Posted: February 5, 2021
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It’s time for our “February 2021 – Park of the Month”! Each month, Discover Our Parks will choose a “Park of the Month” to showcase on our site and why we choose to feature it. We will utilize comments, time of the year and other factors when making our decisions. We might even ask you, our adventurers, which park you think should be next.
Without further delay… what park gets February 2021’s “Park of the Month”???
New River Gorge National Park & Preserve
The newest addition to National Park status, New River Gorge National Park & Preserve is also where historian Carter G. Woodson, known today as the “Father of Black History,” began his career, and in an important way gained some of the inspiration for his pioneering work, in the New River Gorge coalfields.1
“Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history”Carter G. Woodson
The son of formerly enslaved parents from Virginia, Carter and his family, like many African-Americans of their time, came to West Virginia to begin new lives working in the booming railroad and coal mining industries. Self taught in the basics of reading and math, Carter spent six years hand digging and loading coal for the payment of pennies on the ton, in order to save enough money to attend one of the few black high schools of the time, Douglass High School in Huntington, West Virginia.1
During his years of work in the mines which included work at both the Kaymoor and Nuttallburg mines in present day New River Gorge National [Park & Preserve], Carter Godwin Woodson, while listening to the stories of the everyday lives of fellow black miners, was inspired to document and teach the struggles and contributions of the African-American people.1
Why “February 2021 – Park of the Month”?
Well, it is the newest park to be designated a National Park in the National Park Service, but it is much more than that.
We asked Eve West (Chief of Interpretation, Visitor Services, & Cultural Resources in New River Gorge National Park & Preserve) what she believes makes New River Gorge National Park & Preserve stand out. She said, “One of the things I like to say to people is “if you like a lot of ‘stuff’ you came to the right spot.” There is incredible biodiversity here, a variety of different outdoor recreation opportunities (aka, rock climbing, mountain biking, fly fishing, hunting, hiking, and of course, boating) for all experience levels, rich cultural history and resources, or just sitting on one of the many overlooks enjoying the view of what is one of our nation’s most scenic national parks.”
“National parks were given to us by the previous generation as an oasis for regeneration and “re-creation” — we owe that same gift to our children and grandchildren”, Eve said in response to what she hopes visitors should learn from a visit to the park.
Eve also gave us here suggestions for other park opportunities and we have included them in the below sections.
The 53-mile stretch of the New River between Bluestone and Hawk’s Nest Dams became a unit of the National Park System in November 1978 as the New River Gorge National River. It was redesignated as New River Gorge National Park and Preserve in December 2020. The park is administered together with the Gauley River National Recreation Area and Bluestone National Scenic River which were both established in 1988. The combined sites span five counties in southern West Virginia: Fayette, Nicholas, Raleigh, Summers and Mercer attract more than one million visitors annually.
Hiking along the many park trails, rafting the river, or biking along an old railroad grade, the visitor will be confronted with spectacular scenery that certainly makes this place worthy of being included in our national park system. However, the significance of this place goes well beyond the beautiful scenery. When looking out from Grandview, Diamond Point, Long Point, or one of the many other viewpoints in the park, we are actually looking at a globally significant forest containing the most diverse flora of any river gorge in the south and central Appalachian Mountains. The Appalachian Mountain forests are some of the oldest and most diverse ecosystems in the world.2
Here in southern West Virginia, the New River has sliced through the mountains, creating a mosaic of habitats: unfragmented forest, cliff and rimrock habitats, forest seeps and wetlands, and mature bottomland forests. These habitats provide a refuge for endangered mammals and rare birds and amphibians, including the endangered Virginia big-eared bat and Indiana bat and the Allegheny woodrat, a species of special concern in West Virginia and in decline throughout the eastern United States.2
The waters of the New River system contain a mosaic of hydrologic features and aquatic habitats that support a highly productive aquatic ecosystem that includes distinct populations of native fish, mussels, crayfish, and a broad array of other aquatic life, including rare amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals.2
Some of the below locations or activities are currently not available due to COVID-19 restrictions. Visit our New River Gorge National Park & Preserve page for more information on the status of the park in the COVID-19 Information bar.
The Scenic Drives
The first of the amazing scenic drives with in the park & preserve is known as the New River Gorge Scenic Drive.
Encircling the heart of New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, the scenic drive is an estimated three-hour trip. The 83-mile route includes interstates, divided highways, and two-lane roads. The scenic drive is an opportunity to experience the park—its gorge and its river. Along the way are broad vistas as well as small glimpses of both the past and the present. Two park visitor centers, Canyon Rim and Sandstone, supplement the tour with interpretation of the natural and historic resources of the park.3
This amazing up and down round-trip drive takes you to the many beautiful vistas and views of the park, as well as to several historical spots to learn more about the diverse culture of the region.
As far as the best stops to make while you drive the New River Gorge Scenic Drive, Eve says, “All of them! Seriously, they all offer different things so it would really depend on the interests of the driver. For history, I’d suggest Thurmond. For views, Canyon Rim and Grandview. For waterfalls, Sandstone Falls that also offers a great drive along the river. These are also all four within our new national park designated areas”.
Check out the map of the drive above and for more information on the New River Gorge Scenic Drive, visit the NPS page about it here.
Our second suggestion for a scenic drive takes us outside the park and preserve a little with the African American Heritage Auto Tour.
The African American Heritage Tour was developed by New River Gorge National Park and Preserve and its partners as a smart phone app to uncover and tell the stories of the many black coal miners, railroad workers, and other community members that helped shape this region. This self-guided auto tour takes the user to seventeen historic sites in Summers, Raleigh, Fayette and Nicholas counties to learn about the history and experiences of the regions African Americans.4
“Taking the African American Heritage Tour offers the opportunity to explore places in and around the park that tell these important stories of the region’s history,” said Park Superintendent Lizzie Watts. “These are the stories that have helped make us who we are today.”
This tour will take you to 17 sites dedicated to African American History in the area. You can find information about the 17 sites, as well as listen to the audio tour for each at the link below.
This tour will soon be available through the NPS app for New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. Or stop by the visitor center and pick up a free CD version.4
For more information on the African American Heritage Auto Tour and specific information about each stop, visit the NPS page about it here.
The New River begins high in the mountains of western North Carolina, crosses Virginia, and enters West Virginia near its southernmost tip. It then heads north to join the Gauley River, and form the Kanawha River. In so doing, it manages to transect every ridge of the Alleghenies. Its name is actually a misnomer in that it may be one of the oldest rivers in the world.5
New River Gorge National River includes 53 miles of free-flowing New River, beginning at Bluestone Dam and ending at Hawks Nest Lake. The New River typifies big West Virginia style whitewater. Within the park it has two very different characters. The upper (southern) part of the river consists primarily of long pools, and relatively easy rapids up to Class III. It is a big powerful river, but very beautiful, always runnable, and providing excellent fishing and camping. There are a number of different river access points, and trips can run from several hours to several days.5
The lower (northern) section of river is often referred to as “the Lower Gorge.” In a state that is justifiably renowned for colossal rapids, the Lower Gorge has some of the biggest of the big with rapids ranging in difficulty from Class III to Class V. The rapids are imposing and forceful, many of them obstructed by large boulders which necessitate maneuvering in very powerful currents, crosscurrents, and hydraulics. Some rapids contain hazardous undercut rocks.5
What makes the New River an amazing rafting destination?
Eve says, “It really offers something for all levels of users. The upper New River provides several easy to reach river access locations and offers great scenery in a less remote setting. There are a couple of Class III rapids and one portage on that stretch of river. The Middle Gorge is popular for day and overnight trips as well as fishing trips. It has long pools but also challenging intermediate (Class III) rapids. The Middle portions also offers some of the most isolated stretches”.
Eve continues, “The Lower Gorge is for whitewater enthusiasts and has technical Class IV and V rapids. It is suitable for only advanced and expert paddlers. It offers the narrower section of the Gorge where rockclimbing is also very popular”.
If you are looking to raft the New River on your own, make sure you understand the risk and have the skills necessary. Make sure you are an advanced or experienced paddler before attempting certain sections on your own.
Be sure to always #RecreateResponsibly and be prepared for the trip by making safety your first priority. Also make sure to look at the information at the links below and other parts of the NPS website before making a trip.
Here is a detailed map from July 2012 of the New River produced by the National Park Service and the location of some significant rapids and access points to the river:
There are several licensed outfitters that are approved by the park to get you safely down river and have a memorable trip. Check out the approved outfitters here.
For more general information about rafting the New River, visit the NPS Page about it here.
New River Gorge National Park & Preserve, our February 2021 – Park of the Month, provides many amazing day hiking and backcountry hiking opportunities. Below are are few of our suggestions for spectacular day hikes.
Eve suggests for an easy hike, “Sandstone Boardwalk path or any of the shorter trails at Grandview”. This area provides some great views and has several other trails, including one of our suggestions below.
Our first suggestion is the Endless Wall Trail. This 2.4 mile moderate hike, with a short 0.5 mile walk on the road back to the start, passes through rich forest, crosses Fern Creek, then zig-zags along the cliff edge. Many vistas can be seen along the trail.6 This hike also has a beautiful overlook of the river and gorge below at Diamond Point.
Great views of the New River, almost 1000 feet below, are abundant. You can often hear the voices of whitewater rafters as they experience the wild rapids of the lower New. This area also offers significant historical resources, being the site of the Nuttallburg Mine — the largest mine in the New River Coalfields in the late 1800s.6
For more information about this hike, check out the NPS page of the trails in the Fayetteville area.
For a moderate hike, Eve suggests “Grandview Rim or Long Point Trails”. Grandview Rim Trail happens to be our second suggestion.
This 3.2 mile round-trip moderate hike is the longest in the Grandview area of the National Park. This trail gently winds through the mature forest along the rim of the gorge. Along the way to Turkey Spur, hikers will enjoy several breathtaking views of the gorge and river far below. The topography is rolling, but this ridge top trail is considered moderate because of several steep sections.7
For more information about this hike, check out the NPS page of the trails in the Grandview area.
Our final hike suggestion, also Eve’s suggestion, is the Kaymoor Miners Trail. This 1 mile strenuous hike descends steeply 0.5 miles from the top of the gorge with stairs and switchbacks to the Kaymoor coal mine site, where it crosses the Kaymoor Trail. A view of the gorge is located 0.2 miles down the trail off to the right, before the stairs. At the mine site, a set of 821 steps continues down to the remains of the coal processing plant, coke ovens, and town site near river level.6
For more information about this hike, check out the NPS page of the trails in the Fayetteville area.
Eve also said, “We have around 100 miles of hiking/biking trails to choose from so there are so many more options! I would suggest accessing our website trail information… We also have a trails newsletter that provides great information on trails and locations to trailheads. And make sure you check out our alerts page on the website for updated information on trail closures. It happens!” (the Discover Our Parks page also has the alerts from the National Park & Preserve)
For more amazing hiking (and even biking) trails, we totally recommend grabbing a copy of Hiking and Biking in the New River Gorge, a Trail User’s Guide:
Be sure to check out the NPS Hiking at New River Gorge page here for more amazing hikes!
Our February 2021 – Park of the Month has some great climbing opportunities for fellow adventurous types! Though the park’s climbing doesn’t compare to the climbing you can find in a lot of parks in the western United States, New River Gorge National Park & Preserve has some of the most challenging climbs in the East.
Within New River Gorge National Park and Preserve are over 1,400 established rock climbs. “The New” has become one of the most popular climbing areas in the country. The cliffs at New River Gorge are made up of a very hard sandstone, and range from 30 to 120 feet in height. The rock is very featured, and an abundance of crack and face routes are available. Most of the routes in the gorge favor the advanced and expert climber. The majority of routes are 5.9 and harder, and most sport routes fall in the 5.10 – 5.12 range. A guidebook is an essential tool for locating climbs.8
If you plan to go climbing, we recommend grabbing a copy of New River Rock – Volume 1: The Main Gorge:
For more information about climbing within New River Gorge National Park & Preserve, visit the park climbing page here.
Camping & Lodging
Our February 2021 – Park of the Month pick has numerous options for staying overnight within the park. The park and preserve does not have any developed campgrounds but there are numerous primitive campgrounds. And for the adventurous type, backcountry camping on a backpacking hike might be your thing too.
We asked Eve what primitive campgrounds she recommends:
“Glade Creek, Army Camp, and Grandview Sandbar offer camping down along the river. Grandview Sandbar and Glade Creek also offer accessible sites with permits displayed. Glade Creek has a wonderful trail nearby. These are all in the Middle Gorge area of the park. Another option is Stone Cliff Campground closer to Thurmond that offers opportunity to explore that Historic District and nearby trails. All campgrounds are first-come, first-served with no water or electricity. Only small to medium size RV’s can be accommodated at Glade Creek, Grandview Sandbar, and Army Camp with only one vehicle site at Stone Cliff.”
Our recommendations seem to line up with hers!
Our first recommendation is Glade Creek Campground. This more secluded spot of the preserve is located in the southern portion of the preserve with plenty of shade in the trees. It is also located near the river and has easy access to the Glade Creek Trailhead. It has six walk-in tent sites and five drive-in sites for tents or small-medium RVs. There is one accessible site (with handicapped permit displayed).9
Second, we’d recommend Stone Cliff Beach Campground. This campground is located not far from the Thurmond Historic District. It is also located on the waters edge of the New River. It has six walk-in and one vehicle site.9
Our third recommendation is Grandview Sandbar Campground. This fairly shaded campground is located on the water, but don’t let the name fool you, it’s not just a sandbar! The ground is lush and there are plenty of trees around the camp. It has 10 wooded sites for tents and small-medium sized RVs, 6 walk-in tents sites, and 2 accessible sites (with handicapped permit displayed) by the river.9
As far as backpacking, it’s pretty much make your own trip!
Eve says, “New River Gorge National Park & Preserve does not have long trails but does offer interconnected loops for potential overnight trips. Also, the Glade Creek trail in and out offers opportunity. Backcountry camping does require being 100 feet away from the trail, developed trailheads, park structures and historic ruins, and a water source or improved area. Camping 100 feet from a roadway or trail can be a challenge in our narrow corridor.”
The park also has areas where camping is prohibited and Eve says to check out the map here before you plan your trip.
For more information about the above campgrounds and backcountry camping within the park and preserve, visit the NPS page here.
For more information about New River Gorge National Park & Preserve, our February 2021 – Park of the Month, and to plan your trip, visit our park page, which includes specific information about the park status in regards to Covid-19. Be sure to check out the more detailed About the Park page with great information from the park.
Remember when visiting any National Park, whether camping, hiking or just visiting a visitors center, always do your part and follow the Leave No Trace principles to help protect the park. Learn more here!
We’d like to thank Eve West for her time answering our questions and providing information, recommendations and perspective.
Have you been to New River Gorge National Park & Preserve or have a comment regarding our choice? Let us know below in the comments section.
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‘We got some of the above information from the following:
1: NPS – New River Gorge NP&P – Carter G. Woodson
2: NPS – New River Gorge NP&P – A River Runs Through It
3: NPS – New River Gorge NP&P – Scenic Drives at New River Gorge
4: NPS – New River Gorge NP&P – African American Heritage Auto Tour
5: NPS – New River Gorge NP&P – Whitewater at New River Gorge
6: NPS – New River Gorge NP&P – Fayetteville Area Trails
7: NPS – New River Gorge NP&P – Grandview Hiking Map
8: NPS – New River Gorge NP&P – Climbing at New River Gorge
9: NPS – New River Gorge NP&P – Camping
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