New River Gorge National Park

New River Gorge National Park

Our newest national park, New River Gorge! The “New River” is one of the oldest rivers on the continent. I was surprised to learn there are various methods to date the geological features, so the estimate varies widely between 3 to 320 million years. It’s been a national river since 1978, was “upgraded” to national park and preserve in 2020.

https://www.nps.gov/neri/planyourvisit/hiking.htm

On the drive from Charlottesville to Beckley, I stopped at the Sandstone Visitor Center. They have some good exhibits on watersheds and a video on the history of the area. I also picked up the park magazine and trail guide; each of the trail areas has a detailed map of the hikes and it was very useful during my stay.

My first full day, I went over to Grandview. I was going to attend a ranger walk but dogs are not allowed on park programs; they are allowed on all trails in the park, however. Boo I and started with the Grandview main overlook, then did the short Tunnel trail, and the longer Grandview Rim Trail out to the Turkey Spur view point, leading up 150+ stairs for a fantastic view of the river. The hike is about 3 miles round trip.

Definitely a “grand view”. Beautiful.

I returned a few days later to hike several of the great trails in the Sandstone Falls area of the park. I started at the Sandstone Falls Overlook, on the east side of the river, for a good look at the falls then continued down 20 to Hinton. I stopped for a short visit to their historic district (not much to see) then continued to Bluestone State Park. The Bluestone Turnpike Trailhead starts here and continues 8 miles to Pipestem Park, I hiked a short way but didn’t want to hike the entire trail unless I had someone meeting me at the end to return me to my car.

Sandstone Falls

Heading north, I stopped and did the Big Branch Trail. Sometimes I’ve hiked “easy” trails that are really tough, but have also hiked “difficult” trails that I think fairly easy. Big Branch is marked strenuous and it certainly is! Boo did not like all the water crossings and he pulled me off one rock and I got my hiking boots and socks very wet plus lost my good sunglasses on another crossing (leave them in your car, you don’t need them on this trail). I know you’re supposed to keep dogs on leash in parks but I recommend letting your dog cross by themselves, safer for both of you. It is a very beautiful trail, though. And at one stop, while enjoying the river sitting on a rock, a flock of butterflies surrounded me. Lovely.

After finishing Big Branch, I went on to the Sandstone Falls Boardwalk for more great views of the falls plus hiked the Island Loop. I saw a lot of eagles overhead.

I drove to Fayetteville several times. There are great hikes in the area, the Loop Point for a view of the bridge, plus the Kaymoor Trail and the Timber Ridge trail. I also did the beautiful Fayetteville Station Road Tour. It is 8 miles, one way, down to the river and back up, with great views of the bridge. On another visit to the area, I hiked the Endless Wall along the rim. One of my favorites, beautiful! Diamond Point offers amazing views of the river.

The Canyon Rim Visitor Center has good exhibits about the local industries, coal mining, the railroad, logging, plus lots of artifacts, and nice displays on flora and fauna in the area. The boardwalk trail here offers a good view of the bridge.

Returning to Grandview, I did the Big Buck trail and the Woodland Trails before attending the ranger programs, “Living with the Landscape walk: exploring the remains of the old Carper Farmstead and orchard. Learn how early gorge residents learned to live with the natural landscape on this leisurely stroll.” Then I attended a “Rhodo Wander” program to view the Catawba Rhododendrons growing throughout the park. It started raining heavily so we cut it short from the 90 minutes scheduled to about half an hour. I was here at a perfect time to see these beautiful shrubs throughout the park. The rangers let me bring Boo on both of the walks.

From NASA. I was able to see this via binoculars and a shared telescope, but don’t have that good of camera.

Later that same evening I drove back over for their Midnight Madness Lunar Eclipse Watch. The rain cleared off nicely and I had great views of the “blood moon”.

The drive to Thurmond’s historic district is along a beautiful narrow road. Established in 1890, the former coal town was the highest revenue town for the Chesapeake and Ohio railroad in 1910. The visitor center, in the former depot, was still closed until Memorial Day but the bank and other buildings have lots of informational signs in the windows. I parked just across the single lane railroad bridge and walked along the old town and saw the old coal tower, too.

I continued to the Cunard River Access Road to hike the Southside Trail. This was another beautiful drive, with lots of switchbacks. I parked right at the river access, and had a mile walk to the trailhead. I could have continued down the dirt road to the small Brooklyn Campground and the parking area, but the walk along the river is beautiful. On the map, the road is officially part of the Southside Trail.

Other

I did the BridgeClimb in Sydney, Australia, with my daughter when we visited in 2005 and thought it was great, lots of fun with fantastic views of the Opera House and harbor. I was interested to see the bridge walk advertised. I checked the weather for a clear sunny day and booked the walk. It starts close to the Canyon Rim Visitor Center; their office is just across the street. We had to sign a safety/waiver form and get our harness on then they drove us over to the visitor center. The path to the bridge catwalk is just off the scenic trail. We stopped several times to hear about the building of the bridge, the history of the valley and travel before the bridge, plus Bridge Day. Every October, 100s of people base jump, rappel, or high line (zip line) off the bridge. Our guide said “they are all crazy”. He told us some base jumpers didn’t think 800+ feet high enough so they set up catapults to launch themselves higher. Crazy indeed. We were met by the Bridge Walk van on the other side of the gorge and driven back to their office.

I visited the Quincy copper mine while in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula but never a coal mine, so went to the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine. Expensive at $22, I used the senior discount and paid $16. It includes a visit 1500 feet down the old coal mine with a guide talking about the process. There are multiple buildings from other coal towns on the property, a single miner’s “shack”, a family home, school, church. There is a small but interesting museum upstairs showing the company scrip, tools, and more history. I think families with kids may enjoy it more than I did.

I found the “Always Greener” exhibit on the park calendar page; a free art exhibit at the Beckley Art Center. All pieces were created by BAC members for the annual exhibit. Mostly nature’s “flora and fauna” there was a lot of art that is green, oils, glass, watercolor, mixed media.

I read about Tamarack Marketplace in one of the visitor guides and went out for a short visit one afternoon. They have beautiful art and even if you’re not interested in buying anything, like me, it’s enjoyable to wander through looking at some beautiful pottery and glassware and more. They also have a selection of local wines.

I took a longer drive one day over to Kanawha Falls** and Cathedral Falls then stopped at Hawk Nest State Park. There are beautiful views here over the river and a nice loop trail through the woods. The aerial tram was closed for the entire season.

**Pro tip, do NOT follow google maps. It took me back roads and the last few miles it wanted me to take a one lane, but two-way, road to a closed bridge. Apple Maps did the same; both take you to the east side of the river. I stopped and asked a local for better directions, and went way out of my way to get to a bridge crossing at Montgomery. Coming back to Beckley I took 60 to 16 to 19, much better! Enter Kanawha Falls Public Fishing or Glen Ferris Inn for better directions.

Restaurants

Pies and Pints was recommended by the guide at BridgeWalk and my daughter, but I was disappointed they don’t allow dogs on their patio. I ordered a pizza to go; their featured pizza that I saw online (glad I did, it wasn’t on the menu), barbacoa pork: pulled pork, peppers, onions, chipotle sauce. Delicious.

Since I couldn’t eat with Boo at Pies and Pints, I took my pizza over to Bridge Brew Works and sat on their lovely patio with my pizza, a flight and Boo. They did have a food truck there, too.

Coming back from hiking the Endless Wall trail, I stopped in Fayetteville at the Cathedral Cafe for a Turkey, Bacon and Avocado Panini. The location is in an old church and they have some lovely stained glass windows.

My last day in town I made the drive over to Daniel Vineyards. Lovely location and tasting room, I had 5 wines for $5. Their red blend was slightly too sweet but I liked the Saint Vincent and the two dessert wines I had as well, BlackBerry and a port. I bought a bottle of the Saint Vincent to share with a friend a few days later.

** All photos property of Lisa, not to be copied or reproduced **

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