The newest National Park, New River Gorge National Park in West Virginia, was fantastic! I definitely see this park becoming very populated, more than it already is. It’s been an adventure (white water rafting and rock climbing primarily) destination for a long time now, but with it’s upgraded designation from National River to NP, I anticipate that the nearby towns will soon become a bit more touristy and kitschy, like Gatlinburg at the Smoky Mountains.
Mike and I visited this park as our “babymoon” and in true midwestern fashion, we drove there since it was *only* an eight hour drive. While I knew we wouldn’t be going rafting, it’s prime attraction since it offers rapids from Class I to Class V, I thought this would be a great place for us to go hiking on it’s many trails and it even has mountain biking for Mike. It’s also VERY pet friendly so this was a great opportunity to let Luca show his younger brother Teddy the ropes of adventuring.
New River Gorge is a long, narrow park as it follows the New River and it’s beautiful canyons that it’s created through the Appalachian Mountains. We stayed in Oak Hill, which I personally enjoyed. It’s one of the bigger “cities” (I use that term loosely since it’s all small mountain towns) around the Park and towards the middle/north of the park.
On our first day there, Mike biked the Arrowhead trails while I hiked to Long Point. This is one of the most popular trails as it leads to *the* bridge view that most people take a photo of at this park. (The bridge is super important to the history of this area, and it’s also the 3rd highest bridge in the US). The trail itself is fairly easy; relatively flat and well maintained. It gets a little dicey for the last quarter mile, but it’s well worth it. Despite how easy it was, it was a little humbling to realize how much harder it was doing this hike while pregnant (and with two dogs!).
Mike and I met up after we were both done, and explored the area. We went to The Handle Bar & Restaurant which was a cool space designed for bikers in mind. We then had dinner at Pies & Pints which made me very happy. The weather ended up beautiful and I suggested we do one more activity outside – I meant a short hike or something but Mike somehow heard “patio beers” and we ended up at one of the few local breweries; Bridge Brew Works.
The next day, we headed to the southern section of the park. We drove to Brooks Falls Overlook and hiked Big Branch Trail. It was just over an hour drive to get to this area from the northern part of the park. This trail was recommended to us by Ranger Dave, and it was so great! He said it was his favorite because no one ever does it, so we had it completely to ourselves. It follows a wonderful stream that we had to cross a few times along the trail and it had the beginnings of beautiful spring wildflowers. The best part of this for us was watching Teddy learn to be an adventure dog. Teddy was very nervous of the water and it took about 15 minutes of coaxing to get him to cross the stream the first time. He was still hesitant for the rest of the crosses, but he got faster with each pass.
After this trail, we started the drive back up, and visited Sandstone Falls where we did the short Island Loop and Boardwalk trails. We just made it to Grandview Overlook when it started to snow, so we called it a day and ended our night at a dive bar with delicious wings.
The next day the weather still wasn’t super cooperative, so we continued to take it relatively easy. We went back to the north section and did the narrow, one way 8 mile scenic Fayette Station Drive down into the gorge. We then explored the Canyon Rim visitor center, watched the movie there, and I got my 58th Junior Ranger badge! There are lots more things that we wanted to do, but it kept going from blue skies to snow or rain every 10 minutes and I definitely played the pregnant card! We also made it to Biscuit World, which is a chain in this area that I highllly recommend!
- There are a lot of cool things to do at this park. I’d first decide what activity is your focus (rafting, climbing, hiking, camping, history etc) and then decide on your homebase based on that. Fayetteville is the closest area for the North portion of the park (more popular from my perspective), and Beckley is for the southern section (less populated). Either way, be prepared the be in semi-rural West Virginia. The park is THE attraction here.
- The Bridge Walk is a common thing to do here, which is where you get harnessed and hooked up and walk just below the bridge. It looked like beautiful photos from what I saw, but it’s about $75 per person, and Mike and I have done a lot of thrill seeking activities. I think it would be great for people with kids or someone looking to work on their fear of heights!
- Later spring, or summer seems to be the best time to visit, weather wise!
- Bring your doggo! It’s by far one of the most pet friendly parks we’ve been to, with pets being allowed on ALL trails! (They should be leashed of course – but to be honest, we let them off leash sometimes on the Big Branch trail. It didn’t feel safe to cross the slippery rocks in the stream with them leashed. We wouldn’t have done this if there was anyone else on the trail)