New River Gorge National Park – Guide

New River Gorge National Park – Guide

I spent Labor Day weekend hiking and sightseeing through New River Gorge National Park in West Virginia. It’s been a goal of mine to visit all of the National Parks across the United States, so each time I’m lucky enough to visit one, I’ll be making a guide for the park. If you’re interested in visiting this park, this guide will be an honest review and guide to the places I enjoyed most.

This national park is the newest in the United States, being officially stated as a National Park in December of 2020. Living on the east coast is rough in terms of accessibility to National Parks. Most national parks are in the western half of the United States, so I was very excited to hear about this new addition less than a 4 hour drive from my house in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

I’ve driven through West Virginia many times while traveling to the midwest and driving through the state is much different than visiting this National Park. I definitely had low expectations going into the trip based on my travels through the main highway stretches in the state. I was happily surprised by how much I enjoyed this park and how different it was then I expected.

I’ve been to the North Carolina mountains many times and the Virginia mountains too. After the visit I can honestly say that I enjoy the West Virginia mountains over both.

The New River Gorge is the deepest river gorge east of the Mississippi, so the views and terrain are quite different. Don’t get me wrong, the whole Appalachian Trail has its own unique beauty, but I really enjoyed the river being the focal point of a lot of the hiking trails, views, and activities in the area.

Where should I stay if I’m visiting the park?

The coolest town in the area is Fayetteville, WV. While all of the towns nearby are small, Fayetteville has the most local restaurants and shops that will give you that small-town mountain feel you’re looking for. While visiting we saw pride flags, Black Lives Matter flags, and gender neutral bathrooms in most local shops and restaurants in Fayetteville, so this town is also the safest.

I would suggest looking online at AirB&B and VRBO for local places to rent in or around Fayetteville. Here are a few places I found on AirB&B that I would consider booking the next time I visit. In addition, there is a very cute historic building turned boutique hotel right in the center of town called Lafayette Flats that would be an ideal location. If you’re looking for a Bed & Breakfast, there is a very cute local one in town called The Morris Harvey House, seen in rightmost photo above.

What restaurants, shops, and stops are in town?

Range Finder Coffee
101 E Wiseman Ave, Fayetteville, WV

This coffee shop was amazing. Located inside the Mountain Surf Paddle Boards shop, this cute stop had a long line every day. I ordered a smoked sea salt maple latte that was to die for. Considering this is the only artisan coffee shop in the area, I was happily surprised that it was up to par with the options in Charlotte, if not better.

and of course, they have oat milk.

Lost Appalachia Trading Co.
171 N Court St, Fayetteville, WV

This cute shop is attached to the boutique hotel I mentioned above. It’s a very woodsy, artsy shop for souvenirs designed by local artists. I bought a very cute art print of a possum from here that’s now in my living room. They also had great stickers, t-shirts, and pins if you’re looking for a gift or souvenir.

Cathedral Cafe & Book Store
134 S Court St, Fayetteville, WV

This is one of the main focal points of the small town. With beautiful antique cathedral windows facing the street, this old church has since been converted into a cafe with great vegan options and a variety of healthy indulgences. We ate here multiple times because there’s great outdoor picnic tables to sit at if you’ve brought your furry friend along before a hike.

The Historic Fayette Theatre
115 S Court St, Fayetteville, WV

While I wasn’t able to visit the theatre because it was closed due to COVID-19, I can imagine this would be a great place to check the schedule before booking a trip. They post regular updates on their Facebook page about upcoming events so you can plan something in advance.

The Station Market & Bistro
312 N Court St, Fayetteville, WV

This place was one of my absolute favorite spots. Not only do they have delicious sandwiches and snacks to order and eat on the patio or pack for a hike, but they were also a local zero-waste store! They had so many zero-waste options for sale like bulk grains, package free cleaning products, and plastic alternatives. I enjoyed walking around the shop for way too long, surprised by this small town having a shop with such great low waste options.

Enjoyed Again Junktique – 211 North Court St, Fayetteville, WV

This local antique shop was also a win! I found two unique 1978 collectors glasses with endangered species on them. If you know me, thrifting and antiquing are so much fun for me, so stopping in this little shop and finding cute treasures made my day!

Thread – 101 W. Maple Ave. Fayetteville , West Virginia

This is a local eclectic thrift store in the center of downtown. They offer local art, a place to sit and relax, and curated clothing from all decades.

The Freefolk Brewery – 1690 Court St, Fayetteville, WV

This brewery is a short drive down the road from the main part of town. We stopped here one evening after dinner and it was incredibly dog friendly inside and out. It has great outdoor seating with string lights and greenery to surround you + cute dogs roaming around looking for belly rubs if you’re lucky. 

The Frozen Barn – 1106 Main St E, Oak Hill, WV

In the next town over, this cute cow-themed ice cream shop is a nice place to visit if you’re looking for a late night sweet treat or if you’re driving through Oak Hill to reach other parts of the national park.

The Hobbit Hole – 100 S Court St, Fayetteville, WV

This cute basement antique shop is small but filled with findings that are true gems! From the racks of authentic vintage clothing to the vintage home decor and books, you will definitely find something that catches your eye in this unique shop.

Southside Junction Tap House – 101 S Court St, Fayetteville, WV

This stop was surprisingly delicious! Most restaurants in town had great vegan options, but the cauliflower wings here were to die for. While the focus is clearly the spirits, the food was excellent and I’m really craving those wings right now.

Pies & Pints – 219 W Maple Ave, Fayetteville, WV

Need I say more? The Pizza here was super unique. I ordered the seasonal heirloom tomato pizza! They have the option to make every pizza vegan and with flavors like Street Corn Pizza, Thai Pizza, and Black Bean Pizza, there is really no going wrong.

What National Park stops should I make?

Canyon Rim Visitor Center
162 Visitor Center Road, Lansing, WV

I would highly suggest making this visitor center your first stop. Stopping here will allow you to collect maps of the local area and speak with park rangers about what trails are currently open or closed. I always suggest getting the opinion of one of the rangers, they have lots of experience with the best time of day to visit each spot and how intense certain trails are. Canyon Rim Visitor Center also has some pretty great views of the cliffside, river, and bridge to start your trip off right!

Attached to the same parking lot as the visitor center is a short, but steep, boardwalk and staircase that leads to a breathtaking overlook of the New River Gorge Bridge. This trail is called “Canyon Rim Boardwalk” on the park maps. It’s only 0.1 miles in distance from the start of the sidewalk to the bottom of the steps, but it’s marked as strenuous, so make sure to have some water and take breaks as needed. Peep the view at the end of the boardwalk.

Fayette Station Road
Start the drive from the Canyon Rim Visitor Center

When leaving the visitor center, take the scenic drive down Fayette Station Road. This road is a one-way traffic road, not suitable for larger vehicles since it’s small and contains several hairpin turns. The road starts at the Canyon Rim Visitor Center and winds down the mountain and under the New River Gorge Bridge giving you a unique perspective of the area. There is also an audio tour of this drive online – make sure to download it before your trip and hit play as you wind down the mountain cliff roadside.

As you reach the bottom of the road, you will see a parking area to the right where you can park and climb slippery rocks all the way to the river’s edge. If you take this road I would highly recommend stopping here. The rapids make magical sounds and we saw many professional photographers scaling the rocks to get one of a kind photos. If you relax here for long enough you will also see many whitewater rafters up close!

Endless Wall Trail
Start at Fern Creek Trailhead

This was by far my favorite hike of the trip. We took this trail on an overcast day, late afternoon, and I think it was absolutely perfect. The overcast made the day not too hot and hiking the trail in late afternoon gave such a unique lighting to parts of the trail that I found profound. Some areas of the trail had tall trees that were lime green, literally, while other sections had magnolias overhead making me feel like I was in a creepy, dark forest.

We started the hike by parking at the Fern Creek Trailhead and then hiking up to Diamond Point, and back. While this trail is a full loop, we decided to hike to the top and back down the same direction for lack of time. The hike in total was about 2.4 miles, but if you take the full loop, it’s about double that. The next time I visit I will definitely make sure to plan enough time to take the full loop. I did not find this trail strenuous at all. There were no parts that were too steep or strenuous where I felt the need to stop, yet the pathway still included cute staircases, rocks, and bridges along the way.

The best part of this hike was Diamond Point, of course. Diamond Point had the most unique and breathtaking views of the entire trip. The trails at the top of the mountain loop in and out of cliff edges so you can easily find a private spot to have a picnic or sit and relax along the cliffside. Of course, I didn’t know that before planning the trip, so I would highly recommend planning a picnic and carving out time to just sit and relax at the top, especially if you have a cool, overcast day.

We visited in the late summer, so if you look really closely you can see some of the trees starting to change for fall. I can’t imagine how much more beautiful the landscape looks during fall when the trees are shades of red and orange.

Grandview Rim Trail
Start this trail by parking at Grandview Visitor Center

Grandview is one of the deepest parts of the park, far from the hustle and bustle of the small towns, the drive to this part of the park is about 30-40 minutes from Fayetteville. This hike was moderate with strenuous sections at the end. Take your time and stop for breaks along this 3 mile hike point to point. Along the trail there are steep sections with mud, rocks, and stairs, so be sure to wear shoes with good traction and bring lots of water and snacks. Every so often there are overlooks with different views of the famous gorge from 1,400 feet above. 

If you’re not up for the hike, there is also an option to drive up to the top of the mountain on a windy road. You will pass by the road several times if you choose to hike from the visitor center. But, hiking allows you to stop at the overlooks, not just the main one at the top. If you hike you will also see flower fields like the one below and animals! We saw several deer eating an afternoon snack by this flowery spot. Also, make note that in order to see good views at the top, there are very steep stairs you have to climb, but the bottom section of the trail will allow you to see both of the views in the photos above without much strain.

Sandstone Falls Boardwalk

Ideally we would have wanted more time to hike around Sandstone Falls, but this made a great stop on the way home. Considering Sandstone Falls is at the southern border of the park, closest to the Virginia state line, and about an hour and a half away from Fayetteville, we decided to make this stop on the drive home.

We first made a trip to the Sandstone Visitor Center. Stopping at the visitor center is not necessary for this location. The visitor center is actually on the opposite side of the river, so you have to drive an additional 30 minutes to get to the boardwalk if you get directions straight there. Instead, I would get directions directly to the boardwalk or Hinton, the closest local town.

Although we didn’t stop in Hinton, we drove through and there were several local cafes and shops, plus great views of the river. The town is built right along the river’s edge on a steep side, so you’re able to see the entire town in one glance upward.

The boardwalk to see sandstone falls is handicap accessible and has some picnic tables along the trail if you’d like to stop to sit and eat or relax. In addition there is a beach here! 

Stopping at this beach would be a great place to lay out in the sun or have a beach picnic. There were several families sitting in the water, although I’m not positive if swimming is allowed. Make sure to check if you’re wanting to take a dive.

The end of the boardwalk leads to a scenic view of Sandstone Falls. This section of the river is 1,500 feet wide with waterfalls ranging from 10-25 foot drops. This area of the park is not as shaded since the trails are all along the riverside, so be sure to bring sunglasses, a hat, and sunscreen.

Thurmond Ghost Town
Thurmond, WV

The drive out to this historic ghost town has scenic stops along the way to view waterfalls and riverside spots. I would definitely recommend stopping at the waterfall, this has the largest pull-off area, so it’s hard to miss. There are huge rocks that are easy to climb on to get an insta-worthy profile picture of you + nature. Once you get to the end of the road to Thurmond you’ll drive across a one-way bridge that also has a railway on the other side that Amtrak still uses to this day.

You can walk across the unique, rusted bridge to overlook the river below and get a close up view of kayakers down below. Just be careful of oncoming traffic from both directions!

Once you cross the bridge there are ample parking spots and a visitor center with restrooms. The visitor center is the original train station, called Thurmond Depot, that was built in the first two decades of the 1900s. It’s since been renovated and up-kept by the National Park Service to keep it in good shape for visitors of the ghost town.

As you continue to walk along the railroad you’ll see the town, once gleaming, now covered in coal pieces, broken glass, and cobwebs. If you look close enough or at black and white photos of the town when it was booming, you can still envision how beautiful the intricate tiles, bricks, and signs must have been.

Plus – the little town hall gave me major Gilmore Girls vibes, which I’m always in the mood for!

There are several hiking areas and the ability to drive up the mountain on a one-way road to view some abandoned homes, but we decided just to walk along the railroad through the old town and back. When I visit again I’m definitely going to hike the Brooklyn Mine Trail to see the old coal mines and the Southside Trail which is an easy trail that winds alongside the river.

We will definitely be visiting this National Park again. We only had a two day trip so we weren’t able to see everything we wanted, but I will continue to update this National Park Guide, and my others, each time I visit to make sure you have the best guide possible to aid your adventure!

Planning a trip to this National Park? Message me or tag me on Instagram @growwithsydney! I’d love to help you plan, see the adventures you decided to take, and get your opinion on the park.