Exploring the abundance of outdoor recreation, cultural, and historical sites that span the more than 70,000-acre New River Gorge National River in one weekend — let alone one day — is impossible. The park offers ample outdoor adventures — hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, and fishing — for exploring this West Virginia treasure. If planning a first-time visit, below are five sites any newbie should see.New River Gorge Bridge
The bridge stretches almost six-tenths of a mile and stands 876 feet above the New River. Completed in October 1977, the New River Gorge Bridge was built as a means to fuel more economic development and create better access to rural areas. Check out the Long Point, Bridge, and Canyon Rim Boardwalk hiking trails for different vantages of the mammoth structure. The Fayette County Chamber of Commerce also hosts the annual Bridge Day festival — this year’s event is Oct. 15 — when the bridge is closed to vehicular traffic and visitors can legally walk across the river on the roadway. Thousands of spectators attend each year, as do hundreds of BASE jumpers who leap from the bridge into the Gorge below.
True to its name, the 2.4-mile Endless Wall Trail winds through hemlock- and rhodendenron-choked forest and along a cliffline offering panoramic views of the New River and New River Gorge Bridge. The trail also offers access to several of the more than 1,400 established climbing routes available in the park. Fayetteville, W.Va.
Explore downtown Fayetteville. The small town, located about two miles from the New River Gorge Bridge, is home to several outfitters, a yoga studio, craft brewery, and restaurants including the Secret Sandwich Society and Cathedral Café, as well as plenty of other cultural and historical attractions.Babcock State Park
Searching for a base camp from which to explore the New River Gorge? Check out Babcock State Park. The 4,127-acre park is located about a half-hour from Fayetteville and within the national river boundaries. It includes a campground and cabins, more than 20 miles of hiking trails, fishing, a 19-acre lake, and the Glade Creek Grist Mill that is operational and produces freshly ground cornmeal that you can purchase.Whitewater Rafting and Sandstone Falls
Described as one of the best whitewater rivers in the eastern U.S., the New River Gorge National River includes 53 miles of the 320-mile New River between Bluestone Dam and Hawks Nest Lake. The upper section of the river, from Hinton to Thurmond, provides runs that include Class I, II and III rapids. The section below Thurmond, “the Lower Gorge,” includes more challenging, Class IV and V rapids and is only recommended for more advanced paddlers. You can run the river on your own or go through a local outfitter.Below Hinton, W.Va.,the southern gateway to the New River Gorge National River, is the largest waterfall on the New River. Sandstone Falls stretches 1,500 feet across the river and drops 10 to 25 feet. Walk along the ¼-mile Sandstone Falls Boardwalk for a close-up view of the falls or stop by the Sandstone Falls overlook off West Virginia Route 20 for a view from 600 feet above the river. Also visit Hinton. The former railroad center boasts an historic district, railroad museum, antique shops, and restaurants.
Katie Dunn, a journalist from Wise, Va., is an avid hiker, runner, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She is also co-director of the High Knob Hellbender 10K road race in Norton, Va. and co-founder of the High Knob Outdoor Club.