If you are planning a family vacation in West Virginia, look no further than the New River Gorge National River. This US national park site offers endless opportunities for families to hike, bike, paddle, climb and explore the Appalachian Mountains surrounding the New River. To make the most of your family trip to New River Gorge, it’s essential to narrow down the endless options for outdoor adventure. In this guide, we offer our favorite, kid-tested activities for families visiting the New River Gorge. With our help, you can plan an essential itinerary, in which you select the points of interest and activities that will give your family an amazing experience in this wonderful West Virginia park.
Canyon Rim Visitor Center & Boardwalk Trail
When visiting any national park site, we recommend first stopping at the visitor center. National Park Site visitor centers provide a wealth of information. From the natural, cultural and historic significance of the site to recreational opportunities for visitors. The New River Gorge Visitor Center in Fayetteville, the Canyon Rim Visitor Center, was unfortunately closed at the time of our visit for public health & safety.
However, a short walk from the center is the Canyon Rim Boardwalk Trail. This ~ 0.1-mile boardwalk passes through the woods along the gorge’s rim, down 175 steps, to a viewing platform with stunning scenic views of one of the gorge’s most recognizable attractions, the New River Gorge Bridge.
New River Gorge Bridge
The New River Gorge Bridge is located in the northern section of the New River Gorge National River park site, just north of Fayetteville, WV. It carries US Route 19 across the gorge of the New River, which flows between the Appalachian Mountains, nearly 875’ below. Prior to its completion in 1977, crossing the river via steep mountain roads could take as much as 45 minutes. The New River Gorge Bridge shortened that time to mere minutes.
The bridge is considered an engineering marvel. It is one of the longest steel arch bridges in the world, and the longest single-span steel arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere at over 3000 ft long. Additionally, it is the third highest bridge in the United States at over 875 feet.
Fayette Station Road
A great way to view the New River Gorge Bridge up close is by taking a drive on the Fayette Station Road. This 100-year-old road winds down the gorge and below the bridge through a series of hairpin turns. It crosses the river on the reconstructed Fayette Station Bridge, which reopened in 1998 as the Tunney Hunsaker Bridge. On the south side of the bridge is a parking area frequented by rafters, kayakers, and anglers. It’s a great spot for your family to enjoy a view of the New River Gorge Bridge from below, as well as a fun place to let kids explore.
The best way to experience the New River Gorge Bridge, however, is by walking the bridge’s 3030 feet of catwalk. Bridge Walk offers tours of the bridge along the 2-foot wide catwalk, about 25 feet below the road. While not for anyone with a fear of heights, guests are safely fastened to a cable system for the entire 2-3-hour tour.
Truth be told, the first few minutes of the tour can be rather nerve-wracking. As you walk out onto the catwalk, the ground below becomes further and further away. After a while, however, the experience is rather peaceful as you are able to enjoy views of the gorge and river unlike any other. Indeed, our family’s favorite part of the tour was sitting on the catwalk for 10-15 minutes while we watched rafters, kayakers, and coal trains pass below.
During this time, the tour guide talked about the history of the area, unique natural features, native wildlife such as the peregrine falcons, and the construction of the bridge, of course. Our guide was also helpful in recommending nearby recreational opportunities, especially hiking trails.
Long Point Trail
One of the Fayetteville-area hiking trails recommended by our Bridge Walk tour guide is the Long Point Trail. This moderate 3.2-mile round-trip trail passes through multiple types of terrain: field, hardwood forest, and brush filled with rhododendron and mountain laurel. The trail terminates at Long Point, a rocky outcropping on the south side of the gorge with a picturesque view of the New River Gorge Bridge. In fact, the vista is the same one as seen on the West Virginia State quarter. Additionally, the spot offers spectacular views of the “Endless Wall” cliffs along the northern side of the gorge.
Endless Wall Trail
Another amazing family-friendly hiking trail near the Fayetteville area of New River Gorge is the Endless Wall Trail. This moderate 2.4 mile point-to-point trail leads through a forest and across a creek, before spending quite a bit of time along the gorge cliff edges.
The Diamond Point overlook offers spectacular views of the river below. It’s a great place to take a break and watch kayaks and rfts as they come down the river.
Another fun aspect of this trail is the cliff access trails. New River Gorge has hundreds of rocking climbing routes, including many along the Endless Wall. At multiple points along the trail are off-shoots that lead down the cliff via a series of ladders. We had fun exploring these trails, because who doesn’t love a trail with a ladder?
In addition to hiking, the New River Gorge National River has ample opportunities for outdoor recreational activities like white water rafting, kayaking, rocking climbing, mountain biking, and more. On our trip, we chose to go mountain biking through ACE Adventures. We chose a half-day guided mountain bike adventure, which was perfect for our boys who have only biked on the relatively easy trails at home in Indiana.
We can’t say enough good things about the mountain bikes guides at ACE Adventures. They were friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. When our family returns to the New River Gorge area, we will definitely choose them for another outdoor adventure activity. Indeed, our kids took one look at the ACE Adventures Waterpark and declared that we must come back!
Grandview is another great place for families visiting the New River Gorge National River. For nearly 50 years, the area was one of West Virginia’s most popular state parks, before transfer to the National Park Service in 1990. Many of the park’s recreational areas, picnic shelters and playgrounds were constructed by West Virginia State Parks and the Civilian Conservation Corps. Although, there is a newer playground as well.
The area’s main draw, however, is Grandview’s vista. From the Main Overlook, 1400 ft above the New River, visitors can enjoy one of the most spectacular views in the park. On a clear day, seven miles of the New River and its watershed are visible.
Castle Rock Trail
A short stroll from the Main Overlook is one of Grandview’s five hiking trails, the Castle Rock Trail. Beginning near the vista, this moderately strenuous 0.6-mile point-to-point trail takes you past steep walls of rock, giving the Castle Rock Trail its name. The trail offers close-up views of the unique sandstone rock formations with exposed coal seams. If you have any geology-lovers, as we do in our family, this trail is sure to be a hit. It terminates where it intersects with the Grandview Rim Trail. Hike the Grandview Rim Trail back, for some amazing views of the New River, making an approximately 1-mile loop.
Finally, The Sandstone Falls region is another great place for families visiting the New River Gorge National River. Sandstone Falls is the largest waterfall on the New River. Although divided by a series of islands, it spans 1500 feet and drops 10 to 25 feet. The falls mark the transition of the New River from a broad river to a narrow mountain river.
Due to its more remote location, visiting Sandstone Falls requires driving on winding mountain roads. Sadly, our family was short on time and thus unable to visit the waterfall. With a number of scenic river vistas, trails, boardwalk & bridges as well as picnic areas, this area will be first on our list of places to visit the next time we are in the New River Gorge.
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