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Rivers & Roads: Scenic Drives to Southern WV Waterfalls

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The winding roads of southern West Virginia weave through the Appalachian foothills flowing alongside rivers, on top of ridgelines and within lush valleys.   The New River travels over 300 miles and stretches from North Carolina all the way up to Gauley Bridge, West Virginia.  Along its path, there are hundreds of tributaries that feed more water off the mountains into this historic river.  These creeks and the New River’s changes in elevation itself are ideal for viewing waterfalls of all kinds. From ACE, there are some short drives that give way to breathtaking scenery including scenic waterfalls and panoramic views.

Starting from ACE’s 1,500 acres, you can explore a waterfall by foot down one of the miles of trails.  From the Welcome Center, start out by following the paved road that you entered on till you see a large rock formation on your right, and continue down roughly 400 more feet till you see the trailhead for Arbuckle trail on your left with a yellow diamond trail marker.  Walking along this trail will give way to West Virginia’s state flower, the Rhododendron, and a beautiful waterfall.  The hike will take you about 40 minutes round trip, but can continue longer down the Arbuckle Creek to a river crossing with open rock faces and car-sized boulders.  Be sure to bring plenty of water with you as the hike back towards property is about a mile and a half of a gradual uphill gradient.

If hiking is not really your thing, jump in your car and head back to state route-19 and head south towards Beckley and I-64.  From I-64 east, take exit 139 at state route-20  and make a quick stop to stretch your legs at the Sandstone Visitors Center, featuring sustainable design concepts and the gateway to Sandstone falls.  While visiting the Sandstone Visitors Center, take a moment to orient yourself with the New River and then head upstream about three miles via Temple Street for an overlook of Sandstone Falls.  You’ll want to have your camera ready for this 1,500 foot, river wide ledge that is beautiful year round.  This is a great stop for those visitors of ACE coming from the south or east on the way to ACE or on the way home. 

For those of our ACE family coming from the north, we have another hidden gem for you.  The infamous Midland Trail, or scenic by-way off route-60, traverses up and over Gauley Mountain where there are places to pull off to the side of the road and take in what the locals call the Dries section of the New River before it flows into the Kanawha.  Cathedral Falls is just outside of the small town of Gauley Bridge before heading up the mountain if coming from Charleston, and just over Gauley Mountain if coming from the Fayetteville area.  The flow of Cathedral Falls is ever-changing, but the always present cascade from a canyon over 100 feet will leave you wanting to explore.  Hiking towards the top is tempting but watch your step and stick to marked paths to view the 60 feet of the falls safely.

As you make your way back to ACE Adventure Resort, be sure to take the original way over the New River via Fayette Station Road.  Originally constructed in 1889, this now one-way road used to be the only way through the New River Gorge till the famous arch bridge was opened in 1977.  As you wind down into the Gorge, you’ll be able to pull off to the side for hikes, views of one of the largest single span arch bridge up close and person, and then come across the original Fayette Station Bridge, now known as the Tunney Hunsaker Bridge after a long-time chief of police in Fayetteville and was also the opponent of Muhammad Ali’s first pro fight.  Locals and tourists alike enjoy crossing over this historic bridge and taking in the breathtaking views of the New River Gorge Bridge as well as Fayette Station rapid.  Park your car in the marked parking areas and walk back to the Tunney Hunsaker Bridge, explore the banks of the New River, or find a nice sunny spot to watch the many whitewater rafters enjoy the last big wave train of the day.

Continue on the way one road up the other side of the gorge and you’ll find yourself back in one of the coolest small towns of America, Fayetteville.  As with most things in West Virginia, all of these spots are slightly off the well worn and beaten path of the interstates, but the views and memories created are well worth it.