John Denver said it best when he described West Virginia in his song Country Roads as “almost heaven.” A place of dizzying beauty, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, located in West Virginia, carves a breathtaking swatch through 65,000 acres of lush Appalachian Mountains and forest area. Those who love hiking, rock climbing, rafting and fishing, have enjoyed this scenic wonder for decades.
And as of December 27th, 2020, it has joined America’s elite National Park roster.
Even though its national park and preserve status is new, this area has seen lots of tourism for quite some time, and the New River that runs through this area is actually one of the oldest in the world. Back in the late 1800s through the Great Depression, this was very much a part of the Wild West of coal mining, where soot spewed and workers often perished in explosions, cave-ins, or gunfights.
My name is Rob Decker and I’m a photographer and graphic artist with a single great passion for America’s National Parks! I’ve been to 51 of our 63 National Parks – and New River Gorge is a wonderful 63rd addition to our federal parks system. There are so many ways to explore this area of West Virginia, but here are the best things to do when visiting New River Gorge.
Enjoy Hiking and Cycling
New River Gorge has hiking trails for all difficulty levels – all offering spectacular scenic views. Depending on which trail you choose, you will experience overlooks, waterfalls, and historical sites. Likewise, the Arrowhead biking trail offers a 13-mile ride in the Craig’s Branch section and is one of the eastern United State’s most popular locations for mountain biking trips. Or for something a little more challenging, take on the 8.6-mile Kaymoor Trail. Guided tours are available for those who want an insider’s view.
To completely immerse yourself in the grandeur of the Appalachians, New River Gorge has primitive campsites if you long to go off the grid for a spell. Official camping areas are located along the river; they have no drinking water or hookups, and limited restroom facilities. The sites are managed on a first-come, first-served basis – reservations are not accepted. Best of all, there are no camping fees, but stays are limited to 14 days in the same area. If you prefer more camping amenities, developed campgrounds are located at state parks throughout the surrounding areas.
Go Whitewater Rafting
With over 50 miles of free-flowing white water, “The New” as the river is commonly called, sees rafting enthusiasts here by the thousands every year. The upper section of the New River has some long pools and relatively easy Class II and III rapids, while the lower section sees both Class IV and V rapids – not for the faint of heart! The river is ideal for rafting of this kind – but with its dramatically powerful currents, rocky banks, and sudden drop-offs, swimming is not recommended.
Experience Rock Climbing
The more adventurous outdoor enthusiast will appreciate the bountiful rock-climbing opportunities the New River Gorge provides. In fact, it is one of America’s most popular rock-climbing areas, where the sandstone cliffs offer climbs in the range of 30 to 120 feet in height. There are more than 1,500 climbing routes to choose from. However, this is not necessarily a place for the avid beginner – unless you are going with an experienced guide, most of the cliff faces are better suited for advanced and expert climbers.
Spend a Day Fishing
Anglers have ample opportunity for their next big catch here in the Appalachians, with numerous river access points within the National Park and Preserve. Here you’ll find walleye, bluegill, carp, channel catfish, crappie, and several species of bass. Be sure to get your fishing license, and catch and release is preferred, though not required. At Glade Creek Campground, there is wheelchair-accessible fishing in a catch-and-release area and is a great place to start the day. Then head to Grandview Sandbar for even better catches. The fishing is best in the Spring and Fall here in the New River.
Explore Scenic Drives
Such a wide swatch of undeniably gorgeous land offers so many scenic drives for those who crave a leisurely day of exploration. Some drives take you along the river; others along the rim for sweeping views of the gorge. If you go on only one scenic drive, make it the New River Gorge Scenic Drive. Be sure to carve out at least three hours for this 83-mile trip around the river, offering a little bit of everything – river, park, gorge, and more.
Do the Bridge Walk
Walk the heart-pounding mile-long catwalk under the bridge with unbelievable views of the gorge and the New River from a birds-eye view of 850 feet. It is the 4th largest single-span bridge in the world. If you go on the official Bridge Walk Tour, it lasts about 2.5 hours and moves at a leisurely pace for all ages, leaving plenty of time for photographic opportunities along the way. If you are the no-holds-barred type and fancy jumping off the bridge, be sure to attend the annual Bridge Day on the 3rd Saturday in October. And if not? You can still watch.
The fall foliage inside the park is the stuff of legend, as the aspens turn bright colors come autumn. For the best fall foliage experience, take the short, but awesome Bridge Trail with an unrivaled view of the 3,000-foot long, 876-foot high steel mega bridge.
Meet Rob Decker, Creator of National Park Posters
Photographer and graphic artist Rob Decker studied photography with Ansel Adams in Yosemite National Park during the summer of 1979 when he was just 19. It was an experience solidified his love of photography and our National Parks. Now he is on a journey to photograph and create iconic WPA-style posters of all our major national parks as we celebrate the next 100 years of the National Park Service.
"I feel it’s important to protect America’s special places, and to connect people with nature. And it’s up to all of us to pitch in. Perhaps more importantly, we need to inspire the next generation of park stewards. I’m trying to make a difference by giving back to the amazing organizations that support our National Parks. I donate 10% of annual profits, so when you buy one of these original works, you're helping these trusts, conservancies and associations, too."
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