The New River Gorge has long been a hub for outdoor adventure in the mountain state. Now protected as a national park and conservation area, the 72,000-acre site sits in a 1,000-foot-deep gorge that is 53 miles long and is home to world-class white water rafting, some of the best rock climbing on the east coast -built single track for mountain bikers. “Other national parks don’t have this kind of adventure variety,” says Lizzie Watts, the park’s superintendent. Are you ready to try this gem out for yourself? Here’s our guide to getting the most out of your time in and around New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.
If the New River offers a one-of-a-kind adventure, it is the 53-mile whitewater trail that flows through the gorge and has drawn paddlers and rafters alike for nearly 50 years. Families typically stick to Upper New, which features 13 miles of Class I – III rapids. It’s a full-day wilderness experience with chevrons often spying on bald eagles. For bigger whitewater, head to Lower New for a full day of Class III – IV + rapids with standout features like Double Z, a long line of drops that get boaters zigzagging over on their 13-mile course have to drive the river. Or do the whole month and combine the two sections for a two-day excursion that includes camping on a riverside beach.
With more than 1,500 established routes on the high sandstone cliffs of the gorge, it is clear why climbers value the “new”, as the park is often called, so highly. The climbing style ranges from bouldering to 120-foot multi-pitch sports and trading routes. Although there are a few places with 5.7 top rope routes, if you are new to the sport it is best to book a guide who will take you to lighter gems like the cave routes that have a sloping wall in a cave climb the edge of the Junkyard Wall.
Advanced and intermediate climbers will get the most out of the new, where most options are between 5.10 and 5.12. The Endless Wall offers the largest variety of climbs. Nearly five kilometers of cliffs offer 100-foot-high sports and traditional routes galore. Arrive early to avoid queuing for classics like the 5.8 Fantasy, a two-pitch face and crack climbing, and Party in My Mind, a steep 5.10 with incredible river views.
There are more than 100 miles of hiking trails in the park and the surrounding community is working hard to expand the trail systems within and around the canyon. Taste the glory of the canyon on the family-friendly 1.6-mile Long Point Trail, which ends on a cliff and offers dramatic views of the New River Gorge Bridge that spans the lush canyon. If you’re looking for a day hike that shows off the best of the park, try the 2.4 mile Endless Wall Trail that follows the edge of a band of cliffs and offers a series of views into the gorge where the New River is almost flowing 1,000 feet below. You’ll also see climbers along the way and remnants of the gorge’s mining past. Delve deeper into the gorge’s unique ecosystem on the 5-mile (5 mile) Glade Creek Trail, which follows an abandoned narrow-gauge railway alongside Glade Creek. Bring your swimsuit and fly rod – there are swimming holes at the bottom of the falls, and sections of the creek are dedicated to catch and release trout fishing.
The New River Gorge is not only one of the few national parks where mountain biking is possible on certain trails, but also has a trail system specially developed for fat tires. The Arrowhead Trails are a 12.8-mile stacked loop system of flowing, narrow, single-track trails with options for beginners and advanced riders. You’ll ride under the hardwood roof for most of this drive, but the Dalton Trail offers the occasional footage of the canyon through the trees.
Where to sleep
The ACE Adventure Resort has a 1,500 hectare campus with its own network of trails, a zip line and an aerial obstacle course, as well as a lake with a water park. Choose from a range of accommodations, from charming campsites to deluxe cabins to A-frame chalets.
The Arrowhead Bike Farm has campsites where you can drive directly onto the network of trails, as well as a Germany-inspired beer garden and restaurant.
Lafayette Flats is minutes away from all the fun and adventure at New River Gorge. If you’re looking for a base camp for white water rafting, kayaking, hiking, and ziplining, these boutique accommodations are the perfect choice.
Located in Glade Springs in the Appalachian Mountains, the resort features stunning grounds spanning over 4,000 acres. The hotel and resort are a short drive from the New River Gorge.
Where shall we eat
Fayetteville is the cultural center and the main walking town that serves the national park with numerous restaurants to choose from. Get your coffee and breakfast burrito with local chorizo from the Cathedral Café, which operates in a renovated downtown church. The station reinvented itself during the pandemic and serves as a market and bistro with a rotating selection of take-away lunches that use ingredients from nearby manufacturers. And no trip to the New River Gorge is complete without a stop at Pies and Pints, an institution with the region’s best beer list and creative pizzas like grape and gorgonzola. If you find yourself in Beckley’s New River Gorge adventure, make sure to enjoy a fried green tomato sandwich at Tamarack or a fine dining evening at The Char.
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