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The Ultimate Guide to New River Gorge National Park and Preserve — Best Things To Do, See & Enjoy!

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Amar Hussain
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Amar Hussain

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Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications incl...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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Keri Stooksbury

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New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is one of America’s newer national parks and is well worth a visit to explore and discover the wonders of this national treasure. This national park and preserve features breathtaking natural views and a rich cultural and natural history. Each year, over 1.5 million visitors come to tour this park and see the magic that hides within its boundaries. 

How To Get to New River Gorge National Park and Preserve

Where Is New River Gorge National Park and Preserve?

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is located in West Virginia between the communities of Fayetteville and Hinton. This national park and preserve stretch over 70,000 acres of land and showcase the New River that cuts through the park. 

Nearest Airports to New River Gorge National Park and Preserve

There are 2 airports near New River Gorge National Park and Preserve that travelers typically utilize when flying in for a visit.

Raleigh County Memorial Airport (BKW)

Raleigh County Memorial Airport is located in Beckley, West Virginia, just 20 miles from New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. This airport is the closest option for visitors choosing to fly into the area.

BKW offers direct daily flights to Charlotte (CLT) and exclusively services Contour Airlines. This airport is an excellent option for travelers who don’t mind connecting flights. If you are looking for the closest airport to New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, look no further than Raleigh County Memorial Airport.

West Virginia International Yeager Airport (CRW)

Yeager Airport is located in Charleston, West Virginia, about 60 miles from New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. This airline is the larger of the 2 nearby airports

Nonstop flights connect to many major U.S. cities such as Atlanta; Charlotte, North Carolina; Charleston, South Carolina; Chicago; Orlando, Florida; and Washington D.C. Airlines served by this airport include American, Breeze, Delta, and United.

Bottom Line:

Flying into Yeager Airport is ideal when visiting New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. While it isn’t as close as the other airport, it is the option with the most airlines and is only about an hour from the park.

Driving to New River Gorge and National Park

Nothing says national park vacation like loading your car and heading out for an epic road trip. Driving to New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is half the fun of the vacation. With exciting sights and landmarks to see along the way, your family will create memories to last a lifetime on your journey to the park.

Since there are several areas of the park, several different routes can be utilized to enter the park; it truly depends on where you are headed. Route 19 is used between Beckley and Hiro, and between Mossy and Sandstone, I-64 is utilized. 

Taking the Train to New River Gorge and National Park

A train ride to New River Gorge and National Park is a wonderful way to fully appreciate a national park vacation. Amtrak offers services that take guests to multiple New River Gorge National Park and Preserve areas. The Amtrak Cardinal train takes guests to the Thurmond area in the park. Taking a train is a great way to enjoy a national park vacation without the stress of planning the routes and dealing with traffic. 

Taking the Bus to New River Gorge and National Park

Another excellent way to travel to New River Gorge and National Park without worrying about driving is to take a Greyhound bus. While there is no service directly to New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, a station in Beckley exists.

Beckley, West Virginia, is only 7.5 miles from the park. A Greyhound bus is an excellent way to experience a trip to New River National Park without dealing with the logistics of making your way to the park.

Getting Around New River Gorge National Park and Preserve

The best way to get around in New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is by using your own vehicle. This national park has no form of public transportation, so be prepared to navigate during your trip.

There are several roads winding throughout the park leading to exciting sites and overlooks. The National Park Service provides a variety of printable and interactive maps to help you plan your park adventures. 

What To See and Do in New River Gorge National Park and Preserve

There are endless opportunities for exploration and adventure in New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. From hiking and fishing to touring historic coal mining towns and bridges and white water rafting, there’s no shortage of things to see and do in this national park.

Grandview

The Grandview area of New River Gorge National Park and Preserve offers many activities for guests to enjoy. It is a wonderful place for picnicking, hiking, viewing wildflowers, and taking in the spectacular views of the New River and the park’s sweeping landscapes. This area has a seasonal visitor center that offers a wealth of information and a bookstore for purchasing souvenirs and maps of the park.

Hiking

Big Branch Trail
Image Credit: Dave Bieri via NPS

Hiking is one of the best ways to explore the park and experience the wonder and beauty of this area. With over 100 miles of hiking trails winding through its boundaries, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is a hiker’s paradise.

This park features hikes that vary in difficulty from easy to strenuous. There are 7 major hiking areas located throughout the park, each featuring unique landmarks and sights along the way. Some of the most popular trails include Canyon Rim Overlook Boardwalk, Big Branch Trail, and Bridge Trail.

New River Gorge Bridge

The most iconic feature of New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is the New River Gorge Bridge. This historic bridge was completed in 1977 and helped travelers cross the New River. The New River Gorge Bridge is one of the most photographed places in West Virginia.

This bridge is also featured on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, visitors can enjoy fantastic views of the gorge while hovering at 876 feet in height. There are also exciting events that take place on this bridge, where daredevils leap from it into the gorge.

Bottom Line:

A stop at New River Gorge Bridge should be at the top of your must-see list when visiting New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. 

Nuttallburg

Nuttallburg is a historic mining town located in New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. This area of the park features historic sites like Nuttallburg tipple that have made their way to the National Register of Historic Places. Today, visitors can tour the historic coal mining structures and learn about this major industry of the late 1800s and early 1900s. 

Thurmond

Thurmond
Image Credit: Louise McLaughlin via NPS

Thurmond is a wonderful railroad town to visit in New River Gorge National Park for those who love history. In the early 1900s, Thurmond was a boomtown that brought in miners seeking coal in the nearby mines.

The Thurmond area of the park now tells the story of the past. It allows tourists to get a glimpse of the impact of the Industrial Revolution. Park visitors can take a walking tour of the area or hike the trails nearby.

Sandstone Falls

Sandstone Falls is the largest waterfall found on the New River. Sandstone Falls is a fantastic area for hiking, picnicking, and fishing. Photographers especially love this area for capturing mesmerizing photographs of the rushing water crashing over the rocks. You won’t want to miss this spectacular sight when visiting New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. 

Visitor Centers

The visitor centers are an excellent starting point when visiting New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. These centers have a wealth of information, helpful maps of the park, educational displays, and bookstores.

  • Canyon Rim Visitor Center is open year-round. It is located right on the edge of the gorge next to the New River Gorge Bridge. 
  • Sandstone Visitor Center is located in the southern region of the park. This visitor center is open seasonally from April to October and on weekends only from November to March. 
  • Thurmond Depot is located in a historic railroad depot. This visitor center is open seasonally from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
  • Grandview Visitor Center looks out over the deepest part of the gorge. It is open seasonally from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Bottom Line:

When visiting New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, be sure to stop by a visitor center or strive to visit all 4 of them as they are all unique and offer exciting amenities.

White Water Rafting

Whitewater at New River Gorge
Image Credit: Gary Hartley via NPS

White water rafting is one of the most thrilling adventures available in New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. The New River provides incredible opportunities for those who want to experience this activity. Visitors can paddle independently or utilize commercial outfitters to lead them down the river. Over 53 miles of free-flowing river are available in New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. 

Best Times To Visit New River Gorge National Park and Preserve

You are going to have a blast no matter when you visit New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. However, you may want to plan a visit around a particular sight, activity, or event. In that case, below, you will find a list detailing the best times to plan a visit.

Best Time To Visit New River Gorge National Park and Preserve for Fall Foliage

If you hope to visit New River Gorge National Park and Preserve to view the gorgeous fall foliage, the best time to visit is in October. The trees are bursting with color at this time of year, making it a spectacular time for photography or simply enjoying the views. An annual event, Bridge Day (detailed in the next section), takes place on the third Saturday in October, so if you are hoping to avoid crowds, be sure to plan around that. 

Best Time To Visit New River Gorge National Park and Preserve To Avoid the Crowds

The best time to visit New River Gorge National Park and Preserve to avoid crowds is in the winter. The park is typically dusted in snow, with temperatures dipping down below 20 degrees. The colder temperatures deter visitors, making it an excellent time for a solitary visit. Most operations are unavailable during the cold winter months, so be sure to factor that into your trip itinerary.

Best Time To Visit New River Gorge National Park and Preserve for Wildflowers

Suppose you love looking at fields speckled in gorgeous colors. In that case, you should plan a trip to New River Gorge National Park and Preserve to enjoy the fields of wildflowers on display. The best month to view the wildflowers in bloom is in late April. Viewing fields of purple, blue, yellow, and orange creates a magical memory that will stick with you for a lifetime. 

Cheapest Time To Visit New River Gorge National Park and Preserve

Traveling expenses can add up quickly, which can cause unwelcome stress during a vacation. Planning a trip to New River Gorge National Park in early to mid-September is a great way to enjoy this park while saving money at the same time. Flight and accommodation rates are typically lower during this month once school has returned to session.

Bottom Line:

Visiting in September is a great way to enjoy the beauty of this park while going easy on your budget.

Annual Events in New River Gorge National Park and Preserve

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve has a regular schedule of programs and events that take place on a weekly basis. There are also several spectacular events that happen annually.

Bridge Day

Bridge Day
Image Credit: Bridge Day

Bridge Day takes place every year on the third Saturday in October. Visitors gather on the New River Bridge to watch adventure enthusiasts leap into the gorge.

The jump takes place on Saturday, but there are many activities that take place on Friday and Sunday. Some of the events that take place around Bridge Day include a 5K race, bus rides into the gorge, a chili cookoff, a bridge walk, and vendors galore. Bridge Day has been taking place since 1990, and visiting during this spectacular event would be memorable and loads of fun. 

New River Cleanup

New River Cleanup takes place at New River Gorge National Park and Preserve each May, hosted by the Friends of New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. Each year, participants work together to rid the river of litter and help preserve the park’s natural beauty.

Recently, hundreds of tires and truckloads of garbage were pulled out of the river as a result of 1 day of hard work and dedication. This free event is a wonderful way to positively impact one of our nation’s amazing parks.

Summer Bash at Camp Brookside

Summer Bash at Camp Brookside takes place in August. This newly established annual event is a wonderful way to learn about and appreciate West Virginian culture and history. This event includes fishing, yard games, campfire gatherings, and Appalachian music. This event is geared toward adults and is an incredible way to make new friends and enjoy New River Gorge National Park.

Where To Stay in New River Gorge National Park and Preserve

One of the first steps to planning any vacation is figuring out where you will stay during your visit. New River Gorge National Park and Preserve has plenty of options for accommodations both inside and near the park.

Inside the Park

The only option for lodging in New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is to sleep under the stars in the great outdoors. Primitive camping is permitted in 9 different areas of the park, including the Stone Cliff Beach, Grandview Sandbar, and Glade Creek areas. 

The camping areas are all located on well-maintained gravel roads but set great distances from telephones, markets, and service stations. These primitive camping sites also offer easy access to the river for those who want to enjoy fishing and boating. Amenities when camping in any of these areas include a fire ring, picnic tables, and toilet facilities. 

Towns Near New River Gorge National Park and Preserve

For guests who prefer to set up a base camp near New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, there are several towns that have plenty to offer. Whether you are looking for rustic cabins, modern hotels, or a private rental, you can find the perfect solution for your travel needs.

Beckley, West Virginia

Beckley West Virginia
Image Credit: Joel Smith via Unsplash

Beckley is located just 7 miles from New River Gorge National Park and Preserve and a wonderful place to stay near the park. It offers exciting attractions, recreation opportunities, and amazing options for lodging and dining. 

It has one of the highest populations of the nearby towns and has several types of lodging opportunities, from state park campgrounds and luxury treehouses to incredible resorts and rustic cabins in the woods. 

This town has a plethora of dining options, so you won’t have to worry about finding a good meal. Staying in Beckley also opens up a trove of activities. This town has a rich history just waiting to be explored at historic buildings and landmarks like the Exhibition Coal Mine. Those who love art and shopping are in for a treat as this town is brimming over with antique malls, boutique stores, and artisan shops all around. 

For those who love outdoor adventure, Beckley has plenty to offer. Most visitors are eager to participate in the rock climbing, rafting, mountain biking, and fishing this town provides. There are amazing golf courses and an incredible ski resort for winter excitement.

Bottom Line:

With its proximity to New River Gorge National Park and Preserve and abundant opportunities for dining, entertainment, and accommodations, Beckley makes an obvious choice for those wanting to stay close by.

Fayetteville, West Virginia

Fayetteville is a charming town with lots happening all the time — it’s a great place for visitors to stay when visiting New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. This is one of the closest towns to the park and is less than a 5-minute drive away.

There are plenty of accommodations in Fayetteville, no matter which type of stay you desire. This sweet town has many hotels, lodges, resorts, cabins, bed and breakfasts, and campgrounds, making it a great place to set up a home away from home when visiting the park. Food enthusiasts are in for an incredible culinary treat when staying in Fayetteville. There is an abundance of locally-owned restaurants as well as national chains in this town.

Fayetteville has a wonderful shopping district for visitors who enjoy spending the day searching for unique items to bring home. There are also lots of opportunities for outdoor adventures, like hiking, skating, white water rafting, fishing, and hunting. With so much to do and see and great places to lay your head, Fayetteville is the ideal choice for visitors who want to stay near New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.

Oak Hill, West Virginia

Oak Hill is a little under 10 miles from New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. This quaint town calls all adventure seekers and also has wonderful accommodations and restaurants.

The town has a few places available for those who want to stay near the park. There are a couple of budget-friendly hotels, motels, private rentals, and Airbnbs. The town’s most popular option for lodging is ACE Adventure Resort which offers endless opportunities for adventure with its onsite waterpark, ziplining course, and white water rafting excursions. 

This is a smaller town with fewer choices for dining, but the options that are available are amazing. Most of the restaurants and bars in this town are locally owned and feature one-of-a-kind menus with amazing culinary creations. There’s plenty of variety when dining in Oak Hill and something for everyone.

Adventure is what brings most tourists to Oak Hill. This town has a city park, disc golf courses, obstacle courses, places for family fun and entertainment, and a wealth of opportunities for outdoor fun. If you are looking for an adventure-filled town near New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, look no further than Oak Hill. 

Where To Eat in New River Gorge National Park and Preserve

There are no restaurants in New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, but there are plenty of options just down the road. Whether you are looking for a place to start or end your day, you can find exactly what you crave close to this national park.

Cathedral Café

Cathedral Cafe
Image Credit: Cathedral Café

Cathedral Café is an incredible restaurant located in Fayetteville, just 2.5 miles from New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. This restaurant is open daily for breakfast and lunch and is well-loved by tourists and locals alike. 

Its motto is “Feeding Your Mind, Body, and Soul,” and its menu is filled with tantalizing, healthy options that are sure to please every palate. Some of the favorite menu items include the salmon scrambler, breakfast burrito, hot Italian panini, and grilled chicken quesadilla. There are gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan menu items as well, making this a win for all types of diners. 

The cafe is housed in an old church and offers a unique ambiance for diners. This restaurant has been serving the community and tourists for nearly 2 decades. It is a top-ranked restaurant near New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. Be sure to stop by for a drink or meal when visiting this national park. 

Pies and Pints

Pies and Pints is a wonderful restaurant serving made-to-order specialty pizzas and an endless selection of beer on tap. This restaurant is located just 5 minutes from New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. It is an excellent place to stop to refuel during or after your park excursions. Pies and Pints is open daily for lunch and dinner and has phenomenal service with an atmosphere that keeps guests returning regularly. 

It serves an extensive menu of specialty pizzas with the option to create your own pie. There are amazing starters such as hot wings, garlic bread, and nachos as well. Other menu items include salads, sandwiches, and desserts. Some favorite menu items include the Nashville hot chicken pizza, the char-grilled hot wings, and the Italian hero.

Hot Tip:

Most menu items can be adjusted for those with gluten sensitivities, and there are also several options for vegan and vegetarian diets.

Secret Sandwich Society

2 miles from New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is an amazing restaurant called the Secret Sandwich Society. This unique restaurant serves lunch and dinner daily and offers a one-of-a-kind culinary experience. 

Secret Sandwich Society has an impressive menu that features starters, salad bowls, sandwiches, burgers, and desserts. There are many options for gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian diets, so every guest has plenty to choose from. Customers rave about the loaded pimento fries, the Dynamo burger, and the Roosevelt sandwich. 

Be sure to stop by the Secret Sandwich Society for a meal you won’t forget during your trip to New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. 

Wanderlust Creativefoods

Wanderlust Creativefoods is 4 minutes from New River Gorge National Park and Preserve and is an outstanding restaurant you will want to experience during your trip. This restaurant is open for early and late dinners and serves high-quality food at a great cost.

They offer a menu serving culinary creations with cultural twists. Visitors often dine at this restaurant multiple times during their trip. Popular dishes include chicken tikka masala, lamb burgers, fish and chips, and Brussels sprouts. During your visit to New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, you must try Wanderlust Creativefoods for a culinary experience you won’t forget. 

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve Facts

Canyon Rim Boardwalk
Image Credit: John Chapman via NPS

1. A New National Park Established

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve was established in 2020 as America’s 63rd national park. In 1978, the New River was established as a National River by President Jimmy Carter. It wasn’t until 42 years later that President Donald Trump established the area as New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.

2. An Ancient River Runs Through

New River Gorge National Park is home to the second-oldest river in the world. The New River cuts through many formations throughout the park. Researchers believe this river may be as old as 3 to 360 million years. The New River is a spectacular sight to behold. It offers many activities to park visitors, including fishing, white water rafting, and photography.

3. Record-setting Bridge

The New River Gorge Bridge was completed in 1977 and is one of the most photographed icons in all of West Virginia. This bridge is the second-highest river in the nation and towers 876 feet above the New River. It also has the world’s longest single-arch steel span measuring 1,700 feet. This iconic bridge is also featured on the National Register of Historic Places.

4. Rock Climbing

Rock climbing is an activity that is sometimes overlooked at New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. This park has over 1,500 climbing routes available for adventurers to climb. The sandstone cliffs provide amazing opportunities for climbers to enjoy.

5. Original Inhabitants

The original inhabitants of the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve were the Native American groups from the Delaware, Tutelo, Saponi, Shawnee, Cherokee, and Mingo tribes. These people groups created trails that helped them get through the forest that surrounds the area. They were able to live on the land’s plants and animals. Researchers have found evidence that these tribes lived here nearly 12,000 years ago.        

6. An Abundance of Animals

There is a wide variety of animals that make their home in New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. With over 65 mammal species, 40 kinds of reptiles, 89 types of fish, 50 amphibian species, and diverse populations of birds, this park is a spectacular place for wildlife viewing. Some exciting animals you will see while visiting the park include America’s national bird, the bald eagle, white-tailed deer, beaver, river otters, black bears, and bats.

7. Refuge for Threatened Species

The Allegheny woodrat, the Virginia big-eared bat, and the Indiana bat all make their home in New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. This national park provides a safe haven for these animals that are listed as threatened species. Visitors are able to learn about the animals at risk in New River Gorge National Park and Preserve and attend workshops and events to discover ways to help preserve them.

8. Sandstone School

In 1925, Sandstone School opened in the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve area. This school taught students from first grade to 9th grade. Later, the school added tenth through twelfth grades. This school conducted classes from 1925 to 1994. Today, the site of Sandstone School is used as the Sandstone Visitor Center. Former students and graduates hold regular reunions to keep the memory of their beloved school alive. 

9. Historic Towns

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve has several towns that are rich in culture and history about America’s past. Some of these historic towns include Thurmond, Kaymoor, Nuttallburg, and Prince. These historic towns can be toured today, and many are featured on the National Register of Historic Places.

10. National Register of Historic Places

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve has a long list of historic sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are 9 historic sites and districts located in this national park, including the Nuttallburg Coal Mining Complex, the New River Gorge Bridge, and the Thurmond Historic District. 

Final Thoughts

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is teeming with exciting sights, adventure, and history. From its rugged terrain and whitewater rapids to its rich cultural heritage, there is something for everyone to enjoy here. Book your trip and embark on a journey to discover the treasures that lie within the boundaries of the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to enter New River Gorge National Park and Preserve?

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is a no-entry-fee park. Visitors are able to enjoy trip after trip to this national park without having to pay a dollar to enter.

How many days should I plan to spend in New River Gorge National Park and Preserve?

It is recommended that those visiting New River Gorge National Park and Preserve spend a minimum of 3 days exploring the park. This allows plenty of time to take advantage of the major areas of the park, including Grandview, Sandstone, and Canyon Rim, as well as take part in adventures like hiking and white water rafting.

What is the weather like in New River Gorge National Park and Preserve?

The weather varies throughout the year at New River Gorge National Park, and it also has the tendency to change quickly and be unpredictable. The warmest month is in July, which is also the month that receives the most rain. The coolest month is typically in January when temperatures dip into the upper teens.

Can I bring my dog with me to New River Gorge National Park and Preserve?

Pets are welcome at New River Gorge National Park and Preserve as long as their owners abide by the park rules and regulations. Pets are permitted on all the trails in the park, and pet owners are expected to keep them on a leash and pick up after them at all times.

Amar Hussain's image

About Amar Hussain

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications including Forbes, the Huffington Post, and more.

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