
- Bathroom at trailhead(s)
The Endless Wall trail is a great easy trail option with several beautiful viewpoints overlooking the gorge. The trail is a point to point trail with parking lots on both ends. I parked at the Nuttall parking lot and made the trail a loop by taking the road back. If you hike clockwise from the Nuttall lot, the trail is mostly downhill. After a short hike through the forest, there are several viewpoints, the first main one being the Diamond Point Overlook. As you hike the trail, there are several little offshoots that lead to viewpoints, some marked and some not. It’s fun to explore and see what each has to offer, but the main viewpoints you shouldn’t miss are marked on All Trails. If you take the road back to the other parking lot (a half mile walk), there are no sidewalks but I felt that there was enough shoulder space to make me feel safe. This is a great, easy trail option for everyone with fantastic views along the way.
- 0.5 miles
- 150 feet of elevation gain
- Rated Moderate
- Restrooms near Trailhead
The Castle Rock trail is located in the Grandview section of New River Gorge, which was originally a West Virginia state park. Grandview is located just under an hour from the name visitor center, Canyon Rim. There is a large parking area, a small visitor center and a lot of picnic space in the park. The Castle Rock trail is located right next to the main overlook area and is a half mile one way. All Trails makes the trail into a one mile loop, but I combined it with the Turkey Spur Rock Trail to make it a little longer (see next trail listed).
The Castle Rock trail is moderate due to some rocky sections that might be slippery if it has rained recently. Wet or not, I recommend wearing proper hiking shoes and watching your step. A short distance into the trail, you will see a huge rock wall on one side that will get taller as you continue. The jagged sandstone rock wall is an incredible sight to behold and has the appearance of a towering fortress. Towards the end of the Castle Rock trail, you will have a great view of the New River 1,400 feet below.
- 3 miles
- 288 feet of elevation gain
- Rated easy
- Restrooms near Trailhead
The Grandview Rim Trail can be combined with the Castle Rock trail or done on its own. The trail is a forested path that follows along a road on one side and the rim of the canyon on the other. There aren’t many viewpoints along the way, but it’s still a nice, peaceful trail full of plant life. The end point is Turkey Spur Rock, which is a large viewpoint area that allows you to see views in every direction. When you reach Turkey Spur Rock, there are stairs built into the rock that will bring you to a couple of separate points. The most impressive view is overlooking the river bend towards the Northeast, but you can also enjoy the view looking both north and south at the river on both sides. Note that you can also drive to Turkey Spur Rock instead of hiking and there are a few benches after ascending up the steps.
Here are some other trails in the area that I didn’t have time for.
- Glade Creek Trail: 12 miles, rated moderate.
- Sandstone Falls Boardwalk: 0.5 miles, rated easy.
- Rhododendron Run and Deer Trail Loop: 3.4 miles, rated moderate.
The Thurmond Ghost Town is a fascinating place to visit if you are interested in the coal mining history of West Virginia (or even if you’re not). Thurmond was founded in 1873 and was an important train depot for coal and lumber. In the early 1900’s, the town was a bustling location with a hotel, banks and 75,000 passengers passing through the town a year. In the 1930’s, the town declined due to the Great Depression and the National Park Service restored the train depot into a visitor center in the 90’s. To reach Thurmond, you’ll follow Thurmond Road to the New River and cross the one way bridge over the town. The visitor center is two stories with a gift shop, restrooms and a nice museum with exhibits about the history. The ranger working during my visit was also so kind and loved answering questions about the ghost town’s history.
After exploring the visitor center, you can walk across the train tracks and see the abandoned banks, stores and offices of the Thurmond commercial district. There is even a coal tower that used to drop coal into the trains that you can see up close. The train tracks here are very active so be sure to keep a lookout, we saw three go by during a short time period.
Overall, Thurmond was very interesting to visit and surpassed my expectations. I highly recommend making some time for it during your trip to New River Gorge.
On your way to or from Thurmond, make a quick stop at Dunlop Creek Falls. This waterfall is located right off of Thurmond Road about 2 miles from the ghost town.
As mentioned above in the bridge section, the Canyon Rim Visitor Center offers a view from the visitor center and a nearby view looking directly at the New River Bridge.
The Concho Rim Overlook is not on park service land and is instead operated by Ace Adventure Resort. However, it is free to visit and offers an incredible view of a bend in the New River and the Thurmond ghost town across the river. There is a wooden deck built into the hill, a gravel parking lot and a port-a-potty in the lot. It’s a gorgeous place to watch the sunset and enjoy expansive views of the New River Gorge.
The Sandstone Falls Overlook offers a great view of the largest waterfall on the New River. The waterfall is 1500 feet wide and has 10 to 25 foot drops throughout. The overlook has a restroom and some picnic tables, making it a great place for a quick stop. You also hike to the waterfall, but the trail is located 20 to 30 minutes away from the overlook. The Sandstone Falls trail is 0.2 miles on a boardwalk and rated easy.
The Grandview Overlook offers a similar view of Concho Rim and allows you to see a giant bend in the New River. It’s a short walk from the parking lot and a beautiful spot. It also is the beginning of the Castle Rock trail.
Turkey Spur Rock is located in the same area as the Grandview overlook. There are several steps that you’ll climb here to get on top of the impressive rockface. From the top, there are amazing views looking in multiple directions.
There are white water rafting options for all skill levels in the New River Gorge area. The most popular excursions are on the New River or the Gauley River. On the New River, there are Class V rapids on the Lower part and more leisurely rapids suitable for kids on the Upper River. As for the Gauley River, many people visit during September or October because this is when the Summersville Lake dam is released. Several outfitters in the area offer half day trips, full day trips and overnight rafting trips. Some companies to look at include Ace Adventure Resort, River Expeditions and Adventures on the Gorge. This is definitely an activity I plan to do next time I visit this area!
There are over 1,400 established climbs in New River Gorge, making it one of the most popular climbing areas in the country. If you are not an experienced rock climber but are interested in trying it out, Ace Adventure Resort and Blue Ridge Mountain Guides are two companies that offer guided climbs.
The Burrito Bar at Breeze Hill has a large patio space and serves offerings of burritos, tacos, quesadillas, local beer and more. They also have multiple vegetarian and gluten-free options. I really enjoyed the Insignificant burrito with avocado, refried beans and veggies, but they also had more unique options that included sweet potato fries, thai sauce and other combinations. They will also ask your intended spice level of your burrito, giving you full control. The Burrito Bar is a fantastic place to enjoy some comfort food after hiking the trails in the area.
Cathedral Cafe & Book Store is a beautiful restaurant housed in a former church. I went for breakfast and enjoyed egg & spinach on an asiago bagel. They have a huge menu and serve everything from breakfast burritos to salads and sandwiches. The atmosphere is casual but the stained glass windows and colorful tables are beautiful. This is definitely worth a stop for a quick meal while you’re in Fayetteville.
Pies and Pints is a super popular restaurant in Fayetteville for good reason. They have a wide selection of pizza options and local beers and I really enjoyed the mushroom garlic pizza. Arrive early because wait times are high at peak times. Also note that this is a chain restaurant with 14 locations across the eastern United States.
Wood Iron Eatery is a beautiful cafe that offers breakfast, lunch and coffee. I enjoyed the avocado toast but was also intrigued by other options like chilaquiles and a tofu scramble. They have a good amount of vegan options and both indoor and outdoor seating.
Freefolk Brewery serves craft beer, cocktails and a selection of bar food. They often have live music and even have limited edition beers that focus on bringing awareness to endangered species. There is tons of patio space, eclectic murals on the walls and an overall free-spirited atmosphere, making this a great place to wind down after an active day.
For a quick coffee, Range Finder serves coffee inside of an outdoor store, Waterstone Sports. This is a great place to go if you need to purchase or rent outdoor gear and is a quick stop for a coffee to-go.
Downtown Fayetteville is worth exploring by foot if you have time, as there are several cute shops and murals. I enjoyed the Hobbit Hole, a little vintage shop that is underneath the sidewalk, and Lost Appalachia Trading Co, a shop with beautiful apparel and home goods. There is also an escape room and multiple antique shops.
Here are some other places to visit near New River Gorge if you have more time.
- Babcock State Park: This park is most known for the Glade Creek Grist Mill, a replica of the original mill that once stood here.
- Hawk’s Nest State Park: This park is a popular place for white water rafting and has beautiful views of the New River Gorge down below.
- Shenandoah National Park: Shenandoah is located a little over two hours from New River Gorge and the parks are great to combine for one epic trip.
- Lost World Caverns: This underground cave system is located an hour and a half east of the New River.
Thanks for Reading!
Let's stay in touch!
Join the Lost with Lydia email list to get monthly travel guides and tips!