New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is full of picturesque overlooks and short hikes full of stunning views. With so many different stops and hikes, deciding which ones to prioritize for a weekend trip can be hard.
So let me give you a helping hand and show you which hikes and overlooks we hit in our two days in West Virginia’s New River Gorge area, that were filled with breathtaking views of the gorge, sandstone cliffs, river views, and mining history the area is known for. Since our time in the area included a half-day visit to Babcock State Park, and a lengthy nap one afternoon, we feel that you could see what we saw in the park in one day.
Short Hikes And Top Stops In New River Gorge National Park And Preserve
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Our trip to the New River Gorge area took place in late October 2020, just months before it became America’s newest National Park. Before then, it was national park service land as a national river.
After visiting the area, I think the title is long overdue because the New River area is full of stunning views, rich in history, and incredible untamed wilderness. It deserves to be a national park, and I am glad it finally is.
The new national park contains more than seven thousand acres, and the national preserve area covers more than sixty-five thousand acres. New River is one of 5 parks to have split park preserve status, and it is the only one to have it outside of Alaska.
The New River Gorge Bridge Overlook
We started our exploration of the area at the New River Gorge Bridge Overlook, which can be found behind the Canyon Rim Visitor Center. All the visitor centers in the park, including Canyon Rim, were Unfortunately closed due to COVID-19 while we were there.
There are four different visitor centers in the park, including…
Canyon Rim Visitor Center – This is the main visitor center for the park, where visitors can obtain information about all the recreational opportunities the park has to offer. There is a large exhibit room where you can learn more about the natural history of the area as well as the history of its people, its towns, and its coal industry.
From the back deck of the building, you can enjoy the view of the gorge and the New River flowing through the bottom of it.
Sandstone Visitor Center – A green design building where visitors can learn more about the New River watershed as well as the area’s natural and cultural history.
Thurmond Depot – Located inside a historic train depot that once received 15 passenger trains a day. This visitor center is only open seasonally.
Grandview Visitor Center -This visitor center is seasonal, normally opening in June and at the end of August.
There is a rather large grouping of stairs to climb down to reach the overlook for the New River Gorge Bridge–but they are well worth climbing if you are physically able, as the views of the bridge from the overlook are better than those you are going to get from anywhere else in the park.
The New River Gorge Bridge is the longest span in the western hemisphere. When it was completed in 1977, it reduced a 40-minute trip across the gorge to less than a minute. It is more than a structural marvel; it is also an impressive work of structural art.
Once a year, for one day, the bridge is closed to vehicles and open to pedestrians only for Bridge day. On this day, adventurists such as base jumpers and rappellers leap off the bridge down into the gorge. Runners can take part in the Active SWV Bridge day 5K.
Before making your way back up all those stairs, make sure to turn your head away from the bridge and take in the views of the gorge and the New River below.
The Endless Wall Trail
After all those steps, you are going to be glad to know that the Endless Wall Trail is rather flat while still providing you with jaw-dropping views. However, if you do not like unrailed cliff edges, you will want to skip this one.
Parking at the two trailheads of the Endless trail is limited. I strongly recommend making this trail your first trail of the day and getting an early start.
We parked at one end of the trail and then walked along the road from the other end to our car. I don’t recommend doing this if you are hiking with a dog (yes, dogs are allowed on most trails in this national park) or with small children, as there is not a lot of room on the edge of the road to get them out of the way of traffic.
Most people along the Endless Wall Trail make a beeline for the cliffs, but I want to encourage you to slow down and enjoy the beautiful trees along the wooded path. Look up and see the blue sky peeking through the colorful canopy.
These rock-faced cliffs are what give the trail its name. They really do look like they never end. While we were there, several rock climbers were making their way up the cliffs. We stopped and admired their skills for a while.
Rock climbing is a popular activity in the park, with over 1400 different climbing routes available to climbers.
And, of course, way down below those cliffs, the New River meanders its way through the gorge that shares its name.
You can look back and see glimpses of the New River Gorge Bridge along the Endless Wall Trail.
Kaymoor Miners Trail
The New River Gorge National Park And Preserve is more than a place rich in natural beauty. It is also steeped in history. The area is rich in coal that was once heavily mined.
The Kaymoor Miner’s Trail is made up of two parts. The first is the mine site, where you can see the old mine shafts and the remains of the company buildings required for mining operations, like the lamp house and the powder house.
You have to climb down a fairly steep hillside to get to this portion, but it is still accessible to most. However, to get to the Kaymoor coal processing area and townsite, you are looking at going up and down hundreds of stairs.
821 Steps To The Kaymoor Coal Processing Area & Town Site
Yes, you read that title right. It is 821 stairs down to the mining processing and townsite, and then you have to take those 821 steps back up again.
There are a few small platforms where you can get out of people’s way and rest a bit if you need to, which we did need. We just took our time and soaked the views around us as we went down and up. When we were not soaking up the views, we spent our rest time imagining what the mine site and surrounding area must have looked like when it was operating.
There was a coal conveyor and a people mover at the Kaymoor Mine site. Correct me in the comments below if I am wrong, but I believe this is the coal conveyor and that the people mover was along the other side of the steps and traveled along two tracks.
Once you finally reach the bottom of the stairs, you can walk around the old coal processing buildings. They are fenced off, so you can’t wander in–and you wouldn’t want to as they are in terrible shape structurally. Around the grounds, you will also find parts of mining equipment in various stages of rust and rot.
Grandview Area: Rim Trail Overlook
Jack and I managed to finish the above hikes and overlook before having lunch and an hour’s nap in our truck camper. A nap was well deserved after all those steps!
After that, we got back on the road and headed towards the Grandview area of New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.
Grandview Area: Castle Rock Trail
In this park area, we combined the Grandview trail with the Castle Rock trail creating a loop that gave us views of the gorge and an up-close view of the rocks that form the top layers of the hills and mountains in the area.
Grandview Area: Tunnel Trail
After we finished the Grandview-Castle Rock loop, we headed over the short yet breathtaking tunnel trail. By now, we were into the beginnings of what photographers call the golden hour. The remaining fall leaves were glistening on the trees, and ample piles of leaves on the ground were a colorful show of oranges, browns, reds, and burgundies.
Views From Highway 20–Temple Street
With just a few hours of daylight left, we headed for Sandstone Falls, but instead of ending up on the side where you can get up close to it, we ended up on the overlook side of the river.
Still, the views we had were incredible, and I would recommend that you take the time to drive down Highway 20 (Temple Street) and stop at all the turnouts, pullouts, and overlooks.
This picture is my favorite one from our entire weekend spent in the New River Gorge area. You can find this view from behind a gas station on Highway 20, where there is also a small cluster of homes.
Sandstone Falls Overlook
To really appreciate Sandstone Falls, I think you need to take the time to drive down Highway 26 on the other side of the river from Highway 20, where this picture was taken.
The views from the Overlook on highway 20 are not that spectacular. Highway 26 has a trail off it that will allow you to get up close to the falls. This is the largest waterfall on the New River, spanning 1500 feet wide, with its height ranging from 10 to 20 feet.
Brooks Island Overlook
However, the views of Brooks Island from highway 20 make the short drive well worth the time. I don’t think you can appreciate the beauty of Brooks Island from highway 26 like you can from this overlook on highway 20.
We headed out to the Nuttallburg Mine site during our second day in the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. However, if you got an earlier start than us and skipped the nap, I think you could squeeze Nuttallburg into a one-day visit to the park. Especially if you skip the 821 stairs down the mine processing site at Kaymoor, exploring the mine area there and the mine processing area at Nuttallburg.
There is a lot to see at Nuttallburg and plenty of signs to read that explain what you are looking at. I recommend giving yourself at least an hour to explore. There is a parking lot not far from the site, and the grounds are fairly flat. If it rains like it did when we were there, expect mud and puddles to be present.
Places To Camp
There are some free primitive camping sites within the New River Gorge area, but we didn’t want to risk showing up after exploring all day to find them already full. To make sure we had a spot to rest after a long day of exploring, we paid for a campsite at Rifrafters Campground in Fayetteville, West Virginia. It is just minutes from the New River Gorge Bridge.
We found Rifrafters to be of good value. We had a level spot with electricity, access to hot showers, and a clean restroom. The roads to get into our area of the campground for smaller rigs were a bit rough, but they were in the process of making changes to the park, and my guess is the roads were going to be addressed in those changes.
If you don’t like to camp, there are plenty of other lodging options in Fayetteville and Berkly. And if you like cabins, Babcock State park has some pretty cozy-looking ones.
If You Are A Fan Of Breakfast Sandwiches, Go Here While In The New River Gorge Area
We tried Tudor’s Biscuit World on this trip since Jack is a huge breakfast sandwich fan. He loved it so much that we ended up going two days in a row. The first time I tried biscuits smothered in blackberry gravy while he had a breakfast sandwich. The second time I joined him in having a sandwich. In my opinion, stick to the sandwiches–oh my!–so good.
Now, whenever we are passing through West Virginia, we look to see if our route is going to take us by one, and if it does, we stop.
If You Have The Time Explore This Nearby State Park
We spent the rest of our time exploring Babcock State Park in the New River Gorge area. You can read more about our time there here.
More Things To Do In The New River Gorge Area
There is so much more to do than hike and take in the mining history in the area. Adventure tourism is abundant in this area of West Virginia. This is a great place to get out there and try a new outdoor activity.
- Enjoy the miles of free-flowing white water of the river by going whitewater rafting.
- Obtain the proper permits and go backcountry hunting in the preserve area.
- Take advantage of the work of over one thousand boy scouts by enjoying some of the miles of mountain biking trails.
- Hire a guide and go rock climbing for the first time
- Book a bridge walk tour and walk the catwalk under the New River Bridge
- Bring your fishing rod and get a permit to fish on the banks of the river
- Spend a long weekend backpacking in the park.
- Take in a beautiful sunset (ask a park ranger where the best spot to view one is)
This list is far from complete. With over seventy thousand acres of land to explore, you could stay in the area for quite a while before you exhaust the list of things to do.
I hope this post helps you plan your own adventure in the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.
Are you looking for an alternative to busy and expensive campgrounds and one-night Walmart stops on the way to your destination? Check out our post about our first time using Boondockers Welcome.