Exploring New River Gorge- The Nation's Newest National Park | West Virginia
"Let's turn around!" I said to my husband after we just passed the most picturesque waterfall on the side of the road. We were driving through West Virginia to the newest National Park- New River Gorge. When we pulled up to the waterfall and got out of the car, I noticed 2 kayakers paddling towards the waterfall and my heart did a little jump. Are they really going to kayak down the waterfall?! YESSS! Of course, me being me, I pulled out my phone and got an amazing video of one of the kayakers paddling faster and faster and then- drop! down the waterfall he went. The moment he submerged from the water, I thought to myself "This is West Virginia".
West Virginia has been under the radar for places to vacation, but with the announcement of the newest National Park, people are really starting to notice how amazing and beautiful it really is. My husband and I drove here from Cincinnati (it's only 4.5hrs away) in mid-October. The great thing about NRG is that you can visit during all 4 seasons and still find beauty along with incredible activities to do. We stayed in a charming small town, had the most amazing food, hiked until our legs were sore, took so many pictures my phone ran out of storage and had the best time disconnecting from our busy schedules. Here is my NRG guide to all of our favorite things we did!
New River Gorge Bridge
162 Visitor Center Rd, Lansing, WV 25862
I was truly in awe the first time I saw the New River Gorge Bridge. Pictures don't do it justice. You just have to be there in person to see how massive it really is! This iconic landmark was built in 1977 and reduced about 40 minutes of travel time. It's also the longest steel arch bridge in the western hemisphere and almost as tall as the Eiffel Tower!
The Canyon Rim Visitors Center is a great place to take in some glorious bridge views. It has two vantage points. The upper overlook is just from the parking lot and easy to get to. It shows a beautiful panoramic view of the mountains around the bridge. Follow the stairs down the bridge to get up close and personal with an arch-level sight.
For views looking up from the gorge, take a scenic drive to the Fayette Station Bridge. This was my favorite view of the bridge. I highly recommend going at sunset to watch the sun go down behind the bridge!
Have you heard of Bridge Day? It's a huge festival that takes place for one day on the 3rd Saturday of October every year (except this year because of COVID). It's a day where you get to witness base jumpers leap 800+ feet from the bridge into the gorge below. Just watching them will get your adrenaline pumping! I couldn't write about New River Gorge without mentioning this day!
Endless Wall Trail
Lansing-Edmond Road, Lansing WV 25837
This is one of the hikes you must do when visiting NRG. It gives you the most beautiful panoramic views of the gorge and the NRG Bridge. It's 2.5 miles long and ends on the main road. You can easily walk down the road to the parking lot back to your car. The amazing thing about this hike is that it doesn't get too crowded because parking is limited. To avoid the hassle of finding a parking spot, get there early before 9 am and you should be fine.
The hiking trail is mostly level and it was a fairly easy hike. We loved the streams and small bridges along the way. Make sure that you stop at Diamond Point Overlook, which is mid-hike for amazing views that will get your heart racing. This hike really gives you a glimpse of the NRG beauty! I recommend going early in the morning to see the fog lingering above the gorge. It's magical!
Overlook- WV-20, Shady Spring, WV 25918
Boardwalk- New River Road, Shady Spring, WV 25918
Sandstone is one of the largest waterfalls in NRG and spans over 1500ft wide. It does require quite a drive to get here (about 1hr), but the drive is so beautiful and scenic you probably won't notice! We started our journey at Sandstone Falls Overlook, which gives you an incredible aerial view of the falls 600ft above the river. There's a very small trail to get to the overlook, but be careful because it is steep.
Next, we passed through the charming mountain town of Hinton and made it to the Sandstone Falls boardwalk. The small trail and boardwalk are about 1/4 mile wide and easy to do. You cross two bridges that take you to an island with an amazing view of the river and falls! There are also a couple of short easy trails and picnic tables. It really is such a beautiful area. We stopped many times along the way to take pictures of the area!
Visit the ghost town of Thurmond
Thurmond, West Virginia 25901
In the early 1920s, the railroad town of Thurmond was at its peak. It functioned as a coal depot and the only connection to the outside world was by train. The busy Chesapeake and Ohio railroad ran through the town and served as its "main street". The town had a bank, postal service, coal tower, and even a hotel. Thurmond is now protected by the National park Service.
You'll enter the town of Thurmond on a questionable one-lane railroad bridge that's over years 100 old. You'll first see a yellow building that says Thurmond Depot, which is now the visitor center. The visitor center does have exhibits of the town and railroad you can look at. Across from the railroad tracks, you will see the abandoned buildings and it'll feel like going back in time!
This is such a cool spot to take pictures at. Be mindful that the railroad tracks are in working order and the visitor center also serves as an Amtrak station. This Amtrak station is the second least used one in America. We did love seeing a CSX train parked down the track! One neat fact is that Thurmond is home to the longest poker game ever played. The game was played in one of the hotels- the Dun Glen and lasted for 14 years!
Nuttallburg abandoned Mine Site
Nuttallburg, WV 25840
The Nuttallburg mines were one of the earliest mines in New River. It has since been preserved by the National Park Service and is quite a sight to see. It's literally off the beaten path! You may question if you're going the right way when getting there. When you head away from the residential area you'll see a no outlet sign- just keep going down the road. The road to the mine is one way with frequent pull-offs if another car is coming from the opposite direction. We really enjoyed the drive out here, especially in the fall.
From the parking lot take the short "tipple" trail to find the incredible red conveyer belt and coal tipple. The conveyor belt brought coal down from the mountain to load onto trains. The "seldom seen" trail that's 0.25 miles long and takes you to ruins of about 20 homes. The "town loop" trail is about 1.3 miles long and goes up the mountain to the ruins of a church, school, and large house.
Babcock State Park
486 Babcock Road, Danese, WV 25831
Driving through Babcock State Park in the fall was like driving through a painting. It's located about 20 miles southeast of NRG and very much worth the trip. The charming Glade Creek Grist Mill took my breath away. It was a drizzly fall day and I got to witness hundreds of orange and yellow leaves blowing in the wind around it. It was pure magic (I also have this on video if you think I'm exaggerating!) The mill is one of the most photographed places in West Virginia. It's a newer mill that was completed in the 1970s and still fully functioning.
The State Park has 4,127 acres of incredible scenery. It also has a campground for tents or campers with electric hookups. You can enjoy hiking, biking, fishing, and boating here. One of the neat things I saw is that it does allow drone photography with restricted hours!
We did the Island In The Sky trail. The trailhead is right next to the mill and it's about a 0.7-mile hike uphill. There's a ramp and a small ladder which makes it fun and unique. When you reach the top there's a beautiful view with a scenic overlook and gazebo.
Hawks Nest State park
49 Hawks Nest Rd, Ansted, WV 25812
This State Park is located about 10 miles north of New River Gorge and has one of the best scenic overlooks! It also has hiking trails, a nature museum, an aerial tramway, and jetboat rides. We had a quick stop here at the overlook before heading home and it was such a serene view!
Explore the charming small-town of Fayetteville
Fayetteville is only minutes away from NRG and the perfect place to find accommodations, restaurants, and shops. It's also been listed as the "top 10 coolest small towns in America" by Budget Travel Magazine. I agree! Fayetteville is such a cool town to explore. Here are some of our favorite shops and restaurants we explored!
Where to shop
The Hobbit Hole
100 S Court St, Fayetteville, WV 25840
I loved this quirky shop! It's in the basement of a charming building over 100 years old. When you go down the steps to the entrance you'll feel like you've entered another world. You're bound to find a true statement piece here! This little shop has collectibles, clothing, jewelry, and antique furniture.
Out of the Ashes
104 E Maple Ave, Fayetteville, WV 25840
This is such a beautiful store. The moment you enter you'll smell the wonderful earthy, warm scent of candles they sell. In this boutique, you'll find home decor, bold women's clothing, and stunning jewelry. I also noticed that some of the brands are made from recycled material and/or give back to a community in some way. you'll also find thoughful gifts here such as items with inspirational quotes. I couldn't leave without getting two cozy sweaters I'll be wearing all season.
Thread is an eclectic boutique and wifi lounge with the most gorgeous purple velvet couch! I had so much fun looking through all the clothing and handmade jewelry. They also sell items from local artists!
Lost Appalachia Trading Co.
171 N Court St, Fayetteville, WV 25840
You'll find unique clothing, gifts, and home decor here with a focus on the Appalachian region. The owner also makes sure to source products within the Appalachia so you know you're purchasing a unique piece and supporting the area!
Where to eat
Range Finder Coffee
101 E Wiseman Ave, Fayetteville, WV 25840
This small coffee shop is located inside the Water Stone Outdoors store. It's definitely the place to get a fresh cup of joe. I had the dirty chai and it was divine. Check out their website for the menu.
Wood Iron Eatery
129 S Court St # A, Fayetteville, WV 25840
We loved this spot for breakfast! Wood Iron Eatery serves both breakfast and lunch options along with amazing coffee choices. Make sure to try the hashbrowns! They were so good and had the perfect crunch. We also tried the "world-famous best ever pound cake" and agreed with the name! They are also very vegan and vegetarian-friendly.
Pies and Pints
219 W Maple Ave, Fayetteville, WV 25840
If you're looking for a delicious slice of pizza, this is definitely the place. We have a Pies and Pints restaurant close to home in Ohio, but this was our first time eating at one. It did not disappoint. They have such an amazing and unique specialty pizza section. We did half and half-black beans and street corn. Our favorite was the street corn! They also have a bar for adults and a playground out back for the kids!
The Cathedral Cafe & Book Store
134 S Court St, Fayetteville, WV 25840
This is such a cozy and artsy place to have a cup of coffee and a meal. It's an old church that has been converted into a restaurant, cafe, and shop. It serves all 3 meals including homemade baked goods and wine. We were really impressed with all the menu options. They also serve breakfast all day! I loved the stained glass windows and book selection.
105 W Maple Ave, Fayetteville, WV 25840
If you're looking for something extra fresh, healthy, and different, this place is perfect. The menu is wanderlust, hence the name! find different dishes from around the world. I loved the naan dumplings and pesto pasta.
Free Folk Brewery
1690 Court St, Fayetteville, WV 25840
We had so much fun at this brewery. They have pop-up kitchens almost every weekend and there's also a calendar on their website! We went on a Saturday and listened (and may or may not have sung along) to the live music. We grabbed 2 flights and tried 8 different beers- all were amazing! They have multiple cozy firepits to sit around at as well. I really loved the colorful murals painted on the walls. This really is the perfect place to sit back and enjoy the moment with your loved ones.
Where to Stay
The Barn Loft
We loved this charming and unique stay! It's more of a glamping experience and only available from the springtime to fall. We had so much fun staying here. There is a vertical ladder you do have to climb to get up to the loft. It's dog friendly as well, but with the ladder, I'm not sure if we would feel safe lifting our 60+lbs dogs to the top. This would be great for smaller dogs though! I loved how the barn lit up at night with string lights. It was such a peaceful stay!
Archie the Airstream
I've always wanted to camp in an Airstream so this was my chance! Archie the Airstream was absolutely adorable. It's located right across the street from Free Folk Brewery. It does share parking with the brewery, but you do get a reserved spot with your stay! I worried we wouldn't have a lot of privacy with it being close to parking, but that wasn't the case! The entrance to the Airstream is facing the woods. You also have your own patio and firepit area. We loved walking across the street to the brewery to grab a drink and bite to eat.