West Virginia Finally Caught a Break (Here’s Why You Should Go)

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I feel badly for West Virginia. Most of the time, it’s forgotten about or maybe purposely ignored. When people do acknowledge its presence, its usually to put it on the wrong side of a joke or to perpetuate a stereotype that lost any semblance of truth a hundred years ago.

But this week West Virginia finally caught a break. The state is in the news and not for a miserable, hateful reason. Nope, West Virginia is finally getting the attention it deserves and (hopefully) other people will learn what I’ve known all along: that it’s the best state for outdoor adventure anywhere on the east coast.

Buried in the pandemic relief package is legislation that designates the New River Gorge as a national park. While we were all wondering if we’d get $600, Congress upgraded the region’s status as a national river (which means practically nothing) to a full-blown national park: our nation’s 63rd.

You’ll Love the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve (or at least, I do!)

Frankly, this is a long time coming. If you ask me, the New River Gorge is far more interesting than some of the existing national parks on the east coast — Shenandoah and Cuyahoga, I’m looking at you — and this is your opportunity to visit before the rest of the world catches on.

What makes this part of West Virginia special (and why I like it so much) is that there’s an endless supply of sightDOING. Other national parks focus on hiking, camping, scenic drives, and wildlife watching. The New River Gorge starts there and then tacks on some pretty epic adventures. Since this park is brand new, it’s not yet determined what activities will officially be allowed within park boundaries and which ones will be right outside but it’s safe to say that travelers can squeeze them all in anyway.

Considering how many people are easily within a day’s drive of the new park, there’s really no excuse not to go.

west virginia map
One day’s drive away

Things to Do in the New River Gorge West Virginia

If you're looking for outdoor adventure, you'll find a ton of variety all in one place.

Mountain Biking

There are several trail systems in the area, with the Arrowhead Trail System one of the best options for up to 15 miles of single track. There are a few rental shops in nearby Fayetteville, WV so you can hit the trails even if you don't have your own bike (or can't haul yours with you). Brand new to the sport? There are tours available too! And if you're a cycling failure like I am, you're welcome to stick to scenic rail trails which are much wider and easier!

When to Visit the New River Gorge National Park

This is a four-season destination, with outdoor activities no matter when you come.

The most popular times of year to visit are summer, for long days and lots of water activities, or autumn for fall foliage, Bridge Day, and Gauley rafting. I’ve done both and have to admit I prefer fall, but that’s because I’m usually partaking in strenuous physical activities where summer heat is a nuisance. Obviously, if you want to swim, July and August are your best bet.

Where to Stay near the New River

The first few trips, my husband and I camped in the area. Pack wisely if that’s what you decide to do — summers in West Virginia are muggy and buggy by the water. I personally prefer national park campgrounds (like the Burnwood Campground) better than staying at the nearby adventure resorts but it really depends if you want a nature experience or one packed with activities and amenities.

You’ll find hotels scattered throughout the area and the “best” one will depend on the location of most of your activities. Remember, it’s a long river! Fayetteville is the closest town to the bridge (Lansing is close, too, but with few lodging options). Beckley is about 30 minutes away but has more chain hotels which keeps prices down. Summersville is another option although I haven’t personally stayed there.

Stay in Fayetteville if you like independent properties and eating at local joints: I recommend the Historic Morris Harvey House B&B (pay attention: not all rooms have private bath) and a meal at Pies & Pints. I also have this yurt on my wishlist!

If you prefer a more mainstream experience, I like the Hampton Inn Beckley and dinner at Campestre’s.

Winter is the one time I’d seek out a cabin rental. Can you picture yourself sitting in a hot tub on your private deck, snow falling all around you? I sure can, and winter (the quiet season) is the only time you can afford these deluxe cabins anyway. Search Lansing, WV on VRBO and look for the Mill Creek Cabins or book rentals at adventure resorts like ACE.

More to See in Wild and Wonderful West Virginia

8 thoughts on “West Virginia Finally Caught a Break (Here’s Why You Should Go)”

  1. Great article, Becky!
    For a quick, comfortable tour of the gorge right down close to the river, Amtrak’s Cardinal train passes through in both directions three times weekly en route from Chicago to New York and vice versa. It’s an amazing scenic trip, one I have taken several times.

    1. @David, This was on my “inspiration list” when I lived in Virginia, to head from Charlottesville to Chicago or vice-versa during fall foliage season. Unfortunately, I moved before I had the chance. I’ll be curious to see where Amtrak shakes out post-pandemic.

    2. We rode the Cardinal train a few years ago in December. Even without the leaves on the trees it was pretty. And the train travels there during the day.

      1. I just made the trip again on Friday, Jan 15, from Chicago to Culpeper. And yes, it’s beautiful even in mid-winter.

    3. We tried the park in March 2021. Great hiking,biking, and lots to see. It was beautiful and the bridge walk is a must. Fair warning: aside from the Bridge Walk, all of the cool adventures mentioned in this post are CLOSED until April 1 regardless of the temps in March. So we had a great time, but couldn’t zip line, tour a coal mine, whitewater raft… check the activities and dates before you go.

  2. I hadn’t heard that this was being designated a national park! Love the New River Gorge. I’ve rafted both the New and the Gauley rivers and it is scenic and a blast (did the Upper Gauley in a high-adventure smaller raft (5-person) during a dam release weekend and did not regret it. A trip worth doing a few times.

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