The New River Gorge National Park is a stunning park located in southern West Virginia. It was established as a national park in 2020 and covers over 70,000 acres of natural beauty, including the New River Gorge and the surrounding mountains. The 53-mile-long park is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including black bears, bald eagles, and river otters, and plenty of outdoor activities, such as hiking, biking, rock climbing, and whitewater rafting.
The New River Gorge Bridge, which spans the New River Gorge, is one of the park’s most famous attractions and offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape. The park is a popular destination for families and outdoor enthusiasts and offers a unique opportunity to explore the natural beauty and history of West Virginia.
To help you explore the area with your family, we’ll divide the park into six parts.
- How to get to New River Gorge National Park & Preserve
- Entrance Fees to New River Gorge National Park
- Best Time to Visit
- Park Sections: Explore the Different Areas of New River Gorge National Park
- 3-Day Itinerary: Plan Your Perfect Trip to New River Gorge
- Nearby Things to Do to Add to Your Visit
- Where to Stay
How to get to New River Gorge National Park & Preserve
The New River Gorge National Park is located in southern West Virginia, approximately 60 miles southeast of Charleston, WV. You can easily get to the park by car, and there are several parking areas available for visitors. If you are flying in, the closest airport is Yeager Airport in Charleston, WV.
Distance between our six focus points plus Hawks Nest State Park and Babcock State Park comes in at 120 miles and around 3.5 hours of driving time.
Entrance Fees to New River Gorge National Park
There is no fee to visit this park! Enjoy!
Best Time to Visit
The New River Gorge National Park is a beautiful destination to visit year-round, but the best time to visit may depend on your preferences and the type of activities you want to do. In spring, whitewater rafting season starts in March, making it a great time to experience the thrill of the rapids.
In summer, you can enjoy hiking, biking, rock climbing, and whitewater rafting during this time. Keep in mind that the park can get crowded during the peak season, so it’s essential to plan ahead and book your accommodations in advance.
The fall months are another great time to visit the park, especially if you want to see the stunning fall foliage. The weather is cooler, and the park is less crowded, making it an ideal time for hiking and outdoor activities. The whitewater rafting season also extends into October, so you can still experience the thrill of the rapids.
The winter months are the least busy time to visit the park, but they can still be a great time to explore. While some of the activities and attractions may be closed during this time, you can still enjoy hiking, ziplining, the bridge walking tour, and more.
Park Sections: Explore the Different Areas of New River Gorge National Park
To cover the park, we’ll break it up into six areas: Canyon Rim & New River Gorge Bridge, Fayette Station Road, Grandview & Glade Creek, Nuttallburg Mine Site, Sandstone Falls, and Thurmond Historic District.
Canyon Rim & New River Gorge Bridge
The New River Gorge Canyon is a deep and rugged gorge carved by the New River, one of the oldest rivers in North America. The canyon stretches for approximately 53 miles through the Appalachian Mountains in southern West Virginia. With its sheer cliffs, lush forests, and flowing river, the New River Gorge Canyon offers a gorgeous landscape for your family to explore.
The New River Gorge Bridge is one of the most photographed places in West Virginia. The continuous-span, open-spandrel, arch truss steel bridge is over 3030 feet long. At 876 feet above the New River, the bridge is the highest east of the Mississippi. Before the bridge opened in 1977, crossing the river involved a 40-minute drive on winding roads. Once the bridge opened, the drive was cut to less than a minute.
During the summer months, jet boat rides are available from Hawks Nest State Park. Tickets are available for sale from the Hawks Nest State Park Tram office daily at 10:00. A van shuttle transports you to the marina. The 21-foot jet boat travels the river to the New River Gorge Bridge. The total time for the excursion including the van and boat ride is 2 hours. The boat ride is 36 minutes. During our visit to the area, we missed the start of the season by a day. I think I was the most disappointed of my crew.
Feeling adventurous? Book a tour to walk the catwalk 25′ beneath the bridge. Participants are securely fastened to a safety cable and allowed to walk the entire 3,030-foot length of the bridge.
Suggested Canyon Rim Hikes:
- Canyon Rim Boardwalk: Approximately 0.3 miles long and offers stunning views of the canyon. The trail is mostly flat and suitable for families with kids, providing a safe and accessible way to enjoy the park’s beauty without significant elevation gain or difficult terrain.
- Burnwood Trail: Spanning about 2.5 miles and offers a moderate elevation gain. The trail features a mix of terrains, including wooded sections and open meadows. Families with kids should be prepared for some uphill sections but will be rewarded with scenic views along the way.
- Endless Wall Trail: The Endless Wall Trail is an intermediate path that goes through dense woods, crosses Fern Creek, and follows the edge of the cliff in a zig-zag pattern. Numerous stunning viewpoints can be found along the trail. The Diamond Point lookout serves as an ideal stopping point, making it a favored two-mile roundtrip hike starting from the Fern Creek parking lot.
Fayette Station Road and Fayetteville
Fayette Station Road is a historic, one-hundred-year-old road that provides stunning views of the New River Gorge and takes travelers back to before the modern New River Gorge Bridge was built. The 8-mile road winds down to the bottom of the gorge, across the New River on the Tunney Hunsake Bridge, and up the other side, offering vistas of the river, bridges, hardwood forest, and remnants of the once vibrant towns and coal mines that filled the gorge.
Fayette Station Road preserves some of the area’s coal mining and railroad heritage. Large vehicles or trailers are not allowed on the road and travel should be avoided during winter weather. The Fayette Station Audio Tour allows travelers to experience the history of the road and listen to stories about coal mining towns along New River Gorge.
Check out the guided tour on the NPS app which leads you from the Canyon Rim Visitor Center parking lot and guides you through the route with directions and history down the gorge to the river.
Suggested Fayetteville Hikes:
- Park Loop Trail: An easy 1.1-mile loop through the woods.
- Timber Ridge Trail: A more challenging hike of 4 miles and involves a significant elevation gain. The trail takes hikers through forested areas, rocky sections, and some steeper inclines. Families with kids should be prepared for a more strenuous hike but will be rewarded with beautiful views
Grandview and Glade Creek
The Grandview section of the park offers panoramic views of the New River Gorge and the surrounding mountains. The Main Overlook provides spectacular views that include seven miles of the New River and its watershed. You’ll be able to see an active railway along the river and the town of Quinnimont. This section of the park offers five hiking trails, ranger-led walks and talks, summer outdoor dramas, and picnic areas with playgrounds.
The blooming Catawba rhododendrons lining the parking lot are a sight to behold, but their exact bloom times are not always consistent year to year. When we visited the week before Memorial Day, they were spectacular. The purple variation blooms in mid-May while the white bloom in July. The park includes overlooks of the New River, a visitor center (open seasonally), and picnic areas with playgrounds.
Glade and Hamlet were bustling logging towns in the southern Appalachians. The arrival of the railroad and narrow gauge branch lines allowed the cutting and dragging of trees from the mountains, leading to the growth of sawmills and mill towns. However, these logging practices resulted in the deforestation of West Virginia’s old-growth forests between the 1880s and 1930s, leaving behind abandoned towns and rail lines. Today, Glade Creek offers hiking, camping, fishing, and boating, with the remains of Hamlet a short half-mile walk from Glade Creek Trail.
Suggested Grandview and Glade Creek Hikes:
- Big Buck Trail: A moderate hike covering around 3 miles. It features a moderate elevation gain and takes hikers through wooded areas with occasional rocky patches.
- Glade Creek Trail: An easy hike of approximately 1.8 miles. It offers a gentle terrain with minimal elevation gain, making it suitable for families with kids. The trail follows the scenic Glade Creek,
Nuttallburg Mine Site
The Nuttallburg Mine Site is a fun stop to take in a unique blend of history, adventure, and natural beauty. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Nuttallburg offers a fascinating glimpse into the region’s mining past. To reach the site, follow US Route 19 to County Route 82, then turn onto Keeneys Creek Road and continue for 3 miles to the trailhead parking area. Much of the two-way, winding road is one lane so be aware that you might have to pull over for oncoming vehicles or even back up. Seven easy-to-moderate trails explore the site’s impressive ruins, including the iconic conveyor system (one of the longest in use at that time at 1,385 feet), Nuttalburg Tipple, coke ovens, and the remnants of the once-busy town. Take time to read the 25 educational signs that tell the area’s story.
Suggested Nuttallburg Hikes:
- Tipple Trail: An easy hike stretching for approximately 1.8 miles. It offers a gentle terrain with minimal elevation gain, making it suitable for kids. The trail follows the scenic Glade Creek,
- Seldom Seen Trail: A 0.3-mile spur off Tipple Trail. Follow this short trail to the old town site of Seldom Seen.
Sandstone Falls is located on the southern end of the park and features a beautiful waterfall and scenic overlooks. From Hinton, cross the New River to take Hwy-26 eight miles up to the falls. Views of the falls are accessed from an easy quarter-mile boardwalk loop crossing two bridges to a deck and open area. The falls drop 10 to 25 feet and span 1500 feet across the river. This was my favorite area of the park. Sandstone Visitor Center is located near exit 139 off of I-64.
Suggested Sandstone Falls Hikes:
- Sandstone Falls Boardwalk: Easy boardwalk across two bridges to observation decks of the falls.
- Big Branch Falls: Strenuous 2-mile hike loop includes views of waterfalls, an old farmstead, the gorge, the river, and Brooks Falls.
Thurmond Historical District
Once a bustling railroad town, Thurmond now offers a unique glimpse into the past with its beautifully preserved buildings and rich history. To reach this hidden gem, simply follow Route 25 from US-19, and you’ll find yourself immersed in an unforgettable experience. While exploring the area, be sure not to miss the iconic Thurmond Depot, the restored National Bank of Thurmond, and the striking railroad bridge that spans the New River. Nine stops are included in the walking tour.
3-Day Itinerary: Plan Your Perfect Trip to New River Gorge
With no hiking, you can cover most of the park highlights in one day. A two-day itinerary will allow additional activities such as hiking and more time at the individual sites. Three days will allow you to explore the smaller areas of the park or nearby state parks. We visited this national park as part of a Great Smoky Mountain, Blue Ridge Parkway, New River Gorge, and Shenandoah road trip. This itinerary starts from the south and works clockwise through the park.
New River Gorge Itinerary – Day 1: Sandstone Falls, Grandview, and Thurmond
Start your day by visiting Sandstone Falls. Traverse the boardwalk to view the main falls and hike the 0.5-mile Island Loop Trail. On the way back to Hinton, stop by Richmond Hamilton Farm or Tulip Lily Farm. If you need a bite to eat, stop at the DQ in Hilton. Then drive Hwy WV-20 up to I-64. Stop at the Sandstone Falls Overlook about 7.5 miles north of Hinton. You’ll find a great view, restrooms, and picnic tables. Continue on to the I-64 interchange, and merge on to I-64 west towards Beckley. If you missed lunch in Hinton, Grandview Diner at exit 129 (which also leads to your next stop) is a great choice. The salads were huge. The gas station in the parking lot offered a convenient fuel up.
After lunch, head north on Grandview Road/Highway VA-9 to Grandview. Visit the visitor center and walk out to Main Overlook. Give the kids some downtime at the playground before packing up for the last stop of the day – Thurmond.
Drive back to Interstate 64 to US-19 at Exit 124 toward Beckley/Eisenhower Drive. After 18 miles, turn onto Thurmond Road. The historic town is 6 miles down the road. Explore the area by taking a self-guided walking tour. Be aware that trains still use the tracks daily.
New River Gorge Itinerary Day 2: Bridge, Canyon Rim, Fayette Station, and Nuttallburg
Your second day includes the northern end of the park by visiting New River Gorge Bridge & Canyon Rim, Fayette Station, and down to the Nuttallburg Mine Site. Start your day at the visitor center (opens at 9:00) at the Canyon Rim. Walk down the flagstaff-paved walkway to the Canyon Rim Boardwalk. Continue on down the 178 steps to the lower overlook to view the bridge. If the Endless Wall Trail is on your must-do list, drive over to the Fern Creek parking lot to start your hike. Drive back to the visitor center to proceed down Fayette Station Road – remember to turn on the guided tour from the NPS app.
Your next stop is the Nuttallburg Mine Site. Head back across the gorge bridge on Highway 19 past the visitor center to Lansing Edmond Road. Follow the road for six miles before turning right on Kenneys Creek Road. The parking lot is another 4 miles down. Hike Tipple Trail to the Nuttallburg Coal Tipple.
We suggest a packed lunch or several snacks since you’ll spend your day hiking. The convenience of a readily available meal will help you accomplish the day’s must-sees.
New River Gorge Itinerary Day 3: Outdoor Activities and State Parks
Schedule a day for additional hiking, whitewater rafting, rock climbing, biking, a smaller area of the park, or one of the nearby state parks. Check out our list of additional things to do below.
To help you plan your visit and stops, see the below mileage distance chart between points. Mileage was calculated from Google Maps.
Nearby Things to Do to Add to Your Visit
To expand your time in the area, add extra days to your itinerary to cover the below areas of the park, nearby state parks, or outdoor activities.
Visit these Smaller Areas of New River Gorge National Park
Explore these often-missed gemstones of the park to learn about the history and culture of living in the area. The cultural history of New River Gorge is preserved through its people, places, and stories, including those hidden within its lesser-known histories.
The town of Prince, West Virginia was established in 1870 when brothers William and James Prince purchased 300 acres along the New River from General Alfred Beckley. The town flourished during the construction of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, the Stretcher’s Neck tunnel, and a bridge across the New River. Although not a mining town, Prince’s advantageous location allowed it to supply mining towns in Fayette and Raleigh Counties. The brothers built their home at the junction of the Piney Creek line and the main line, and as part of the right-of-way agreement, all through trains stopped at Prince, making it possible for their store to offer a wide variety of goods. At its peak, the town had 250 residents with a school system, two churches, a post office, train depot, hotel, and tavern.
Richmond Hamilton Farm
Located on the same road as Sandstone Falls but closer to Hinton, Richmond Hamilton Farm offers an insight into the lives of early settlers. Explore the farmhouse and outbuilding including a hand-hewn log barn. The site offers a glimpse into the traditional lifestyle of subsistence farming before the arrival of railroads. This way of life required all family members to produce their basic needs, including food, shelter, and water. They engaged in activities such as hunting, gathering, preserving food, and bartering with neighbors for items they could not produce themselves. The farmstead layout includes a log cabin house with attached additions, outbuildings, and forested clearings for crops and orchards.
Not far from Richmond Hamilton Farm, you’ll find the Trump-Lully Farm off Freezeland Mountain Road. The farm was a gift from William Richmond to his daughter Mary Richmond Trump. Many years later the farm was bought by Aden Lilly. The farm is an intact example of an early Appalachian subsistence farm, and the subsistence farming practices of the Lilly family are what is preserved today by the National Park Service. The subsistence farming practices of the Lilly family included harvesting timber to meet their building and heating needs, planting apple orchards and rows of vegetables, raising sheep, and selling lambs in the fall to provide income to pay taxes and buy school books for the children. Everything grown was for subsistence, either for consumption or for trade.
African American Heritage Auto Tour
Created by New River Gorge National Park and Preserve along with its collaborators, the tour is a smartphone application designed to reveal and narrate the tales of numerous black coal miners, railroad employees, and other community members who contributed to the development of this area. This self-directed automobile excursion guides users to seventeen historical locations across Summers, Raleigh, Fayette, and Nicholas counties, exploring the history and experiences of the region’s African American population.
Visit Nearby State Parks
West Virginia has five state parks in the area that can easily be added to your itinerary. Some parks have big family friendly hotels for you to rent. Check out our post exploring an itinerary including the six nearby state parks: Hawks Nest, Babcock, Carnifex Ferry Battlefield, Bluestone, Pipestem, and Little Beaver. (coming soon!)
Outdoor Activities at New River Gorge
The New River, one of the oldest rivers in the world, crosses North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia before joining the Gauley River to form the Kanawha River. The New River Gorge National Park and Preserve cover 53 miles of free-flowing New River, with two distinct sections. The upper section features long pools and easy rapids up to Class III, while the lower section, known as “the Lower Gorge,” boasts some of the biggest rapids ranging from Class III to Class V. Visitors can explore the river on their own or opt for guided trips provided by licensed outfitters that offer trips of varying lengths and difficulty levels. Outfitters will provide you with life jackets, helmets, and wetsuits. The best time to go is from April through October, with trips available year-round.
If your family is into rock climbing, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is a popular rock climbing location with over 1,400 established rock climbs. The cliffs are made of hard sandstone and range from 30 to 120 feet in height, with most routes favoring advanced and expert climbers. Climbing season is best from late April to mid-June and mid-September to late October.
The New River Gorge offers a variety of biking trails suitable for all levels of riders. The Arrowhead Trails, a 13-mile stacked loop system, offers a smooth single track with plenty of rollers and banked turns. The Oak Hill rail trail system is perfect for a family outing with an ice cream shop located beside the trail. The Thurmond to Cunard rail trail, following the old railroad grade of the New River, offers a scenic trip with coke ovens and old building foundations visible along the way. The Monongahela National Forest has miles of steep, rocky, rooty big mountain riding with a recommended 8-mile ride that combines single track and old rail grade. Don’t want to bring six or more bikes for your family? No worries – rent bikes from Arrowhead Bike Farm.
Where to Stay
There are several accommodations available for families visiting the New River Gorge National Park, including campgrounds, cabins, and hotels. If you’re looking for a more rustic experience, you can rent a campsite or cabin in the park. If you prefer more modern accommodations, there are several hotels and resorts located nearby.
It’s important to note that camping in the New River Gorge National Park is popular and can fill up quickly during the peak season, so it’s essential to make reservations in advance. Additionally, some campgrounds may have restrictions on the size of RVs and trailers that are allowed, so be sure to check before you plan your trip.
Campgrounds: The New River Gorge National Park has nine campgrounds located throughout the park. These campgrounds offer both primitive and developed camping options, with amenities such as picnic tables, fire rings, and access to potable water. The park’s largest campground, the Canyon Rim Campground, is located near the New River Gorge Bridge and offers beautiful views of the surrounding area.
RV Camping: The New River Gorge National Park also offers several options for RV camping. The following campgrounds have RV sites: Army Camp, Grandview Sandbar, Glade Creek, War Ridge/Backus Mountain, and Gauley Tailwaters.
If you plan on staying more than 3 days, consider a vacation rental. Find a rental or cabin for your big family.