How to Explore America’s Newest National Park
West Virginia’s New River Gorge has something for every kind of adventurer
The New River Gorge has long been a hub for outdoor adventure in the Mountain State. Its 72,000 acres, now protected as a national park and preserve, center on a 1,000-foot-deep gorge that runs for 53 miles and is home to world-class whitewater rafting, some of the best rock climbing on the eastern seaboard, and purpose-built singletrack designed for mountain biking. “You don’t find this kind of adventure diversity in other national parks,” says Lizzie Watts, the park’s superintendent. Ready to check out this gem for yourself? Here’s our guide to making the most of your time in and around New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.
If the New River has a signature adventure, it’s the 53-mile stretch of whitewater that runs through the gorge, which has been drawing paddlers and rafters alike for almost 50 years. Families typically stick to the Upper New, which offers 13 miles of Class I–III rapids. It’s a full-day wilderness experience that often has rafters spying bald eagles. For bigger whitewater, put in to Lower New and get a full day of Class III–IV+ rapids, with standouts like Double Z, a long series of drops that require boaters to zigzag across the river over its 13-mile course. Or go for the full monty and combine the two sections for a two-day trip that has you camping on a beach on the edge of the river.
With more than 1,500 established routes on the gorge’s tall sandstone cliffs, it’s clear why climbers hold “the New,” as the park is often referred to, in such high regard. The style of climbing ranges from bouldering to 120-foot multi-pitch sport and trad routes. While there are a few locations with 5.7 top-rope routes, your best bet if you’re new to the sport is to book a guide who will lead you to easier gems like the Cave Routes, which climb a sloping wall inside a cave on the edge of Junkyard Wall.
Intermediate and advanced climbers will get the most out of the New, where the majority of options fall between 5.10 and 5.12. The Endless Wall has the largest selection of climbs, with almost three miles of cliff line providing 100-foot-tall sport and traditional routes galore. Show up early to avoid standing in line for classics like the 5.8 Fantasy, a two-pitch face and crack climb, and Party in My Mind, a steep 5.10 with an incredible view of the river below.
There are more than 100 miles of trails inside the park, and the surrounding community is working hard to expand the trail systems within and around the gorge. Get a taste for the glory of the gorge on the family-friendly 1.6-mile Long Point Trail, which ends on a cliff with a dramatic view of the New River Gorge Bridge spanning the lush canyon. If you’re looking for a day hike that shows off the best of the park, walk the 2.4-mile Endless Wall Trail, which follows the edge of a cliff band and offers a series of views into the gorge where the New River runs almost 1,000 feet below. You’ll also see rock climbers and remnants of the gorge’s mining past along the way. Dig deeper into the gorge’s unique ecosystem on the 5.6-mile Glade Creek Trail, which follows an abandoned narrow-gauge railroad next to Glade Creek. Bring your bathing suit and your fly rod—you’ll find swimming holes at the bottom of waterfalls, and sections of the creek are designated for catch-and-release trout fishing.
Not only is the New River Gorge one of the few national parks that allow mountain biking on certain trails, but it also boasts a purpose-built trail system designed specifically for fat tires. The Arrowhead Trails are a 12.8-mile stacked loop system of flowy, narrow singletrack with options for beginner and intermediate bikers. You’ll cruise beneath the hardwood canopy for the majority of this ride, but Dalton Trail does offer the occasional shot of the gorge through the trees.
Where to Stay
ACE Adventure Resort has a 1,500-acre campus with its own system of trails, a zipline and aerial obstacle course, and a lake with a water park. Choose from a range of lodgings, from charming campsites to deluxe cabins and A-Frame chalets .
Arrowhead Bike Farm has campsites where you can ride directly onto the trail system, as well as a German-inspired beer garden and restaurant.
Lafayette Flats is just minutes away from all the fun and adventure in the New River Gorge. If you want a basecamp for whitewater rafting, kayaking, hiking, and ziplining, these boutique accomodations are the perfect fit.
The Resort at Glade Springs is tucked in the Appalachian Mountains with a stunning property spanning over 4,000 acres. On top of it’s beautiful setting, the hotel and resort are only a short drive away from the New River Gorge.
Where to Eat
Fayetteville is the cultural hub and primary trail town serving the national park with plenty of dining options to choose from. Grab your coffee and breakfast burrito with local chorizo from Cathedral Café, which operates in a renovated church downtown. The Station has reinvented itself during the pandemic, serving as a market and bistro with a rotating menu of carryout lunches that use ingredients from nearby producers. And no trip to the New River Gorge is complete without a stop at Pies and Pints, an institution with the best beer list in the area and creative pizzas, like the Grape and Gorgonzola. If you find yourself in Beckley during your adventure to the New River Gorge, be sure to stop at Tamarack for a fried green tomato sandwich or enjoy an evening of fine dining at The Char.
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