New River Gorge hiking and climbing trip
Published: March 20, 2017
I’m often amazed at just how far some people venture away from home to get their little slice of recreational “me-time.”
Over the past 30 years I’ve discovered some pretty magnificent places that are literally several hours down the road. Yup, sometimes Shangri-La lies right around the corner, and West Virginia’s New River Gorge is one of those gems.
Renown as the deepest and longest river gorge in the Appalachian Mountains, the New River Gorge is becoming famous worldwide for its exceptional hiking, paddling and rock-climbing. And listen up…it’s free!
The New River National River, or “The New” as many call it, is one of the most recent units added to the National Park System, and for many decades prior to its NPS induction, this south central West Virginian wilderness area had been somewhat of a hidden treasure. Today it’s a federally protected park that’s composed of 70,00 acres of forest land, 50+ miles of sandstone-capped canyon and 53 miles of free-flowing river.
For hikers, etched within the New’s borders are hundreds of miles of deep-forest trails, some of which are park service trails that are well marked and maintained, while others are either undeveloped or abandoned logging tracks.
And the New is actually a perfect venue for day-hiking because most of the trails range from a quarter of a mile to seven miles in length. But, you can easily link several trails together to make for much longer treks.
Trail difficulty varies from pancake flat and easy, to intensely steep and challenging. You can download trail information at: https://www.nps.gov/neri/planyourvisit/hiking.htm, or you can obtain free trail maps onsite at the Canyon Rim, Grandview, Sandstone and Thurmond visitor centers.
The New River Gorge has also become one of the most popular rock climbing and rappelling destinations in the eastern U.S., heck, in the world.
Along the gorge’s rim you can choose from over 1,600 climbing routes that range from 30 to nearly 200 feet in height.
If you’re a climbing novice, hire one of the numerous outfitters who’ll provide you with the expertise as well as virtually all of the rock climbing/rappelling equipment you’ll need.
Conversely, if you’re a qualified climber with gear, you can buy any one of a number of climbing guidebooks such that you’ll feel confident enough to venture out to the crags on your own.
Either way, once your equipment and ropes are properly rigged you’ll experience the exhilaration of rock climbing way up above the turbulent New River on some of the finest sandstone on the planet. It’s a sensation that’s far beyond the thrill you’d get from any amusement park ride.
My personal favorite climbing site is the amazing Endless Wall, a massive cliff-face that parallels the New River for over 10 continuous miles. And situated atop Endless are some of the most extraordinary vistas the gorge has to offer.
If you’re a paddler you’ll be happy to know the New offers an extensive array of whitewater, some 53 miles worth of big time whitewater between Bluestone Dam and Hawks Nest Lake.
These are Class I to Class III rapids which are suitable for intermediate to serious paddlers. And again, if you’re a novice you’ll find a plethora of outfitters who operate guide services along the river. They provide a number of different river access points and a variety of trips that can last several hours to several days in length.
For more paddling information go to: https://www.nps.gov/neri/planyourvisit/whitewater.htm.
The New River National River Park provides several primitive camping only areas located along the river. Keep in mind that these areas offer no drinking water or hookups, and many have limited restroom facilities. These no-fee areas can be booked on a first-come, first-served basis.
Developed private and state park campgrounds abound throughout the area if you’re not into the primitive gig. And if you’re more of a private cabin, resort or B & B person, they’re available too. Whatever your preference, lodging/camping options can be found at: http://www.newriverwv.com/Lodging.php.
Keep in mind that April/May and September/October are the best times to visit due to low levels of heat, humidity…and fellow tourists.
So remember, when you get the urge to cure those recreational blues, check out the NEW.