New River Gorge National River

West Virginia

Click here for a topographical map of this area.     Photo: Small map by Lars Rehnberg

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Assateague Island National Seashore: Maryland

WHY HERE?Virtually roadless, Assateague is one of the East Coast's few undeveloped barrier islands, and with just modest paddle power, its 37-mile shoreline can be transformed into your own private playground. To achieve Cast Away-caliber solitude, venture to the Jim's Gut, Pinetree, Tingle's Island, or Pope Bay campsites via canoe (all four are first-come, first-served). For quiet diversions, hike the island's 46,697 acres of loblolly pine forests and soft dunes to catch a glimpse of its famous wild horses; bike the 19-mile ORV road (avoid the traffic by hitting it in spring or fall) that skirts the beach; or canoe the shallow Chincoteague Bay while combing for hard-shell clams and blue crabs.

RESOURCES:Assateague Island National Seashore, 410-641-1441

INDULGE IN: Climbing, rafting, kayaking, mountain biking, hiking, fishing

WHY HERE? Bloated rapids, technical backwoods singletrack, and the region's widest array of rock-climbing routes make the New River Gorge a Graceland for outdoor pilgrims. Base yourself at Stone Cliff Campground, where the nine primitive campsites are bracketed by the tumbling New River and some 53 miles of ancient sandstone walls that contain 1,600 established rock climbs (ranging from the easy 5.5 Afternoon Delight to the stiff 5.12d Lactic Acid Bath). If riding is equally your thing, there's the rocky, 6.7-mile Cunard to Kaymoor Trail, which zigzags around dozens of enticing crags, allowing you to flick your kickstand and climb along the way. And don't forget the free-flowing New River itself: a rush of snarly waters dropping 750 feet within the 53 miles protected by the park. While the lower gorge's crosscurrents and hydraulics harbor technical Class V whitewater, the upper gorge is a mild stretch of year-round Class I-III water with giant pools perfect for bass fishing or lazy swims to shake off the adrenaline.

BONUS: For a West Virginia whitewater hat trick, the wild Class I-V Gauley and I-V Bluestone Rivers are both mellow, 40-mile drives from camp.

ACCESS: 300 miles southwest of Washington, D.C. The RV-free Stone Cliff Campground is off Route 25, two miles south of Thurmond. Set up camp early (they don't take reservations) and bring your purifier (there's no treated water near camp).

RESOURCES: New River Gorge National River, 304-465-0508; www.nps.gov/neri. New River Gorge: Selected Rock Climbs, by Steve Cater (King Coal Propaganda, $12); New River Gorge Trail Guide, by Steve Cater (King Coal Propaganda, $12).

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