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September 28, 2021 / mws

New River Gorge Nat’l Park, WV September 2021

 

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In December 2020, a 53-mile stretch of the New River was designated New River Gorge National Park & Preserve. This is the United States 63rd National Park.  An engineering delight, the New River Gorge Bridge was constructed in 1977. It is 3030 feet long and rises 876 feet above the New River. At a building cost of 37 million dollars, the arch construction took 3 years to complete. The Canyon Rim Visitors Center at the bridge has paths and steps to viewing platforms for great views of the bridge.

New River Gorge National Park encompasses 70,000 acres and includes the New River, one of the oldest rivers in the world. Located in the southern Appalachian Mountains, New River Gorge Park has multiple visitors centers at key locations. The Canyon Rim is the main Visitors Center located at the gorge.  Inside the VC are displays, and a short orientation video and information about scenic drives.

Other Visitors Centers are located at the Thurmond Historic District, Grandview, and Sandstone Falls. Also within or near New River Gorge are multiple State Parks.

Grandview section of New River Gorge National Park

IMG_0345Aptly named “Grandview”, this part of NRGNP provides many opportunities to see the beautiful scenery around the New River Gorge. There are  picnic areas, a volleyball court and basketball court, and restrooms. The trails are clearly marked, with two main options to see stunning views of the horseshoe bend in the New River. There is an easily accessible main overlook that is close to the main parking lot. The Turkey Spur Overlook can be accessed by a road, or visitors can walk the trail along the canyon rim from the main overlook. 

Sandstone Falls

The journey to view Sandstone Falls requires some driving time, but the scenic side roads are worth the drive. West Virginia Route 20 and River Road offer several overlooks, historic sites, natural areas, trails, and river access points. The Visitors Center at the Sandstone exit 139 from I-64 is a good starting point.

As you drive south, high above the river on Route 20 to Hinton there are two park vistas. The Sandstone Falls Overlook provides an aerial view of the falls from 600 feet above the river. Brooks Overlook looks down on the mile-long Brooks Island, a perennial bald eagle nesting site. It is a bit difficult to see the view thru the foliage at the Sandstone Falls Overlook.  This is probably better in early Spring.

IMG_0328IMG_0321After crossing the bridge at Hinton, the remaining drive is on River Road. There are riverside vistas, several river access points, a trail, picnic area and small boardwalk view at Brooks Falls Rapids. The journey ends at the Sandstone Falls day use area which includes a fully accessible boardwalk to view the falls. Sandstone Falls is the largest falls on the New River and spans 1500 feet.

Endless Wall Hike

To experience the natural beauty of the New River Gorge, many hikers seek out the Endless Wall Trail.  We started at the Fern Creek Trailhead and began our hike through the delightful Eastern Hemlock forest.  After 1/2 mile a footbridge on the trail crossed Fern Creek and continued upward to the rim of the gorge. About 1 mile from the trailhead, a short trail lead to Diamond Point, the reward for this hike!  The view was remarkable! From Diamond Point you can see the New River cutting through the gorge and a partial view of the New River Gorge Bridge. Breathtaking!!

At the Diamond Point location, the “Endless Wall” designation is in evidence. There is a high wall of Nuttall Sandstone stretching far into the distance in both directions. At times you can see rock climbers on the cliffs of the walls.

Fayette Station Road

At the Canyon Rim Visitor Center, maps of the Fayette Station Road Tour are available. In addition the New River Gorge National Park website has an auto tour that can be downloaded for the Fayette Station Road drive.

The road is mostly one way and is paved but not suitable for large vehicles or trailers. Fayette Station is a windy road that leads down to the bottom of the New River Gorge and back up the other side. The drive takes you under the arch of the bridge along the Nuttall sandstone rock cliffs that make Fayetteville the capital of east coast climbing.  There are multiple pullovers to stop for photos. 

The New River Gorge is known for its outstanding natural and scenic beauty. The many remains of the once vibrant towns, mines, and homes that filled the gorge are now mostly hidden beneath layers of native vegetation.  When we visited this area 25 years ago, the Fayette Station Road was not paved and was NOT one way.  That was an adventure!  But today’s Fayette Station Road is much improved!

Hawks Nest State Park

Known for it’s panoramic views, Hawks Nest State Park borders a rugged section of the New River Gorge. The park includes a lodge with views of the New River Gorge Bridge, Hawks Nest Lake and a tramway that descends into the canyon. Accessed by the tramway, the lower area offers a nature center, a gift shop and access to hiking trails.

We discovered that a trail to the nature center can be accessed from a local rail trail and decided to start our hike from the rail trail in Anstead, WV.  A creek rambled by along the trail and about a mile in was  the brink of Mill Creek Falls. There are lots of rocky edges at the waterfall area for good views.  Mill Creek falls is a 20 foot drop on Mill Creek with other smaller water cascades along the way. 

Kanawha Falls

Kanawha Falls and the town of Kanawha are easily accessed off US-60. The falls is 15 feet high, but it is very wide. The falls is broken into a number of distinct sections, depending on the water levels. There is a low dam above the falls.  It is an impressive falls on the Kanawha River and definitely worth a stop if you are in the area. Unlike many of the falls in West Virginia, this falls has water year round. 

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Cathedral Falls

IMG_0259Cathedral Falls is a steep cascade that falls into a natural ampitheatre. The ampitheatre is likely the reason the falls was named Cathedral Falls. 

It is located in a small roadside park along US 60 about 1 mile east of Gauley Bridge. The falls is visible from the road and the adjacent parking area. 

The  60 foot cascade topples down a narrow canyon and was flowing lightly when we were there. The Upper Nuttall sandstone ledges were very visible and in the Spring, this would be an amazing sight.

We were fortunate to have some rain the prior two days, so for September, the waterfall was rather lovely.

Babcock State Park  

Babcock State Park encompasses over 4000 scenic acres including a rugged canyon and mountain vistas. All of this variety is adjacent to the New River Gorge National Park and in the heart of the whitewater rafting industry of West Virginia.

The highlight of Babcock State Park is the Glade Creek Grist Mill. This fully operable mill was recreated in 1976 at Babcock. It is a representation of the 500 mills which once thrived in West Virginia. You may purchase freshly ground cornmeal and buckwheat flour at the mill.

Babcock State Park also has hiking trails, a small lake, a swinging bridge, a picnic areas and scenic overlooks.  We checked out the Manns Creek Picnic area and scenic overlook and took sooo many photos of the mill. ❤IMG_0101

Highland Scenic Drive

The Highland Scenic Highway is a designated National Scenic Byway that extends 43 miles from Richwood to US Route 219, north of Marlinton, West Virginia. Four scenic overlooks provide panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. The Highway traverses the mountainous terrain of the Allegheny Highlands and the Plateau rising from and elevation of 2,325 feet to over 4,500 feet at some points.

Traveling south to north, follow State Route 150 from the Cranberry Mountain Nature Center twenty-two miles to US Route 219. The scenic overlooks are named Williams River, Big Spruce, Little Laurel, and Red Lick. The Little Laurel overlook was exceptional due to the view “on the other side”. Across the road are walking paths for dogs and a scenic fence and pasture.

Following our venture on the Highland Scenic Highway we turned south on Route 219. Along the way we found this iconic West Virginia farm scene.

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Click here for more photos from New River Gorge

In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.” ~ Aristotle

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