The New River Gorge National Park And Preserve
New River Gorge National Park And Preserve
The New River Gorge Park and Preserve
Tucked away in south central West Virginia, in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, is a gem of our National Park System, the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. Encompassing over 70,000 acres of land and containing a biodiversity of over 1,400 different species of plants, the park is situated along 53 miles of wild river flowing through a 1,000 foot deep gorge. With world class whitewater rafting and kayaking, tops in the nation technical rock climbing, and hundreds of miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, nearly endless options for adventure exist. President Jimmy Carter signed legislation in 1978 establishing the park “for the purpose of conserving and interpreting outstanding natural, scenic, and historic values and objects in and around the New River Gorge and preserving as a free-flowing stream an important segment of the New River in West Virginia for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.” That’s exactly what we’ve been doing!
Moving water is the force that is continuing to shape the geology here as the New River cuts through the Appalachian Plateau, creating the longest and deepest river gorge in the Appalachian Mountains. The New River, interestingly enough, is considered by geologists to be one of the, if not the oldest river in the world. Over time, the river has exposed Nuttall Sandstone cliffs, famous for being the hardest sandstone in the world. Some rocks in the park are as old as 330 million years. The formation and discovery of coal has also played a huge role in the natural and cultural history. Completion of the C&O Railroad in 1873 opened this isolated and largely inaccessible region, making it possible to ship coal all over the country, and prompting the formation of over 20 communities within the gorge. “Smokeless” New River coal was at one time the driving force behind our nation’s trains and factories, and even the U.S. Navy’s ships.
Today, the abandoned mine shafts and ghost towns add to the experience of adventuring in the New River Gorge. Narrow gauge rail lines have become trails that lead to ruins and remains of towns, coke ovens, conveyors, and tipples. There’s nothing better on a hot summer hike than standing at the opening of a gated mine shaft and feeling the 60 degree air pour out! A wide variety of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and trail running exist throughout the park, from mellow railroad grade along the banks of the river and exposed, rocky single-track with expansive views up on the rim. Those looking for a uniquely New River Gorge challenge can hike the infamously steep Kaymoor Miner’s Trail, with it’s 1,000 feet of elevation change and 821 steps in less than a mile, straight down to the river!
The two outdoor adventure activities that the New River Gorge is most known for are rock climbing and whitewater rafting. With the right amount of technical skills, local knowledge, and the right equipment, these activities can be enjoyed independently by visitors, but many folks choose to partake in these adventures with a guide through a commercial outfitter. Just like the name of the famous New River Gorge sandstone wall, the climbing here is quite literally endless. To date, there are well over 1,500 established routes, but new routes are being documented every year. Climbs for beginners to the highly advanced exist throughout the park. The extremely hard Nuttall Sandstone cliffs are well known throughout the country for their high quality, allowing for both traditional and sport climbing styles. Rappelling is also a favorite for many adrenaline seekers. The Rams Head formation on Beauty Mountain is the perfect spot, with a 130 tall overhanging cliff to rappel down while taking in the expansive views of the gorge and rafters on the river 1,000 feet below.
The whitewater is what initially put the New River Gorge on the national spotlight, with the lower section of the New being one of the classic whitewater runs in the entire country. The New River is unique in the fact that, although it is an “eastern” river, which are typically known in the whitewater world for being steep and narrow, the New can flow at extremely high volumes, taking on characteristics more commonly associated with big western rivers. The river’s elevation drops over 750 feet on its course through the park, with the last 8 miles containing 20 rapids ranging from Class II-V. Rafters get to experience the rush of paddling through world class whitewater, enjoying the views and a swim in the flatwater pools, as well as drifting underneath the 3,000 feet long New River Gorge Bridge.
The New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is an outdoor enthusiasts playground. No matter what the adventure activity you favor, you’ll find it here. If you are the kind who like to try it all, even better! You could stay for a week and have a completely different adventure everyday. That’s why some of us have decided it’s easier to simply call this place home.
As many of us do, Bryant responds to many titles. His two favorite roles are husband to his wife Laura and proud Papa to his three girls. Professional titles include guide, instructor, operations manager, race director, photographer, and writer. He has worked in the outdoor adventure industry for 18 years, spending the vast majority of that time leading whitewater rafting and climbing trips here in the New River Gorge region of WV.