How to Explore New River Gorge National Park – The Newest US National Park

New River Gorge National Park

New River Gorge is the US’ newest National Park, and we’ve got all the details on what to see and do and some inside hidden gems of the park from hiking tips, planning resources, wildlife, family-friendly activities, unique park features, what to do in the surrounding area, and more.

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New River Gorge National Park

The New River Gorge National Park is located in southern West Virginia in the eastern part of the US. It was first designated a National River in 1978 and redesignated a National Park and Preserve in December 2020. It protects 70,000 acres along 53 miles of the New River, which cuts the deepest river gorge in the Appalachian Mountains. 

The National Park Service in the US

The Department of Interior manages the National Park Service in the US, and its mission is to preserve and protect natural and cultural resources across the country. It protects an incredible diversity from our country’s most scenic places to small historical parks. There are 63 parks, officially designated as National Parks, but 423 NP sites, including National Monuments, Historic Sites, National rivers, seashores, and recreation areas. 

Junior Ranger Program

Did you know that most all national parks have a Jr. Ranger program with a FREE booklet and activities at the park? Kids can earn a badge or patch at each National Park. You can either download the leaflet from the National Park Service website or pick one up at the Visitors Center. 

“It’s a great way to encourage kids to engage with learning more about the park!”

Planning Your Trip to New River Gorge National Park

The park is located in a very rural part of West Virginia, about an hour southeast of Charleston, the capital of WV, and 3 ½ hours north of Charlotte, NC. No reservations are required to visit the park, and there are two year-round visitor’s centers located at the northern and southern ends of the park. 

Some great resources to help you get started: 

How should I Plan for the Weather?

Fall is a gorgeous time of year to visit, but it’s great year-round. Always be prepared for any type of weather at all times. The key is to layer up! Bring lots of layers with you.

“Be prepared because your experience will be a whole lot better!”

Main Interest Points of the Park

This park’s most interesting features are its beautiful scenery – tree-covered mountains, deep gorges, and a rushing river. The New River Gorge Bridge is the longest steel span in the western hemisphere. It’s also the third-highest bridge in the United States. There are tours underneath the bridge you can take. And one day of the year – Bridge Day in October – you can bungee jump from the bridge.

“It’s a more wild, unspoiled park without huge lines to get in and out.” 

Is New River Gorge Family-Friendly?

The park is family-friendly, but there are places where families will need to use caution. The river has areas of powerful currents, rocky banks, and sudden drop-offs and isn’t safe for swimming. Some park trails follow cliff edges with dangerous drop-offs. However, many other trails are perfect for kids and hikers of all abilities. 

Hiking Tips at New River Gorge

The park has more than 100 miles of trails, from short and flat trails to significant elevation changes and rough terrain. When you visit the park, stop at the visitor’s center in the park section. They will help you plan your visit and provide a hiking map. The rangers are a fabulous resource and will recommend the best hikes to suit your interests and abilities. 

Our favorite trail hiked in the park so far is the Long Point Trail. It is a 3.2 miles round trip hike that is mostly level, winding through forest and wild blueberry patches. It has one steep section near the end of the trail that requires some rock scrambling (my kid’s favorite part of any hike). When you reach the cliffs at Long Point, you’ll have spectacular views of the gorge and bridge. 

Tip: Stop in the Visitors Center to find out the best hike for your group in the park.

Can You Go River Rafting at New River Gorge National Park?

Southern West Virginia’s rivers are some of the most famous on the East Coast for White Water Rafting. The New River is a great place to start. It has less extreme rapids than the nearby Gauley River for the true white water enthusiast. A number of commercial outfitters are available in the area to provide equipment and guided trips. And a variety of rafting experiences are available, from beginner to experienced rafters.

Wildlife at New River Gorge?

We’ve seen a number of birds on our trips to the park, but no larger wildlife. The park is home to many species native to the US Mid-Atlantic area, including deer, red foxes, black bears, and smaller creatures like the red eft salamander and the luna moth. 

Tip: For those serious bird-watchers, take a sunrise hike (without kids) if you want to find some creatures scuttling around. 

Unique Park Features 

Because the park newly received the full National Park designation and is located farther from major US cities, it is easy (at least for now) to find solitude in this park. Although similar scenery, as well as flora and fauna to the wildly more popular Smokey Mountain and Shenandoah National Park, this park has a much more unspoiled feel. 

“This has all the gorgeous features that you would see in those mountain parks on the east coast with a whole lot less people.” 

Lodging in and around the park is fairly limited. The park has nine primitive campgrounds – all first-come-first-serve. Several hotels, bed and breakfasts, and RV campgrounds are scattered in nearby small towns such as Fayette and Beckley. You can also find very reasonable rates at AirBNB’s. We stayed inexpensively in a condo at Winterplace Resort (off-season) in the tiny town of Ghent on our last visit to the park.

Do Not Miss Moment at New River Gorge

Many visitors to the park don’t get past the Canyon Rim Boardwalk behind the visitor’s center. Take a longer hike. Get down into the gorge and experience some quiet time with nature in this beautiful area! 

Outside the New River Gorge, What Can Be Found in the Surrounding Area?

In the New River Gorge surrounding area, some great gems can also be explored, including two other National Park sites in southern West Virginia that deserve a visit when you make the trip to New River Gorge. 

  • Gauley River and Bluestone National Parks – both are national scenic rivers and smaller National Parks.
  • Aerial Tram Ride at Pipestem Resort State Park – a kid favorite! 
  • Babcock State Park – home of West Virginia and probably the most photographed location – the Glade Creek Grist Mill. 
  • Charleston has some fun, kid-friendly activities, including a great children’s museum and other museums in the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences.

Amanda is a mother and travel planner for a family passionate about exploring National Parks. Her family is currently on a quest to explore all 423 US sites and as many international parks as possible too.  They document all their travels on their Instagram page, @Nationalpark_familyquest – along with tons of great information and tips about each park. 

How to Explore New River Gorge National Park

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Published by Maureen Hochdorf

Writer. Editor. High Techi. Non-Profit Founder. Traveler. Sports Lover. Star Wars Fanatic. Tel Aviver. Michigander....

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