63rd National Park: New River Gorge

Congratulations West Virginia!

Affectionately known as the “New”, the spectacular New River Gorge in West Virginia has been protected since 1978 as the New River Gorge National River. Now, as a National Park and Preserve, the redesignated national park unit will include 7,021 acres of park through the heart of the gorge and 65,165 acres of preserve (allowing for backcountry hunting).

Signed into law December 2020, this elevated status will not only increase protection for this rugged canyon, it will also increase worldwide attention on this true gem. Between the north end of the park to the south end, the New river drops 750 feet in elevation over 53 miles, creating awe-inspiring cliffs and some of the best white water rafting in the country.

In an area once ravaged by coal mining, today the gorge is a magnet for tourism. Along with world-class paddling, it is a destination for rock climbing, mountain biking and hiking. We also found some of the most scenic drives we have ever experienced, including glimpses into the rich history of the area.

Things to Do

Visitor Centers

There are two visitor centers. Sandstone Visitor Center is near the south entrance to the park. Canyon Rim Visitor Center is at the north end of the park, near Fayetteville, West Virginia. It is located at the New River Gorge Bridge – the 3rd highest bridge in the country – 876 feet above New River. That’s worth the visit!

Both include information and exhibits about gorge and its rich human history. You can also learn more about the park itself, things to do and pick up a map of scenic drives. 

Scenic Drives

Anyone can experience the beauty of New River Gorge from their vehicle. A few of the drives we really enjoyed were:

  • Fayette Station Road Tour – This 7 1/2 mile one way loop begins at the Canyon Rim Visitor Center and winds down into the gorge below the bridge. This steep and windy road is over 100 years old. As you descend there are lots of places to stop and read about the history. You may also see rafters as they go down river and there are some nice picnic sites.
Looking up at the Gorge Bridge
  • Thurman Historic District – Another highlight drive is route 25 to the Thurman Historic District. This was once the hub of activity in the gorge, with coal brought in from mines along the river. This thriving community had banks, stores and hotels. The national park service is stabilizing and preserving 20 of these. You can take a walking tour and go back in time, but be careful on the tracks, the railroad line is still active. 
  • Babcock State Park – Another scenic drive takes you to Babcock State Park. One of the oldest parks in West Virginia, this state park is located within the boundaries of the national park unit and includes the most photographed grist mill in country.

Outdoor Activities

  • Hiking – If you like to hike, there are over 100 miles of hiking trails to choose from, at all different levels, some trails more developed than others. There is also designated primitive camping.
  • Bicycling – There are also lots of nice places to get out your bicycle, or if you like to mountain bike, you can try out the 12.8 miles of mountain biking trails built by the Boy Scouts.
  • Paddling – New River Gorge is known for white water rafting opportunities. A highlight is the “Lower New” – a 13 mile stretch of the river with Class IV to V rapids. We did not sample any of the white water, but it is fun to watch. There are places along the river where you can see the rafts as they navigate the rapids. If you are interested in getting on the water, the national park website is a good resource.
  • Climbing – Another huge draw is rock climbing. The 1000 foot cliffs with 1,600 designated climbing routes, make this a rock climber’s paradise. Once again, not something we did, but if you love rock climbing, this would surely be the place.
View of New River from Thurman Historical District

Nearby Attractions

Two other national park units are close by and also well worth a visit: Gauley River National Recreation Area and Bluestone National Scenic River. There is lovely camping available at Bluestone State Park or Pipestem Resort State Park.

Fog over the Bluestone River

Need Help Planning Your Visits?

If you would like to explore this or other National Park Units, but need a bit help in the planning, please give us a call at (480) 609-3978. We are happy to offer customized trip planning.