top of page
  • Writer's pictureDan Wagner

Three Days in West Virginia's New River Gorge National Park & Preserve

Designated a national park in 2020, New River Gorge National Park & Preserve is an outdoor lover's paradise. Every year nearly two million people visit its more than 100 miles of hiking trails, world-class rock climbing routes and legendary whitewater runs. In late summer and early fall people from all over the world flock to the gorge for Gauley season, one of the top whitewater runs in America. Jackie and I did this trip late summer and had a blast.

Day 1: Endless Wall

Cathedral Falls (0.25 miles/50)
Mystery Hole
Canyon Rim Visitor Center
Diamond Point Overlook via Endless Wall (2.4 miles/300')

We began the trip with a visit to Cathedral Falls, a 60-foot-tall, multi drop cascade off Cane Creek that required nothing more than a short walk from the tiny parking area.

Cathedral Falls West Virginia

Afterward, we drove ten minutes to Mystery Hole, a quirky roadside attraction that was actually pretty fun and gave us a few laughs. We then visited the national park's Canyon Rim Visitor Center to learn a little more about the area, walked down to the New River Gorge Bridge Overlook, and headed out to hike the Endless Wall Trail. Endless Wall, one of the park's signature features, is a stretch of nearly six miles of unbroken cliffs rising more than 900 feet above the New River, providing incredible views of the gorge.

Endless Wall New River Gorge

Endless Wall New River Gorge

The easy-going two-mile round-trip hike leads through a forest setting filled with Catawba rhododendron, culminating at Diamond Point, the highlight vista of the trek. From here, we had fantastic views of the gorge and heard whispers of the Lower New River below. Jackie isn't much of a fan of heights, so she hung back a ways while I took in the views from a small crag at the tip of Diamond Point.

Afterward, we stopped for dinner at The Freefolk Brewery for dinner and, since Jackie also isn't a fan of tent camping, we headed to our Airbnb in Fayetteville for the night. On previous trips to the gorge, I've stayed at The Outpost, which has some excellent camping options. They used to have one of the nicest climate controlled bathhouses that I've even cleaned up at. The American Alpine Club New River Campground, another that I've stayed at in the past, are also good options. Lastly, New & Gauley River Adventures has a fairly secluded campground that I've stayed at in the past, which I recommend as well. The bonus with this campground is that The Burrito Bar at Breeze Hill, which has great food, is within walking distance.

Day 2: Bridge Walk

Long Point (3 miles/300')
Bridge Walk (1 mile/flat)
Kaymoor Miner & Upper Craig Branch Falls (3 miles/1,000')
Thurmond Ghost Town

The following morning we visited downtown Fayetteville so Jackie could get her shopping fix on, and then we headed out to hike Long Point, another staple hike in the park. The highlight of the hike was a north-facing rock outcropping offering a spectacular view of the New River Gorge Bridge, the longest spanning single arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere.

Long Point New River Gorge

After that, we headed over to Lansing and, while Jackie relaxed, I took a tour of the New River Gorge Bridge on a Bridge Walk. The two hour or so tour walked our group along a catwalk, 25-feet below the bridge, with phenomenal views throughout the excursion. While I don't have a fear of heights, those that do will likely find this to be a bit much.

Following the bridge walk, we headed out to hike the Kaymoor Miners Trail, which descends through more than 800 stairs to reach the Kaymoor Mine Site, a storied coal mine operated from 1900 to 1962. There we saw remnants of buildings, coke ovens, and other abandoned structures used during the mine's operation. Being a history nerd, this was right up my alley.

Kaymoor Miner Trail

After trudging back up all those stairs, we headed to the Thurmond Ghost Town. Due to abundant coal deposits in the local mines, Thurmond's banks were once brimming with cash. The streets bustled with coal barons, and hotels were consistently fully booked as determined miners and businessmen flocked to capitalize on the burgeoning coal industry. This prosperity rendered Thurmond as rugged a town as any in the wild west. Legend had it that the only distinction between Thurmond and hell was the presence of a river flowing through Thurmond. During those days, the sole means of reaching the town was by train, and it lacked conventional streets. Downtown buildings directly faced the train tracks then, as they still do today. Freight trains continue to traverse Thurmond's rails, offering glimpses into what the town might have looked like over a century ago when railway lines were the marvels of engineering. Presently, the National Park Service meticulously maintains Thurmond to preserve its rich history. Over twenty structures, including a commissary, town hall, hotel, coal tower, national bank, and a depot functioning as a park visitor center, stand testament to the town's past. Plaques on the windows of brick buildings narrate the captivating history of Thurmond.

Thurmond Ghost Town New River Gorge

On the long drive out of Thurmond, we saw a bear cub trot along the road, the first bear sighting Jackie ever had. After, we headed to Pies & Pints for dinner in downtown Fayetteville and then back to our Airbnb.

Day 3: Whitewater Rafting

New & Gauley River Adventures whitewater rafting
Nuttallburg (varies)
Beauty Mountain (1 mile/100')

The following morning, we headed to New & Gauley River Adventures for what we had hoped would be a wild whitewater rafting trip down the New River. It was Jackie's first whitewater rafting trip and we both had a blast. Water levels were a bit low, so the class V's were downgraded to class IV's, but overall it was great and our guide was awesome, which they always have been.

New River whitewater rafting

After rafting, we headed to The Burrito Bar at Breeze Hill for a bite to eat and then headed to Nuttallburg, the site of an old mine that operated from the 1870s until 1958. Here we found the Nuttallburg coal tipple, Nuttallburg coal conveyor, numerous coke ovens, abandoned buildings and mining equipment, and homes that have been left to mother nature. We had an opportunity to learn about what life was like in a coal camp for African Americans who represented more than half the Nuttalburg camp's population, and a lot more. Today, Nuttallburg is preserved as one of the finest examples of a coal mining town of its era anywhere in the country.

Near the end of the day, we hiked out to an overlook on the appropriately named Beauty Mountain. I had been wanting to hike out to the spot for sunrise on every previous trip that I had made to the area, but never found the time. It was an easy-going hike that followed the cliffs of Endless Wall two miles south of Diamond Point. In 2022, Time + Leisure named Beauty Mountain as one of the sixteen best sunset hikes in America, and we soon found out why.

Beauty Mountain New River Gorge

Afterward, we headed back to our Airbnb, got a good night of sleep, and headed home the following day.


bottom of page