New River Gorge National Park: “Still Has That New Park Smell”

Not many national parks can say they offer a stroll along the belly of an 800-foot tall bridge as one of their main attractions, but New River Gorge National Park in West Virginia can. Whether you're testing your wits with a clipped-in adventure on the catwalk of the New River Gorge Bridge or paddling the raging rapids of the New River below, you're sure to have the adventure of a lifetime in New River Gorge National Park.
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New River Gorge National Park officially opened in 2020, and to quote our rafting guide Crock, it “still has that new park smell.” But New River Gorge has been marveled over since 1873, when a new railroad system first began connecting this isolated section of West Virginia to the rest of the country. Although not much has changed since then, New River Gorge is now a destination for those looking for rugged adventure, Southern culture, and jaw-dropping landscapes.

Things to Do in New River Gorge

When my boyfriend and I visited New River Gorge National Park, we pushed ourselves to try the most adventurous activities possible, even if they scared us. So, on the morning of the only full day of our trip, we began by scarfing down breakfast at the Cathedral Cafe. This gorgeous chapel-turned-diner features antique stained glass and is conveniently located in the middle of downtown Fayetteville, New River Gorge’s gateway town. Then, we headed to walk below the third tallest bridge in the United States. Did I mention I’m afraid of heights?

Fayetteville West Virginia is the gateway community to New River Gorge National Park

New River Gorge Bridge Walk

It was a foggy, chilly, overcast morning. This, combined with my height anxiety, had me feeling less than excited about the New River Bridge Walk. Although the fear never left me, the walk ended up being one of the most exciting experiences I’ve ever had. We were harnessed to a catwalk directly under where cars drive on the bridge. Below us was the dramatic gorge, complete with untouched trees and the white-water New River. By the time we were halfway across the bridge, the temperature had increased, the fog had moved out, and the views were incredible! Our guide walked ahead of us, spoke about local history, and tried to assure us (or just me) that we were, in fact, safe up there. 

After the walk, we took a short drive through winding roads to Long Point Trail, a three-mile out-and-back hike featuring epic views of the New River Bridge and surrounding gorge. It was a late September day, and we enjoyed the mild temperatures and lush trees starting to change colors for fall. The hike wasn’t strenuous, and the views were priceless. 

Next, we grabbed lunch at Pies & Pints, a small West Virginia pizza chain that was recommended to us by our New River Walk Guide. The pizza was great, and I enjoyed the gluten-free crust and beer options.

New River Gorge National Park Bridge Walk

New River Gorge White Water Rafting

After lunch, we freshened up and headed to West Virginia Adventures, the company we used to white water raft on the New River. It was a Wednesday afternoon between peak seasons, so we had the raft to ourselves. Our rafting guide, Crock, has lived in Fayetteville since he was a kid and has rafted on New River over 4,000 times! It was evident that we were in good hands, and other than slight worries that I would fall into the water and freeze, I was fearless.

The three hour rafting trip took us through exciting class III/IV rapids, past historic sites, and under the New River Bridge. We got pretty heavily splashed but to my delight, the water was warm! Crock told goofy stories and filled us in on how the area has changed over the years. By the end, we were happily exhausted, and our itch for adventure had been scratched.

New River Gorge National Park Rafting

Downtown Fayetteville

We ended our day with dinner at Southernside Junction Taphouse, a vibrant dive bar located directly underneath our Airbnb in downtown Fayetteville. We ate tasty Thai Peanut wings, drank cider, and chatted with friendly locals. Then, before crashing for the night, we walked around the quaint, historic downtown, for some after-hours window shopping. The town’s charm and proximity to such epic views and adventure made this section of West Virginia one of our new favorite places in the Appalachian region. 

The following morning, we had time for one more experience, so we headed to Concho Overlook. The overlook doesn’t involve any hiking, so it’s a great accessibility-friendly option! Here, a wooden platform overlooks a unique bend of the New River and the abandoned ghost town of Thurmwood, a once-thriving railroad town which is still home to five people, earning it the title of “smallest town in West Virginia.” The Historic Thurmwood Depot is even a passenger stop for Amtrak trains!

New River Gorge, West Virginia

There are so many noteworthy spots around New River Gorge National Park that we didn’t get the chance to see up close, like the ghost town of Thurmwood. We’re also dying to check out the Endless Wall Trail, which provides views of zig-zagging cliffs overlooking the gorge and New River. All in all, incredible memories were made on our trip, and it’s safe to say we’ll be back, New River Gorge. Stay tuned.

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