Article Overview: Best Things to Do in New River Gorge National Park, Visiting New River Gorge
As one of America’s newest national parks, you might be thinking there may not be a whole lot of things to do in New River Gorge National Park yet… Let me tell you from firsthand experience – there is.
Nestled into southern West Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains, New River Gorge National Park is every bit the adventurer’s playground. Here there are truly endless recreation opportunities.
This past year my team spent a few weeks trying out all of the incredible things to do in New River Gorge National Park to create a short film as part of a partnership with West Virginia Tourism. The results are pretty spectacular.
Ready to get started? Let’s go!
Why Trust Us About the Best Things to Do in New River Gorge National Park?
We’re Will Pattiz and Jim Pattiz, collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers (and sometimes the Parks Brothers) and we absolutely LOVE the national parks.
We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, the USDA, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues. Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us experts on the national parks.
Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value of land conservation.
We set out to create a stunning film on the absolute best things to do in New River Gorge National Park and along the way learned a great deal that we’re sharing here.
If you’d like to follow along our journey we’d be delighted to have you!
Watch the Stunning New River Gorge Film
Encompassing over 70,000 acres, New River Gorge National Park offers visitors an exciting window into West Virginia’s past and a thrilling adventure on one of America’s most wild and scenic rivers.
Journey with More Than Just Parks as we explore a gorge teeming with rugged beauty, ancient waters, and epic overlooks. This is New River Gorge. Filmed primarily in stunning UHD 8K.
To create this film we spent a few weeks on location in New River Gorge National Park as part of a partnership with West Virginia Tourism. The purpose of the video is to highlight the park’s unique scenic, historic, and adventurous character as well as promote responsible recreation within.
Things to Do in New River Gorge National Park
Table of Contents: Things to Do in New River Gorge National Park
Table of Contents: Things to Do in New River Gorge National Park
- Why Trust Us About the Best Things to Do in New River Gorge National Park?
- Watch the Stunning New River Gorge Film
- Things to Do in New River Gorge National Park
- Things to Know Before You Visit New River Gorge National Park
- Where to Stay at New River Gorge
- Top 20 Best Things to Do in New River Gorge National Park
- Top 15 Best Things to Do at New River Gorge National Park
- Top 10 Best Things to Do at New River Gorge National Park
- Top 5 Best Things to Do at New River Gorge National Park
- Map of Things to Do in New River Gorge National Park
- List of Things to Do in New River Gorge National Park
Things to Know Before You Visit New River Gorge National Park
There are no entrance fees at New River Gorge National Park. It’s always a good idea to get a yearly America the Beautiful Pass (which can be found at the entrance gates to most national parks). This pass gets you into all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more including 2,000 sites for free after a one-time $80 fee.
Use it. Lots of it. Especially this one which I never leave the house without because it plays nice with our dear friend, earth 🙂
Cell Service is fairly reliable in the park but there are a few places where it gets spotty.
The Best Guide Book for New River Gorge National Park is this one which we’ve marked up and highlighted quite a bit.
The Best Map: I like this map best for New River Gorge National Park.
Drink it. Lots of it. Don’t forget it in the car.
Best Time to Visit New River Gorge National Park
The Best Time to Visit New River Gorge National Park is during the Spring and Fall when both temperatures and crowds are down. Spring brings incredible blooms (but also some mosquitoes) while Fall brings incredible foliage (without bugs).
Restaurants & Food Options at New River Gorge
There are some great food options around New River Gorge National Park. I’ve listed a few of our favorites below:
Maps of the National Parks
National Parks Checklist Map: This beautiful National Parks Checklist Map can be ordered to your house.
Framed National Parks Map: We’re a sucker for maps, this framed national parks map is the best.
Where to Stay at New River Gorge
Visiting New River Gorge National Park? If you haven’t decided where to stay (yet) check out our favorite hotel for New River Gorge.
Top 20 Best Things to Do in New River Gorge National Park
20. Visit the Canyon Rim Visitor Center
The Canyon Rim Visitor Center is a great first stop for visitors looking for things to do in New River Gorge National Park & Preserve. Located just north of Fayetteville, this historical and educational center provides information and interpretation of the historical, cultural, natural, and recreational resources that you’ll expect when immersing yourself in the magic of this national park.
This visitor center is a picturesque architectural piece that closely knits fine, natural materials with the wild landscape surrounding it, creating a spectacular harmony you won’t forget. The center features interpretive displays, exhibits, park film, and a book store where you can find trail maps to get through the expansive park.
But perhaps the best part of the Canyon Rim Visitor Center is its stunning view of the Gorge itself! As you step outside onto the observation deck, you’ll be greeted with a breathtaking panorama of the New River Gorge, its rugged cliffs, lush forests, and the meandering River winding through the valley below.
Soak up breathtaking views and snap some postcard-worthy selfies or group photos with the stunning backdrop of the Gorge. But don’t linger too long – plenty more adventures are waiting for you in the park!
19. New River Gorge Bridge Overlook & Canyon Rim Boardwalk Trail
For folks looking to get a quick taste of the park after checking out the visitor center, add the Canyon Rim Boardwalk Trail to your list of things to do in New River Gorge.
This short trail takes visitors to a series of impressive overlooks that look out over the massive New River Gorge Bridge.
There are 178 stairs that descend down to the final overlook on this boardwalk so if mobility is an issue for you I recommend stopping at the first overlook which requires no stair climbing.
18. Visit Thurmond Historic District
Thurmond Historic District is a classic town whose massive coal deposits made it a city of choice for many coral barons for the first two decades of the 1900s. This historic depot serves as a link to the past and the present, telling stories through its vast abandoned dry-good stores, railroad, and hotels.
This former railroad town is a fascinating glimpse into West Virginia’s industrial past, with well-preserved buildings dating back to the early 1900s.
Stroll along the streets and imagine what life was like for the coal miners and their families who once called this place home. Peek inside the old general store, post office, and train station, and see how they’ve been restored to their former glory.
The natural beauty, outdoor recreation, and fascination with the history of this small West Virginia town make Thurmond Historic District one of the things to do in new river gorge national park.
17. Take the Scenic Drive
If you prefer to take in the park’s natural beauty from the comfort of your car, drive down some of the less taken roads that either take you along the rim or the River or wind up and down between the two. These roads will help you appreciate the lost glory of the past and enjoy the peaceful bliss of the present.
The New River Gorge Scenic Drive is an 83-mile, 3-hour long route that encircles the heart of the New River Gorge National Park and will give you a glimpse of both the past and the present. This route will allow you to savor the many beautiful woodlands, scenic overlooks, and interesting cultural sites throughout the park.
Taking a route along the rim is arguably one of the best things to do in new river gorge national park that will leave you with lifelong memories. These routes offer spectacular views of the sandstone walls and the River below.
But if you want to get a closer feel of the Gorge’s fauna and flora, take the routes running parallel to the River. They’ll allow you to bask in the unmatched diversity and abundance that’s characteristic of this gem.
We recommend taking a break at these interesting stops: Canyon Rim Visitor Center, Fayette Station Road, Kaymoor Mine Area, Thurmond Historic District, Glade Creek Area, Grandview, Babcock State Park, and the Endless Wall.
16. Birdwatching & Wildlife Viewing
The picturesque mountains and valleys of the New River Gorge National River provide the perfect stopover habitat for migrating birds. In fact, the park provides vibrant biodiversity for the more than 180 bird species that call this beautiful jewel home.
Its unique ecosystem consisting of pockets of grassy fields, mixed mesophytic forests, high bluffs, and a blend of riparian areas, hosts a horde of neotropical migrants in Spring.
Peregrine Falcons can be seen doing deep dives in the clear waters, while the ever-elusive Blue-winged Warblers can be spotted perching in the lush rhododendron thickets. You can bird the canopy via zipline or a parachute off the bridge.
The New River Gorge is also home to other animals, such as raccoons, groundhogs, white-tailed deer, squirrels, chipmunks, beavers, and minks. For the best wildlife viewing, visit some of the park’s remote areas, such as Glade Creek and Nuttallburg, right after dawn and right before dusk.
Top 15 Best Things to Do at New River Gorge National Park
If you’re looking for free things to do at New River Gorge National Park then add camping to your list. Yes, you read that right. Camping is free of charge at New River Gorge!
There are no reservations allowed and all sites are managed on a first come first served basis.
Within New River Gorge National Park there are nine designated camping areas. Of these my personal favorite is Glade Creek Campground.
If you have time for more things to do in new river gorge national park, be sure to do some warm water fishing at the New River. The New River offers anglers an opportunity to catch walleye, bass, bluegill, crappie, muskellunge, and channel catfish.
Enjoy your fishing expedition while rocking on a dory inflatable raft, jet boat, or kayak. Some of the best places to hook your favorite fish are Brooks Falls, Tug Creek Beach, Meadow Creek, and Stone Cliff near Thurmond.
13. Mountain Biking on the Arrowhead Trails
If you’re a fan of mountain biking, then this should be one of the things to do in new river gorge national park. The park boasts some of the country’s most beautiful and rugged terrains, making it the perfect destination for any biking enthusiast.
New River Gorge National Park boasts a huge quantity and variety of mountain biking terrain ranging from old, gravel mining roads and railroad grades to narrow, rollercoaster-like single-track trails that wind through the forest.
These trails are perfect for solo, group or family mountain biking, allowing you to soak in the sights and sounds along some of the country’s most epic mountain bike trails. Take on the laid-back Southside Junction Trail or the challenging loops of the Arrowhead Trails as you bond with those that matter in your life.
12. Swimming & Snorkeling (seriously)
Swimming and snorkeling are other popular things to do in New River Gorge National Park, with many visitors calling it “The Little Bahamas of the East.”
Enjoy a dip in a secluded swimming hole or cool off in a calm stretch of the clear turquoise waters after an exhausting hike, bike ride, or bouldering.
The Glade Creek and the Canyon Falls Swimming Pool are refreshing places to spend your day.
11. Sandstone Falls
Easily the most beautiful and impressive waterfall in New River Gorge is Sandstone Falls, located at the southern end of the park. This impressive set of falls is much bigger than it appears in photos and creates quite a thunderous booming sound, especially after a good rain storm.
We visited this waterfall on such an occasion and were very surprised by the amount of water rushing over the falls.
There is a great boardwalk trail that allows visitors to safely view many different angles of the falls and makes this activity one of the best things to do in New River Gorge National Park for folks with mobility issues.
Top 10 Best Things to Do at New River Gorge National Park
10. See the Epic Overlooks at Grandview
Grandview is another main hub at New River Gorge National Park complete with its own hiking trails, scenic overlooks, visitor center, children’s playground, and even a baseball diamond!
The main attraction here is the series of impressive overlooks into the New River Gorge. I recommend checking out the Main Overlook and the Turkey Spur Overlook for the best views.
9. Nuttalburg Head House & Conveyer Trail
If a flat trail is not your kind of thing, add The Headhouse Trail as one of the things to do in new river gorge national park. The 0.7 miles Headhouse trail is a moderately-graded gravel path leading to the Nuttallburg coal mine site.
Situated about ¼ mile off the Lansing-Edmond Road in New River Gorge’s north district, this short but steep trail is popular for hiking and biking.
It offers some solitude during quieter times of the day and serves you with beautiful views along the way. You’ll get a glimpse of the old coal conveyor and go back through history when you visit the abandoned coal mines. The exhibits at this site will help you learn more about this mine’s operation, giving you a clear picture of what life was like before.
8. Bridge Buttress Trail
The Bridge Buttress is a well-loved unofficial climbers trail, located off of Fayette Station Road. The “trail” takes climbers around the bottom of the climbing area and to the top of the buttress where they can rappel down.
Getting to the top requires handling a rope while pulling yourself up so it is not for folks with mobility issues. Despite the park not officially maintaining this, the path is very clear and appears to be well maintained by the climbing community.
For those who brave the rope and reach the top of the buttress the views are amazing.
7. Drive Fayette Station Road
Before the New River Gorge Bridge was constructed, folks who wanted to cross the New River would need to take the old Fayette Station Road. If you’d like to relish memories running back 100 years, this road should be near the top of your list of things to do in New River Gorge National Park.
The Fayette Station Road offers a scenic drive into the belly of the Gorge to where the original river crossing was located. You’ll pass under the New River Gorge Bridge via a series of hairpin turns and if you’re lucky, enjoy watching mountain climbers at the popular Bridge Buttress Trail.
Explore the River’s edge as whitewater rafters take on the Fayette Station Rapid and take a snap of the clear views of the New River Gorge Bridge before walking back to the old bridge for photos.
6. Rock Climbing & Rappelling
If you are a beginner or pro rock climber, you’ll be thrilled to know that rock climbing is highly recommended as one of the favorite things to do in new river gorge national park.
New River Gorge National Park is a climber’s paradise, with more than 1,400 climbing routes to explore, ranging from beginner-friendly to expert-level. The park’s sandstone cliffs offer a unique climbing experience, with routes that vary in difficulty and length, and stunning views from the top.
If you’re new to rock climbing, plenty of outfitters and guides are available in the area to help you get started. And for experienced climbers, there are plenty of challenging routes to push your limits.
Top 5 Best Things to Do at New River Gorge National Park
The New River Gorge Bridge is one of the highest bridges in the US, the longest single-span arch bridge outside of China, and the 5th longest single arch bridge in the world, making it must-visit things to do in new river gorge national park.
This heart-pumping adventure is not for the faint of heart, but it’s sure to be a thrilling experience you’ll never forget.
As you clip into your safety harness and step onto the bridge, you’ll be greeted with breathtaking views of the New River below. The panoramic vistas will leave you in awe as you walk over half a mile across one of the world’s highest and longest single-arch bridges.
But don’t worry if you’re afraid of heights because there’s still a way to experience this incredible bridge walk. The 2-foot-wide grated steel catwalk beneath the bridge offers a unique 3,030 feet long perspective, where you can watch the whitewater rafters heading down the New River.
You’ll also be veiled by the Gorge’s verdant walls and rock formations that mark the gorgeous hiking while experiencing slight tremors that flex the bridge to the rhythm as cars and trucks wheezing from the nearby road.
For a truly magical experience, this utilitarian bridge transforms into a high-energy centerpiece of extreme sports called Bridge Day on the 3rd day of each year, making it a perfect time to plan a visit.
For reservations check out the official bridgewalk website.
4. Endless Wall Trail
The New River Gorge promises over 100 miles of hiking trails and plenty of campgrounds. Beautiful trails snake majestically around the Gorge’s hillsides, delivering hikers and bikers to some of West Virginia’s most scenic vistas.
The Endless Wall trail is quickly gaining attention as one of the things to do in new river gorge national park, perhaps after topping USA Today list of the nation’s best hikes and because of its easy-to-conquer elevation and the sandstone walls that offer a picturesque backdrop as you hike.
This 2.4 mile trail passes through Fern creek and rich, bushy rhododendron forests before zig-zagging along the epic cliff edge.
If you’re a leisure hiker, set aside about one and a half hours to truly take in all the beauty and great views of the New River racing 1000 feet below. Some points of interest include the Fern Creek, Diamond point, and Nuttall trailheads.
3. Concho Rim Overlook
If you’re looking to add incredible overlooks of the gorge to your list of things to do in New River Gorge National Park then Concho Rim is a must.
Interestingly enough, the overlook itself is technically not located within the official boundaries of the national park but everything you can see from the overlook is.
I recommend visiting Concho Rim for sunrise to get some amazing views all to yourself.
2. Long Point Trail
If you’re looking for the absolute best view of the New River Gorge Bridge then Long Point Overlook is the place to go. This 1.6 mile (each way) trail is open to both hikers and mountain bikers (up until the very last .1 mile).
Sunsets from here are some of the finest in the park offering panoramic vistas of the gorge including views of the bridge, endless wall trail, bridge buttress trail, bridge overlook, and more.
This is in the must-see categories of things to do in New River Gorge National Park for folks seeking the best views of the bridge.
1. Whitewater Rafting
The New River Gorge National Park may be known for its rock climbing, lush Appalachian forest, and a host of other adventure activities, but it is the world-class whitewater rafting that makes this place so enchanting.
The whitewater rafting is an award-winning opportunity to explore the many class V+ rapids to family-friendly float trips at one of the best rivers on the East Coast and the country’s oldest waterways.
Whether you are a “whitewater junkie” or a new river runner, we can guarantee that you’ll enjoy the crashing waves, big holes and boulders, and clean, steep drops over smooth granite.
Map of Things to Do in New River Gorge National Park
List of Things to Do in New River Gorge National Park
- Whitewater Rafting
- Long Point
- Concho Rim
- Endless Wall Trail
- Rock Climbing & Rapelling
- Drive Fayette Station Road
- Bridge Buttress Trail
- Nuttalburg Coal Tipple
- Sandstone Falls
- Kaymoor Miners Trail
- Biking the Arrowhead Trails
- Birdwatching & Wildlife Viewing
- Visit Thurmond
- New River Gorge Bridge Overlook & Canyon Rim Boardwalk Trail
- Canyon Rim Visitor Center
Pin Things to Do at New River Gorge National Park
Tips for Visiting New River Gorge National Park (or any national park)
Permit Systems and Reservations
Check to see if the national park you’re visiting has a permit or reservation system in place before visiting. As parks become increasingly crowded more has to be done to safeguard them which means controlling the hundreds of millions of people who visit these places each year.
Popular national parks with reservation systems of some kind include Yosemite, Yellowstone, Zion, Rocky Mountain, Glacier, Arches, Acadia, Denali, and more.
Want Less Crowds? Try a National Forest!
Try visiting a national forest while you’re on your trip to avoid the crowds. There are 155 national forests in America, many of which are equally as beautiful as the national parks they neighbor and only see a fraction of the visitors.
For example, try the Flathead National Forest next to Glacier National Park, the Bridger-Teton next to Grand Teton, and the Dixie which borders nearly all of the Utah National Parks.
Practice Safety, Seriously
National parks are amazing but wild places so it is essential to practice basic safety while visiting them. Every year people die while vacationing in national parks. This is easily avoided by:
- Sticking to trails
- Checking the weather before going out on a hike
- Maintaining a safe distance between wildlife which means at least 25 yards from most wildlife and 100 yards from predators
- Avoid ledges with steep drop offs
Helpful Related Articles
New River Gorge Facts: 10 Amazing New River Gorge National Park Facts to Know
West Virginia National Parks: 8 Surprising West Virginia National Parks Worth Visiting
West Virginia Historic Sites: 10 Must-See West Virginia Historic Sites