New River Gorge trip report: Almost heaven in wild and wonderful West Virginia

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Wow. Go now. It’s amazing. That’s my New River Gorge trip report – thanks for reading!

Oh wait – I need to be specific and add photos and say what I did and stuff? Well OK – but only if you need any more convincing. 😉

This was my first time in West Virginia, and I spent 9 days in Fayetteville, on the northern tip of New River Gorge National Park. Inaugurated in December 2020, it’s our newest national park that stretches 53 miles and 70,000 acres along the banks of the New River in southern West Virginia.

The state’s slogan is “Wild and wonderful” and their marketing tagline is #AlmostHeaven.

new river gorge trip report

One of the many wild and wonderful views in New River Gorge National Park

This section of the state lives up to both. And while the park is new, I definitely felt the crunch of tourism in the area. I assume new infrastructure will eventually get built to accommodate the flood of visitors, though the locals were hospitable and welcoming without fail.

And while I experienced crowds, if you go to the right areas at the right times, you can get entire miles of trail all to yourself. The three areas of the park I explored were Fayetteville Station, Thurmond, and Grandview – mostly on the west side.

Here’s more about each section!

New River Gorge trip report

For starters, I drove there. I suspect most people do, because it’s within a days’ drive of so much of the East Cost. The closest airport is Charleston (CRW). And service is rather limited.

tbh just drive

You also very much need a car to explore the area. Luckily, all the towns and major parts of the park are accessible with any car, even my little two-wheel-drive Nissan.

There’s also a notable lack of chain hotels in the area. The few that are present are at that perfectly wrong spot for points fanatics: too expensive with points compared to cash rates.

Worth it?

For example, there’s a Courtyard by Marriott and a Holiday Inn (IHG) that are available with points, but not a particularly great use of them. Those are in Beckley, about 30 minutes to the park (depending on where you want to go).

For those cash prices, you can stay in Fayetteville or Oak Hill, which are much closer to the most popular trails. For that reason, I landed at the Quality Inn New River Gorge in Fayetteville (part of Choice Hotels).

My room at the Quality Inn Fayetteville featuring one very silly dog

I also needed to have my dog with me. It was nothing fancy, but cash rates were reasonable and they had a free basic breakfast every day.

Breakfast at the Quality Inn

Even though this was part of Choice Hotels, I didn’t book directly. Instead I went through TopCashback to booking.com and got $72 cashback.

Boom

I never rarely stay at Choice Hotels so their points mean nothing to me. I’d rather take the cashback. And most importantly, this hotel was literally 5 to 10 minutes from some of the most popular trails in the park, and the town of Fayetteville – one of America’s “Coolest Small Towns” – was really cute and close. When I weighed points, cash, and distance, this one made the most sense to be home base.

Plus, there’s a nice bar and grill on the property that was fantastic to grab drinks and unwind in the evenings.

As soon as I arrived, I headed to the Canyon Rim Visitor Center (10 minutes up Hwy 19 and over the famous New River Gorge bridge) and snapped this pic – no hiking required.

Such a beautiful place

From there, you can also walk down a big set of steps to see the bridge.

new river gorge trip report

Isn’t it amazing?

It was hot and long day, so I settled into my room and planned other park visits around my work schedule, the heat, and the bouts of rain for my June 2021 visit.

Fayetteville

As mentioned, there were a couple of hot days and a couple of rainy days. I’m so glad I had 9 days here. On the “not great” weather days, I caught up on work and rested. And when the weather was nice and cool, I enjoyed the excellent hiking in the area.

Another view of the bridge from Long Point trail

Around Fayetteville, I did the Long Point trail (pictured above) and the Endless Wall trail (below).

Those cliffs go alll the way down

Here’s Diamond Overlook from the Endless Wall trail

In general, the entire park has an excellent trail variety of terrain, difficulty, and length. There are overlooks you can drive to, get out of your car, and snap photos. There are others that are long and technical – and everything in between.

The variety is suitable for families, children, even dogs. Or if you really enjoy hiking and want some moderate length trails on the more technical side (that’s my category), there are plenty of those, too.

Because of the river gorge, there’s also world class rapids for kayaking, rafting, and paddleboarding if you like being in the water. The gorge also lends itself to rock climbing.

Whatever you’re into, whatever your skill level – you’re bound to find it somewhere in this giant, sprawling, gorgeous park. Fayetteville has the most trails and things to do nearby and in my opinion, makes the best base. Oak Hill, the down just south on Hwy 19, would work too.

Thurmond

I wanted to do a long hike on the Rend trail, but one of the trestles was down, so it wasn’t possible to pass. I went as far as I could, then turned around and walked on the (still active) railroad tracks to the historic Thurmond ghost town, which is also an Amtrak stop.

Hi from Thurmond, WV

The tracks go over the New River and offer a view directly into the rapids.

The mighty New River that carved this gorge

I found it interesting that the New River flows south to north – one of the few to flow in that direction.

Thurmond ghost town – you can really imagine it way back when

There’s also a little visitor center with displays of the area’s coal roots and history. It’s an easy walk from a couple of trails, so you could combine it with a hike to make a day out of it. Extra bonus: the trail wasn’t crowded at all.

Grandview

Just like it sounds, Grandview is another area of the park with an overlook of the New River’s incredible goosenecks.

It really is a grand view

This was right near the parking lot. I bet it’s gorgeous in the fall!

After this, I hiked on the Grandview Rim trail to Turkey Spur Rock, which is that first photo at the top with me in the red shirt. From there, I hiked back on the Castle Rock trail to make a loop out of it and there were a couple of areas that were clean drops, but it was mostly shaded and in a beautiful section of forest with wildflowers and rhododendron.

To get here, you have to go through the city of Beckley, where there’s actually a lot going on. I stopped at had dinner there on the way back and made a day of it. There’s also an Exhibition Coal Mine that looks interesting.

Fayetteville and Oak Hill towns

Of course, I wanted to try the local restaurants and see the shops while I was there. The town of Fayetteville, while not huge, has a few great eateries and cute places to shop right downtown. You can easily park on the main drag and walk from place to place.

Downtown Fayetteville

Stickers from local businesses

Great Googly Moogly entrance

I loved Great Googly Moogly, which had a huge selection of crystals and gemstones, along with other new age-y items and local merch.

My minerals acquired in West Virginia

I found a beautiful piece of blue kyanite and a rock I’d never heard of – shiva lingam – caught my eye. While on the Rend trail near Thurmond, some black rocks were nestled into the side of a mountain and I quickly realized it was coal. I picked up a few pieces and did a quick image search to compare, and sure enough – I found some real West Virginia coal. That’s about as authentic as you can get.

Entrance to Pinheads

While in Oak Hill, I stopped at a bowling alley with an unassuming entrance called Pinheads.

Cool retro bowling alley

But inside was a legit and proper bowling alley. I didn’t bowl, but grabbed a local brew and a snack before walking to the local White Oak Rail Trail, which is totally paved and a nice walk through the town.

Very chill

If you do the Long Point trail for an alternate view of the bridge near Fayetteville, right outside the turn to the trailhead you’ll pass Arrowhead Bike Farm. Definitely relax and have one of the many local beers – say hi to the goats!

You can even pet them

New River Gorge trip report bottom line

Put this wild and wonderful place on your list – which is so worthy of national park status. I’m glad it’s finally getting the protection, conversation, and research it deserves.

Like all national parks, New River Gorge is massive and seemingly endless. This one is long and narrow, so it’s important to situate yourself close to the areas you want to explore. There are other parts of the park I didn’t get to, but the areas around Fayetteville Station, Thurmond, and Grandview felt right for the type of visit I planned to have – which was mostly hiking.

I wanted to be near several trails as well as a few cute small towns, and that’s exactly what I got. The lodging in the area isn’t updated or modern, but is reasonably priced and puts you right near the action.

This was my first time in West Virginia. The people were hospitable and kind, and of course the park is incredibly beautiful. I’d always managed to drive around – instead of through – West Virginia. If you’re like me, update your route and drive through! The state is full of endless mountains and history. If you’re curious, I have more photos from the park and trails on my Instagram feed. I’m very charmed and can’t wait to go back someday.

If you’ve been to New River Gorge, how was your visit (and did you love it as much as I did)? If not, would you like to go? What activities would you seek out? 

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About Harlan

Digital nomad living on the road and working toward financial independence.

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  1. While Choice Priviles gets a bad rap in the frequent flyer world ….someone like me who lives in hotels now for 10 years ….I’ve found that choice really comes in handy in many areas where there are no Marriott,Hyatt,Hilton,ihg ……they have a promotion where you stay 2 times and get 8,000 points …..for years I would hotel hop this promotion years ago when choice properties were 50 a night and I leave my suitcase in my car and many times there was a comfort suites and next to it a Quality inn …….also if you ever want to go to Europe especially Norway,Sweden,….choices reward night are awesome as they give you breakfast and dinner ( burger in Norway I payed 30.00 )

    This long stay I totally agree how the cash back worked best for you but for future stays of 1 or 2 nights it may be worth it to get some choice points ….they will come in handy

    Kept on keptin on

    • Excellent points! I encounter Choice Hotels so rarely and randomly that I almost forget about them sometimes. But you’re right – with the nomad life, you never know when things are gonna pop up. 🙂

      Thanks for the advice and insight! Keep rockin’ and rollin’!

      • Choice also has the same IHG trick ….you use points and cash to book a stay and then cancel and you get more points instead of cash …where IHG it’s like buying points at half a cent …with choice it’s like buying at 7 to 7.5 cents each ….that trick always comes in handy and I’m sure you know the ihg trick and choice is the same

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