Located in southern West Virginia, New River Gorge National River preserves over 70,000 acres of land along 53 miles of the New River between the towns of Hinton and Fayetteville from Bluestone Dam to Hawk’s Nest Lake. The park and surrounding area are rich in cultural and natural history with an abundance of scenic and recreational opportunities.
A rugged, whitewater river flowing northward through deep and spectacular canyons, the New River is actually among the oldest rivers on Earth. It has carved and continues to carve the deepest and longest river gorge in the Appalachian Mountains.
Established in 1978, New River Gorge National River offers something for everyone. New River, estimated to be over 250 millions year old, is the second oldest waterway in the world after the Nile. Its meandering course through the Appalachian mountains hides many natural wonders that appeal to every type of outdoor enthusiast.
New River Gorge National River is renowned for its excellent recreational opportunities: whitewater rafting, kayaking, canoeing, hiking, rock climbing, fishing, hunting, birding, camping, picnicking, biking, and simply enjoying the solitude the natural world.
The upper part of the river (southern section) features rapids ranging from Class I to Class III and include long pools of steady water, whereas the Lower Gorge of the New River (northern section) is far more difficult in comparison with Class III to Class V rapids, littered with large boulders and strong currents. Commercial outfitters conduct trips down the river from April through October.
Most begin their visit to New River Gorge at the Canyon Rim Visitors Center near Fayetteville. Inside are exhibits pertaining to the gorge’s history and recreational attractions, along with an auditorium. A walking path leads to a grand overlook of the New River Gorge and the New River Gorge Bridge. Other visitors centers are located at Sandstone, Grandview, and Thurmond.
An engineering feat, the New River Gorge Bridge is the largest single steel-arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere. Its completion saved motorists well over an hour over narrow two-lane roads down into the New River.
A monumental steel arch built on a grand scale not often seen in bridge construction, the New River Gorge bridge opened in 1977 as the highest and longest arch bridge in the world with a height of 876 feet and a main span of 1,700 feet.
The most unusual design element of the bridge was the decision to use a special type of steel that develops a brown colored rust coating that naturally protects the steel. It saves the West Virginia Department of Transportation a million dollars for every time they would have had to paint the bridge as well as giving the span a natural, rugged look that blends into the tree-filled surroundings.
Before the arch design was chosen, other bridge types considered for the 3,030 foot long gap included a suspension bridge, a jackknife truss-arch, and a continuous truss. Luckily, the best design prevailed and West Virginia became the proud owners of one of the largest and most beautiful bridge structures in the world.
The New River Gorge is special in that it is the only high bridge in the world to be celebrated precisely because of its height. Every year on the 3rd Saturday of October an official “Bridge Day” is held and the span is completely closed to vehicles. Nearly 200,000 people are then allowed to walk on the bridge for a one day festival that is centered around the spectacular view of the New River and BASE jumping.
Bridge Day has been canceled for just the second time in its history. Concerns with the Covid-19 pandemic and ability to safely stage the event led the decision to cancel the planned 2020 installment of West Virginia’s largest one-day festival which would have been held on October 17.
Before the New River Gorge was a natural attraction, it was known more for its coal. In 1863, the first railroad line was installed through the valley, bringing industry and a boom-town mentality to a region that was all but inaccessible. Coal mining camps and support towns, such as Thurmond, prospered for the latter part of the 19th century, but all of the towns are now just mere shadows of their former selves, and most cease to exist today.
New River Gorge National River is accessible by US-19 and Interstates 64 and 77 in south central West Virginia. The Canyon Rim Visitor Center is located just north of Fayetteville via US-19. The Sandstone visitor center is off of SR-20 at I-64, exit 139. The Grandview region is accessible via I-64, exit 129 and SR-9.
Almost heaven, West Virginia
Life is old there, older than the trees
Younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze
Country roads, take me home
To the place, I be-long
West Virginia, mountain momma