West Virginia has long been an exciting destination for outdoor sports lovers, campers, history buffs, and park enthusiasts alike. Now, the state just got its first national park, New River Gorge!
West Virginia’s New River Gorge
Encompassing over 70,000 acres, the New River Gorge National Park has been a protected area since 1978. It was finally designated a national park and preserve in 2020. The land flows with one of the oldest rivers on the continent, the New River. This river is unique because it flows from south to north, unlike many other rivers in the U.S.
Beyond just the river and the activities therein, the area is rich in wildlife, plants, and historical significance. The small river towns are full of stories, unique stores, and restaurants to round out your experience.
America’s 63rd National Park: New River Gorge National Park and Preserve
Following 53 miles of New River, the park is the 63rd national park. It goes from the Bluestone Dam on one end to Hawk’s Nest Lake on the other. The New River is one of the oldest rivers, and it has carved out the deepest gorge in the Appalachian Mountains.
The area is full of exceptional natural beauty, forests, geological wonders, and outstanding recreational opportunities. Therefore, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is an enticing place to visit. With the new designation, more and more enthusiasts will know about the beautiful and fun opportunities in West Virginia.
Where Is New River Gorge National Park Located?
Glen Jean, WV 25846
Located in Southern West Virginia, the New River Gorge National Park is near Glen Jean, West Virginia, east of Beckley. The park is vast and has visitor centers throughout the area.
The Canyon Rim Visitor Center is open year-round. Sandstone Visitors Center is closed intermittently from December to March. But Grandview and Thurmond Depot centers are available from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Having offline maps is critical, as many roads are winding, and there’s not always strong cell service.
Things to Do at New River Gorge National Park
If you love outdoor recreation and national parks, it’s impossible to be bored here! You can find many activities to meet your interests, but here are some of our top recommendations.
Hiking, Biking, and View-Finding
With abundant natural beauty, this area is ideal for hiking and biking. Many named viewpoints in the park, including Grandview, Diamond Point, and Long Point, allow visitors to view the myriad of ecosystems significant to the Appalachians’ history.
Plant and animal life are unlike anything else, thanks to the deep forests, high cliff environments, river bottoms, and wetlands. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot diverse and rare species, such as the endangered Virginia Big-Eared Bat.
The New River Gorge Bridge is a must-see on your trip as the third-highest bridge in the country. You’ll find this epic, 876-foot bridge near Fayetteville.
White Water Rafting
Of course, with the majestic river as the centerpiece, water is a massive attraction to the New River Gorge National Park. The park offers rapids from kid-friendly slow water to Class V rapids, making it a renowned whitewater rafting destination.
Guides can take you on a rafting trip to suit your taste for adventure. Trips take you through beautiful surroundings, geologic wonders, large boulders, and serene pools. Canoeing, kayaking, and fishing are also excellent water recreation opportunities in the park.
For a change of pace, check out the endless cultural history in the New River Gorge area. Due to the rich natural resources, early settlers well-developed the region.
You can find artifacts belonging to Native Americans, pioneers, Civil War battles, significant railroad developments, vast coal mining, and lucrative timber operations.
Visitors can also learn about mining, subsistence farming, railroad history, and race relations between the Appalachians from years past. Gravesites, decaying coke ovens, old railroads, and even remnants of buildings in decaying towns all tell stories of a vital area to West Virginia’s history.
With over 1400 climbing routes, the Gorge is one of the country’s most impressive rock climbing destinations. New River has been wearing away at the rock formations for millennia, creating exciting and challenging climbs with stunning views amid gorgeous scenery.
Uniquely, you can go hunting in designated areas of New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. Typically, national parks prohibit hunting, and it’s surprising that New River, which is a designated wildlife preserve, allows hunting during specific seasons.
To clarify, harvesting wildlife is part of the Appalachians’ woven history. In conjunction with the National Park Service, the Department of Natural Resources of West Virginia has made it a priority to preserve that tradition while managing wildlife in the park.
Camping and Nearby Amenities
For some creature comforts after a day in nature, the towns surrounding New River Gorge National Park continue to develop for visitors. Publicity and the new national park designation will surely increase tourist traffic, allowing the growth of existing restaurants, campgrounds, and shops. It will also likely entice new entrepreneurs to start businesses.
Primitive camping is available without charge at various locations throughout the park in designated areas. You can find full-service campgrounds around the park in Hinton, Fayetteville, and Beckley.
Best Time of Year to Visit New River Gorge
Depending on what you want to do during your visit to New River Gorge, you can have a great time in the park year-round. Water activities will be more enjoyable in the summer and early fall.
The water is warmer than you might think because it flows south to north. Climbing, hiking, biking, fishing, and historic exploration pursuits can be more fun in winter, spring, and fall when the heat isn’t a factor.
No matter what time of year you visit, West Virginia will become a popular park destination now that it homes New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, the newest addition to the National Park roster.
With gorgeous natural beauty, fantastic water sports, hunting, fishing, outdoor sports, nature, and historical significance, is there any wonder this treasure is now a national park? Add New River Gorge to your trip list!