Updated 7/7/23 by Lori
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America’s newest National Park, the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, established in 2020, covers over 72,000 scenic acres along the New River in West Virginia.
The park is known for its incredible beauty and recreational opportunities, including hiking, camping, mountain biking, kayaking, SUP, fishing, rock climbing, white-water rafting, hunting, and even base jumping (we’ll cover that later).
The New River Gorge is a unique geological formation that cuts through the Appalachian Mountains and offers dramatic views. The river is one of the oldest in North America and is one of the world’s premier destinations for white-water rafting.
The park also boasts a rich cultural history, with evidence of human habitation dating back over 10,000 years. Today, visitors can explore the remains of historic communities, including early coal mining towns and homesteads, and learn about the region’s industrial heritage.
The park is home to a diverse array of plant and animal life, including rare and endangered species, and features rolling hills, forests, and meadows dotted with wildflowers. I know you’re excited to see America’s newest National Park, so use this guide to help you decide what to do and where to stay.
Map courtesy of The National Park Service
Table of contents
- How many days do you need to see the New River Gorge National Park?
- What is New River Gorge Famous For?
- Things to do and What should you not miss in New River Gorge National Park?
- How long does it take to drive through New River Gorge National Park?
- How long does it take to walk under the New River Gorge Bridge?
- Charming Fayetteville
- Wild and Wonderful: New River Gorge National Park
How many days do you need to see the New River Gorge National Park?
How many days you need to see the New River Gorge National Park largely depends on your interests and what activities you plan to do there. However, a general guideline could be 1 to 2 days to get a good overview of the park and its main attractions.
In one day, you could drive along the scenic overlooks, take a hike to a waterfall or visit a historical site like the Thurmond Train Depot. If you have more time, you could spend a second day exploring the park’s recreational activities, such as rock climbing, kayaking, or white-water rafting.
However, if you’re interested in camping, hiking, or backpacking, you should plan a longer trip to fully appreciate the Gorge. The park has nine campgrounds and backcountry camping is allowed.
Photo Credit: Aparkswv
What is New River Gorge Famous For?
The New River Gorge in West Virginia is famous for being America’s newest National Park. In addition, it’s renowned for:
- Scenic Beauty: The New River Gorge is known for its breathtaking views and scenic beauty, which includes deep gorges, steep cliffs, and rolling hills. The New River Gorge Bridge, which is the second-highest steel arch bridge in the United States, is also a popular attraction.
- Outdoor Recreation: The New River Gorge is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, with opportunities for rock climbing, white-water rafting, kayaking, hiking, and camping. The park also has over 80 miles of trails for hiking and backpacking.
- Historical Significance: The New River Gorge is also significant for its history, including the coal-mining industry that once flourished in the region. The town of Thurmond which is now a ghost town is a prime example of the area’s industrial heritage. The New River Gorge is also home to several historic sites, including the Thurmond Train Depot and the Kaymoor Coal Mine.
- Biodiversity: The New River Gorge is home to a diverse range of plant and animal species, including many that are rare or endangered. The park is a haven for wildlife, with opportunities to see black bears, white-tailed deer, and many species of birds.
- Base Jumping from Bridge: Base jumping is allowed at the New River Gorge. Base jumping at the New River Gorge requires a certain level of expertise and comes with a fee. Those who wish to jump from the bridge must wait until Bridge Day. Bridge Day is a yearly celebration of the 1977 completion of the New River Gorge Bridge. This event takes place annually on the third Saturday of October. On July 1st, registration for $75 jump passes opens. Base jumpers must have completed a minimum of 100 jumps.
- Fayetteville Station Road: Now a wildly popular scenic drive, Fayette Station Road was the area’s primary thoroughfare prior to the 1977 New River Bridge completion. This road will put you and your vehicle through its paces as you wind your way to the bottom of the gorge, one hairpin turn after another. There is plenty to see, so pace yourself and enjoy the sites of nature and the iron giant along the way.
- Mountain Biking: West Virginia is famous for mountain biking. So bring (or rent) a bike and explore one of the area’s many mountain biking trails. We like the easy and scenic Long Point Trail, the gorge-adjacent Kaymoor Trail, or Corona Trail.
Ziplinig- Experience the exhilaration of flying through the forest high above the trees. This is almost as exciting as whitewater rafting! At Adventures on the Gorge, you’ll find one of America’s longest and fastest ziplines. Suitable for ages 4+.
For all your bike needs (rentals, tours, gear, and services), see New River Bikes or Arrowhead Bike Farm in Fayetteville. Arrowhead has a full-service bike shop, a restaurant, a campground, and a small farm.
Things to do and What should you not miss in New River Gorge National Park?
When visiting New River Gorge National Park, there are several must-see attractions and activities that you should not miss:
- The New River Gorge Bridge: This iconic steel arch bridge is the second-highest in the United States and offers stunning views of the New River Gorge.
- Hiking: With over 80 miles of trails, there are plenty of opportunities for hiking and exploring the park’s scenic beauty. Some popular trails include the Endless Wall Trail and the Kaymoor Miners Trail. Bridge Trail will give you the best chance for an incredible view of the iconic New River Gorge Bridge. It’s an invigorating 1.72-mile journey leading you through a lush forest and tranquil waterfalls. Worth the hike!
- Rock Climbing: The New River Gorge is considered one of the best rock climbing destinations in the world, with over 1,400 established climbing routes.
- White-water Rafting: The New River is known for its challenging rapids, making it a popular destination for white-water rafting and kayaking.
- Historic Sites: The New River Gorge is rich in history, including the coal-mining industry that once flourished in the region. Visitors can explore historical sites such as the Thurmond Train Depot and the Kaymoor Mine.
- Scenic Overlooks: Several scenic overlooks throughout the park offer panoramic views of the New River Gorge, including the Long Point Overlook and the Canyon Rim Visitor Center.
- Wildlife Watching: The park is home to a diverse range of plant and animal species, including many that are rare or endangered. Visitors can spot black bears, white-tailed deer, and many species of birds.
How long does it take to drive through New River Gorge National Park?
The time it takes to drive through New River Gorge National Park depends on several factors, including the speed you move and how many stops you make along the way. The park covers over 70,000 acres and is 58 miles long, so it could take several hours to drive through the entire park, even without stops.
If you’re just driving through the park on the main road, it could take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to get from one end of the park to the other. However, if you plan to make stops at scenic overlooks, hike a trail, or visit a historic site, it could take several hours or even an entire day to drive through the park.
It’s worth noting that the New River Gorge Bridge, which spans the New River, is one of the park’s main attractions and is a popular spot for taking photos. This alone could take 30 minutes or more, depending on how long you want to spend taking in the views.
How long does it take to walk under the New River Gorge Bridge?
The New River Gorge Bridge is a steel arch bridge that spans the New River in West Virginia and is a popular tourist attraction. The length of the walk under the bridge varies depending on your route, but it typically takes 15-20 minutes to walk from one end of the bridge to the other, assuming you walk at a moderate pace.
If you’re interested in visiting the New River Gorge Bridge, there are several options for walking under it. One option is to take the Fayette Station Road trail, which runs along the river and provides a view of the bridge from below. This trail is approximately 3/4 of a mile long and takes about 15-20 minutes to walk one way.
Another option is to park at the Canyon Rim Visitor Center and walk the trails there, which offer views of the bridge from above. These trails vary, but walking a moderate-length path typically takes 20-30 minutes.
For a different perspective, you can float beneath the steel giant while enjoying the excitement of one of the many New River white water rafting excursions. Many come with lunch included! Check out our Ultimate Guide for excursions and outfitters.
Starting near the Canyon Rim Visitor Center is an excellent start if you’re a first-time visitor. You’ll be near many of New Gorge’s most popular attractions and trails, including the famous New River Bridge.
Not only that, but this area is a quick drive to the charming town of Fayetteville. It’s a small town, but you’ll find everything you need to outfit yourself for hiking, rafting, climbing, biking, or fishing.
There are also plenty of places to eat, drink or stay. We love dive bars, and Maggies Pub is a cool little hangout with a spacious outdoor area. Great drinks and a good beer selection!
If you love a good pizza and beer, we found Pies & Pints to have a nice craft beer list and delicious monthly pie specials. The Grape and Gorgonzola is a crowd favorite.
Another crowd favorite is the Freefolk Brewery Taproom. This artsy brewery sits right along the road and is easy to find. Peaceful atmosphere with friendly staff. We love that it’s pet friendly with plenty of outdoor seating. There’s also a ping pong table and a couple of other games. There’s often a food truck and live music.
Where to Stay
If you don’t want to camp in the park, there are several choices in Fayetteville:
- The Quality Inn New River Gorge– This is a clean and decent motel with a pool. Close to everything right off 19.
- Comfort Inn New River–Inexpensive 2-star hotel near the grocery store. We love Comfort Inn because we know what to expect.
- Holiday Lodge Hotel and Conference Center–This is nice for its indoor pool and fitness center. It has a 1970s vibe to it. A bit outdated.
- The Outpost New River Gorge Campground– A top-rated, clean campground with cozy cabins, live music, and lovely grounds.
- The Barn Loft–A romantic getaway in a beautiful and unique barn loft.
- Rifrafters Campground–Nice grounds and clean cabins two miles from Fayetteville.
- River Expeditions– Rafting Resort with cabins, outdoor pool & spa. LGBTQ+ friendly. Kids 6-11 raft free with paying adults. Pet-friendly.
- New River Cabins–Clean cabins and tiny houses minutes from the park. All cabins have heat and A/C, full bathrooms, and kitchenettes. Have pet-friendly cabins.
If you’re flying into WVA, you may need a place to store your luggage before you can check into your hotel, or after you check out of your hotel well before your plane is scheduled to depart. One excellent option I love is a luggage storage service. And there’s no better service than Radical Storage which offers you freedom and peace of mind for as little as $6 a day.
Just find the closest location, book online, store your luggage, and go!
Wild and Wonderful: New River Gorge National Park
I’ve traveled from the coast to the New River Gorge National Park multiple times over the last few years (most recently Summer of 2022). And this massive park always delivers! Such an expansive place to explore. I’ve loved rafting the New River, hiking many trails, and even braving some flights through the canopy while ziplining.
I look forward to returning soon to experience even more of this wild and wonderful national treasure. When you visit, you will see why it has been added as the newest US National Park. So much to do!
Be sure to check out our blog on The 8 Best Places for White Water Rafting in West Virginia which has even more info on rafting the New River and other West Virginia rivers.