MagazineMay 2012Gorge-ous: Exploring the New River Gorge

Gorge-ous: Exploring the New River Gorge

The New River Gorge in southern West Virginia is, in a word, deep. The second oldest waterway in the world cuts a gash that dives into the very heart of the Appalachian Mountains, exposing veins rich with minerals and the pockmarks of the settlers who came to extract them. The New River Gorge comprises 53 miles of the New River running south to north and includes over 70,000 acres of outdoor nirvana.

The main attraction is the New River itself, a force so powerful it literally moved the Appalachian Mountains as they grew up around it. Today, the river is no less of a force, but that does not stop thousands from flocking to its Class III-V rapids every summer. The same river that exposed the vast seams of coal also exposed the Nuttall sandstone, renowned by climbers as some of the finest rock in the U.S.


The gorge holds over 80 miles of trails ranging from steep mountain scrambles to leisurely boardwalk strolls. One of the longest and most diverse trails in the Gorge is the Kaymoor Trail, a forested trail with spurs to the abandoned Kaymoor Mine site as well as the popular Craig Branch Trail. This system can also be accessed from downtown Fayetteville. Cross over to the other side of the New to access the Endless Wall Trail, which parallels the top of one of the most popular climbing spots in the Gorge. Beautiful views compete with the scenes of climbers scaling the 150 foot walls of Endless. Time it right to finish strong at one the town’s quirky dining options like Pies & Pints or Secret Sandwich Society.

Follow the river south through historic Hinton on the way to Big Branch Trail, an intense wooded loop that climbs several hundred feet providing scenic views of the river gorge. Randall Sanger, co-author of West Virginia Waterfalls: The New River Gorge likes this hike for its several creek crossings, abundant wildflowers and tumbling waterfalls. The stunning vistas and an abandoned farmstead on the high ridge make this burner worth it.


In 2011, a group effort between the National Park Service, International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), and the Boy Scouts produced the new Arrowhead Trail system. With IMBA providing the expertise and over 1,000 Scouts providing the labor, the effort resulted in over 14 miles of buttery singletrack in just over a month. The stacked looped system is geared toward beginner to intermediate riders, but with flowy terrain and no huge climbs, even the most advanced rider will have a ball. Stop into Marathon Bikes in Fayetteville where Arrowhead ambassador Adam Stephens will provide you with detailed maps and additional beta.

The Arrowhead Trail system is a crown jewel for the National Park Service, and an effort to duplicate the process on public land in the future is underway.


The New River is one of the Southeast’s great warm water fisheries, holding largemouth and smallmouth bass that can be taken on the fly with poppers, gurglers and Clouser minnows. The New also provides prime habitat for the “Fish of 1,000 Casts,” the camera-shy musky; look for them in the deepest pools. There are several outfitters in the area that provide day and float trips on numerous parts of the river.

Several tributaries of the New run cold and clear and are stocked each spring with brook, rainbow, brown and the somewhat surreal looking golden rainbow trout. Meadow, Dunloup and Mill creeks all hold fish, but Glade Creek in the middle portion of the park is the best option. The easy-walking Glade Creek Trail runs upstream three miles, paralleling the beautiful, free-flowing waters of the Glade. Huge boulders, deep pools and waterfalls make for a heavenly setting for wetting a line. Bring a 3 or 4 weight and pitch your tent at the Glade Creek campground to hit the water early in the day.


11th Annual New River Gorge-ous Trail Run

October 27

This trail race put on by ACE Adventure Resort features a 13.2- or 7.5-mile run or a 4.5-mile walk through the gorge and historic Thurmond.

Gauley Fest 

September 14-16

Held on the third weekend in September since 1983, this is the largest paddling festival in the world, on one of the South’s gnarliest rivers.

Bridge Day 

October 20

Thrill seekers flock from all over the U.S. to celebrate the only day when they can legally bungee, BASE, or otherwise hurl themselves from the New River Gorge Bridge.


Bridge Day

BASE jumpers began poaching the New River Gorge Bridge in 1979, just two years after its completion. In 1980, local council members decided to host an event celebrating the bridge and bringing attention to the area’s outdoor recreation industry: Bridge Day was born and drew over 40,000 people to the area that first year. Today, the event attracts BASE jumpers from all over the world and hundreds of thousands of spectators.

Over the years, Bridge Day has evolved into the largest gathering of BASE jumpers in the world and includes vending tents, accuracy contests, and is carried on live TV. Spectators are permitted to walk the length of the bridge and watch as jumpers leap from the edge, creating a carnival-like atmosphere, only at the top of the Ferris wheel, not on the ground. Festivalgoers can even sign up for a tandem BASE jump with a seasoned professional.

In 2007, 377 jumpers made a record 876 BASE jumps from the bridge.

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Want to read a great article about local paddling events from our May issue? Then click here!

Places to Go, Things to See: