Hiking the New River Gorge

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West Virginia’s New River Gorge was once known for two things: The spectacular view from Hawk’s Nest State Park and twisting mountain roads. Woe unto you if you got behind a coal truck crawling uphill. Terror unto you if one came barreling downhill, inches from your back bumper.

The views and the trucks are still around, but construction of four-lane US 19 and I-64, and the establishment of the New River Gorge National River changed the area’s image. It’s now known for rock climbing, BASE jumping, and great whitewater rafting down the New and Gauley Rivers.

(This reminds me of a bad joke from my childhood: Do you know how the New and Gauley Rivers got their names? Well, many years ago some Native Americans were paddling up the Kanawha River when they came to a confluence and one of them shouted out, “Golly, a new river!”)

What are often overlooked are the 50+ miles of trails coursing the national river’s 70,000 acres, and this is where I, your beneficent hiking guide, come in. I explored most of the routes and am going to direct you to some of the most scenic.

Begin your explorations at the Canyon Rim Visitor Center on US 19, two miles north of Fayetteville to obtain a brochure showing the locations of the various trails. Close by, the 2.5-mile Endless Wall Trail and two accessible pathways overlook the 1,000-foot deep gorge.

On the canyon’s south side, the Kaymoor Miner’s Trail provides insight into bygone days, following the route of the Kaymoor Haulage, a 250-foot cable car that carried 15 people at a time to the mine opening near the gorge floor. The descent is now on hundreds of steps built atop the car’s tracks. At the end of the staircase is a “Lost City” setting. Cement blocks, tipple, valves, old equipment, and buildings have trees and vines growing over, and sometimes through, them.

The national river’s trails are not just about history. The Kaymoor Miner’s Trail passes through hemlock and rhododendron thickets and by an attractive waterfall. In the Grandview area, pathways skirt the canyon rim with vistas from the national river’s highest point, where it is possible to upon seven miles of the gorge, with the river flowing about 1,100 feet below. This is also one of the best places in West Virginia to revel in the glories of autumn’s leaf colors.

There are many other trails that I’ll address sometime in the future.

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