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An Overlander’s Guide to New River Gorge National Park & Preserve 

 March 11, 2024

By  Patrick @DarkSkyOverland

New River Gorge National ParkLocated in the heart of West Virginia, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is a hidden gem that offers a perfect blend of natural beauty, rich history, and exciting outdoor adventures.

Established as a national park in December 2020, this 70,000-acre wilderness area is centered around the New River, one of the oldest rivers in North America.

The river has carved a stunning gorge through the Appalachian Mountains, creating a rugged and diverse landscape that attracts overlanders, hikers, rock climbers, and whitewater enthusiasts from around the world.

The park is home to an array of unique geological features, including towering sandstone cliffs, lush forests, and cascading waterfalls.

It also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with a history of coal mining and railroad development that has left its mark on the landscape.

Today, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve offers visitors a chance to immerse themselves in the wild beauty of the Appalachian Mountains while enjoying a wide range of outdoor activities and learning about the region’s fascinating past.

In this comprehensive guide for overlanders, I’ll provide you with all the information you need to plan an unforgettable overlanding trip to New River Gorge National Park.

From the best seasons to visit and recommended trails to must-see attractions and essential gear, I’ve got you covered.

Whether you’re a seasoned overlander or a first-time visitor, this guide will help you make the most of your adventure in one of America’s newest and most spectacular national parks.

How to Get to New River Gorge National Park

Fog settling over New River Gorge National Park

New River Gorge National Park is located in southern West Virginia, near the towns of Fayetteville and Beckley. The park is easily accessible by car, with several major highways and scenic routes leading to the area.

Driving Directions

  • From the north: Take I-79 South to US-19 South. Follow US-19 South to the park.
  • From the south: Take I-77 North to US-19 North. Follow US-19 North to the park.
  • From the east: Take I-64 West to US-19 South. Follow US-19 South to the park.
  • From the west: Take I-64 East to US-19 South. Follow US-19 South to the park.

Nearest Airports

For those traveling from further afield, the nearest airports to New River Gorge National Park are:

  • Yeager Airport (CRW) in Charleston, WV (approximately 60 miles from the park)
  • Beckley Raleigh County Memorial Airport (BKW) in Beckley, WV (approximately 20 miles from the park)

From these airports, you can rent a car and drive to the park using the directions provided above.

Public Transportation

Public transportation options to New River Gorge National Park are limited. Greyhound bus lines serve the nearby towns of Beckley and Charleston, but there is no direct public transportation to the park itself. If you arrive by bus, you’ll need to arrange for a taxi or ride-sharing service to take you to the park.

No matter how you choose to arrive, New River Gorge National Park is a destination that’s well worth the journey. With a little planning and preparation, you’ll be ready to embark on an unforgettable overlanding adventure in this stunning corner of West Virginia.

Planning Your Trip: Seasons and Weather

Beautiful New River at New River Gorge National ParkWhen planning your overlanding trip to New River Gorge National Park, it’s essential to consider the seasonal weather patterns and how they may impact your experience. The park is open year-round, but each season offers unique advantages and challenges for visitors.

Spring (April-May)

Spring is a beautiful time to visit New River Gorge National Park, as the wildflowers begin to bloom and the trees start to regain their foliage.

Temperatures typically range from the mid-40s to mid-70s Fahrenheit (4-24°C), making it comfortable for hiking, rock climbing, and overlanding.

However, spring can also bring frequent rain showers and occasional thunderstorms, so be sure to pack appropriate rain gear and check weather forecasts before setting out on your adventures.

Summer (June-August)

Summer is the busiest season at New River Gorge National Park, as the warm weather and high water levels attract whitewater rafting and paddling enthusiasts from around the world.

Temperatures often climb into the 80s and 90s Fahrenheit (27-35°C), with high humidity levels.

While the heat can make some outdoor activities more challenging, the lush greenery and vibrant summer atmosphere make it a popular time to visit.

If you plan to go overlanding during the summer, be prepared for occasional afternoon thunderstorms and pack plenty of water and sun protection.

Fall (September-October)

Fall is a stunning time to visit New River Gorge National Park, as the leaves change color and paint the landscape in vibrant shades of red, orange, and yellow.

Temperatures start to cool down, ranging from the mid-30s to mid-60s Fahrenheit (1-18°C), making it ideal for hiking, rock climbing, and overlanding.

The park also tends to be less crowded during this time, allowing for a more peaceful and secluded experience.

However, keep in mind that fall weather can be unpredictable, with the possibility of early snowfall in late October.

Winter (November-March)

Winter in New River Gorge National Park is a season of quiet beauty, with snow-covered landscapes and frozen waterfalls creating a serene and magical atmosphere.

Temperatures often drop below freezing, ranging from the mid-20s to low 40s Fahrenheit (-4 to 4°C), and snowfall is common.

While the cold weather can make some outdoor activities more challenging, the park offers excellent opportunities for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and winter photography.

If you plan to go overlanding during the winter, be sure to properly equip your vehicle with winter tires, carry snow chains, and pack plenty of warm clothing and gear.

No matter which season you choose to visit New River Gorge National Park, it’s essential to check weather forecasts regularly and be prepared for changing conditions.

The park’s weather can vary significantly depending on elevation and location, with the rim of the gorge often experiencing different conditions than the river valley below.

By planning ahead and packing appropriately for the season, you’ll be able to make the most of your overlanding adventure and experience the stunning beauty of New River Gorge National Park throughout the year.

Scenic Drives and Trails at New River Gorge National Park

Scenic views at New River Gorge National ParkNew River Gorge National Park offers a variety of scenic drives and accessible trails that can be enjoyed by anyone with a standard 2WD vehicle.

While the park does not allow off-road driving, there are still plenty of opportunities to explore the stunning landscapes and historic sites without the need for high-clearance or 4WD capabilities.

Here are some of the most popular scenic drives and accessible trails in the park:

Fayette Station Road

Fayette Station Road is a scenic, 7-mile drive that takes you from the rim of the gorge down to the banks of the New River. This route is paved and can be easily navigated by any standard 2WD vehicle.

Along the way, you’ll enjoy breathtaking views of the New River Gorge Bridge and the surrounding landscape.

You’ll also pass by several historic sites, including the remnants of the old mining town of Fayette and the Fayette Station Bridge, a steel arch bridge that was once used by the local mining community.

Glade Creek Road

Glade Creek Road is a scenic, 5-mile drive that takes you through a picturesque valley along Glade Creek. The road is paved and suitable for all types of vehicles, making it an excellent option for those looking to explore the park’s natural beauty without venturing off-road.

Along the way, you’ll pass by several historic sites, including the remains of an old farmstead and the Glade Creek Grist Mill, a restored 19th-century water-powered mill that still grinds corn today.

The road also provides access to several hiking trails, including the Glade Creek Trail and the Kates Falls Trail, which can be enjoyed by visitors of all skill levels.

Grandview Scenic Drive

The Grandview Scenic Drive is a short, 1.5-mile paved road that takes you to some of the most stunning viewpoints in the park. The drive culminates at the Main Overlook, which offers panoramic views of the New River Gorge and the surrounding mountains.

Along the way, you’ll also find several hiking trails, including the Grandview Rim Trail and the Castle Rock Trail, which offer additional opportunities to explore the area’s natural beauty.

The Grandview Scenic Drive is accessible to all types of vehicles and is a must-see for anyone visiting the park.

While these scenic drives and accessible trails do not require a high-clearance or 4WD vehicle, it’s still important to exercise caution and follow park guidelines when exploring the area.

Be sure to check weather conditions and road closures before setting out, and always stay on designated roads and trails to help protect the park’s fragile ecosystems.

By taking advantage of these scenic drives and accessible trails, visitors to New River Gorge National Park can experience the stunning natural beauty and rich history of the area without the need for specialized overlanding equipment.

Whether you’re a seasoned adventurer or a first-time visitor, these routes offer a chance to immerse yourself in the park’s unique landscapes and create lasting memories of your time in West Virginia’s premier national park.

Camping at New River Gorge National Park

Primitive camping in the wilderness of New River Gorge National ParkNew River Gorge National Park and Preserve offers a unique camping experience for visitors seeking to immerse themselves in the park’s rugged beauty.

The park features eight primitive campgrounds that cater to those looking for a true wilderness experience. These campgrounds are designed for self-sufficient campers who are prepared to embrace the challenges and rewards of primitive camping.

Primitive Campgrounds

The eight primitive campgrounds in New River Gorge National Park and Preserve are scattered throughout the park, offering a range of settings and access to various hiking trails and scenic viewpoints. These campgrounds include:

  • Stone Cliff Campground
  • Grandview Sandbar Campground
  • Glade Creek Campground
  • Meadowcreek Campground
  • Gauley Tailwaters Campground
  • Brooklyn Campground
  • Thayer Campground
  • Army Camp Campground

Each of these campgrounds offers a rustic camping experience, with no drinking water, hookups, or electricity available. Restroom facilities are limited, typically consisting of vault toilets or portable restrooms. Campers must come prepared with their own water, food, and camping gear, as well as a means to properly dispose of waste.

Camping Fees and Reservations

One of the most appealing aspects of camping in New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is that there are no camping fees at any of the park’s campgrounds. This makes it an affordable option for those looking to explore the park on a budget.

However, it’s important to note that reservations are not available for these primitive campgrounds. All sites are first-come, first-serve, which means that during busy months, campgrounds can fill up quickly.

Planning Your Camping Trip

If you’re planning to camp in New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, it’s essential to have a backup plan in case your desired campground is full. This is especially true during peak season, which typically runs from May through October. Some alternative options include camping in nearby state parks or national forests, or seeking out private campgrounds in the surrounding area.

When preparing for your camping trip, be sure to pack all necessary gear and supplies, including:

  • Tent, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads
  • Cooking equipment and utensils
  • Water filtration or purification system
  • Food and snacks
  • Clothing appropriate for the season and weather conditions
  • First-aid kit and any necessary medications
  • Headlamps or flashlights
  • Insect repellent and sun protection

It’s also important to familiarize yourself with Leave No Trace principles and park regulations to ensure that you’re camping responsibly and minimizing your impact on the environment.

A Rewarding Wilderness Experience

While primitive camping in New River Gorge National Park and Preserve may not offer the amenities of developed campgrounds, it provides a unique opportunity to connect with nature and experience the park’s rugged beauty in a more immersive way.

By coming prepared and embracing the challenges of primitive camping, visitors can create unforgettable memories and gain a deeper appreciation for the park’s wild and untamed landscapes.

Stargazing in New River Gorge National Park

Stargazing in New River Gorge National ParkNew River Gorge National Park and Preserve offers visitors a rare opportunity to experience the wonders of the night sky in a pristine, dark environment.

Located far from major cities and light pollution, the park boasts some of the darkest skies in the eastern United States, making it an ideal destination for stargazing enthusiasts and casual observers alike.

The Importance of Dark Skies

In an increasingly urbanized world, dark skies are becoming a scarce resource. Light pollution from cities and towns can obscure the night sky, making it difficult to see stars, planets, and other celestial objects.

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, however, is committed to preserving the natural darkness of its skies. The park has taken steps to minimize light pollution within its boundaries, such as using dark sky-friendly lighting fixtures and educating visitors about the importance of preserving dark skies.

Best Stargazing Spots in the Park

While the entire park offers excellent stargazing opportunities, some locations are particularly noteworthy:

  • Grandview: The Main Overlook at Grandview provides a stunning vista of the night sky, with panoramic views of the New River Gorge and surrounding mountains.
  • Sandstone Falls: The remote location of Sandstone Falls, far from any artificial light sources, makes it an excellent spot for stargazing. The area also features a large, open field that provides unobstructed views of the sky.
  • Babcock State Park: While not technically within the boundaries of New River Gorge National Park, nearby Babcock State Park offers additional dark sky viewing opportunities, particularly from the Skyline Trail overlook.

What You Can See

On a clear night in New River Gorge National Park, visitors can expect to see a dazzling array of celestial objects. The Milky Way galaxy stretches across the sky in a brilliant band of stars, while countless constellations, planets, and meteors can be observed with the naked eye or through a telescope. Some notable sights include:

  • The Summer Triangle: Formed by the bright stars Vega, Deneb, and Altair, this asterism dominates the summer night sky.
  • The Andromeda Galaxy: Located 2.5 million light-years away, this neighboring galaxy can be seen as a faint, fuzzy patch in the sky.
  • The Perseid Meteor Shower: Each August, the Perseid meteor shower puts on a spectacular display, with up to 60 meteors visible per hour during its peak.

Tips for Stargazing in the Park

To make the most of your stargazing experience in New River Gorge National Park, consider the following tips:

  • Plan your visit around the new moon, when the sky is darkest and the stars are most visible.
  • Arrive at your chosen stargazing location before sunset to allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness.
  • Bring a red-light flashlight or headlamp to preserve your night vision while navigating in the dark.
  • Use a star chart or stargazing app to help identify constellations and other celestial objects.
  • Dress warmly, as temperatures can drop significantly at night, even during the summer months.

Preserving the Magic of the Night Sky

As you marvel at the breathtaking beauty of the night sky in New River Gorge National Park, remember the importance of preserving this invaluable resource for future generations. By practicing responsible lighting habits and supporting dark sky conservation efforts, we can ensure that the wonders of the universe remain visible for all to enjoy.

Nearby Towns and Attractions

Thurmond Train Station at New River Gorge National ParkWhile New River Gorge National Park and Preserve offers a wealth of outdoor recreation opportunities and scenic beauty, the surrounding area also boasts a variety of charming towns and interesting attractions worth exploring. These nearby communities provide visitors with a chance to experience the region’s rich history, unique culture, and warm hospitality.

Fayetteville

Located just minutes from the New River Gorge Bridge, Fayetteville is a vibrant, outdoor-oriented town that serves as a popular base camp for park visitors. The town features a charming historic district with a variety of locally-owned shops, restaurants, and galleries. Some notable attractions in Fayetteville include:

  • The Historic Fayette Theater: Built in 1937, this restored art deco theater hosts live performances and community events throughout the year.
  • The New River Gorge Visitors Center: Located in the heart of town, this visitors center offers exhibits, maps, and information about the park and surrounding area.
  • Cathedral Falls: Just a short drive from Fayetteville, this stunning 60-foot waterfall is a popular spot for photography and picnicking.

Beckley

The largest city in the New River Gorge region, Beckley offers a variety of cultural attractions, dining options, and lodging choices for park visitors. Some highlights include:

  • The Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine: This unique attraction allows visitors to ride an underground mine car and learn about the area’s coal mining history.
  • The Tamarack Marketplace: Featuring the work of over 2,000 West Virginia artisans, this sprawling arts and crafts center showcases the best of Appalachian culture and creativity.
  • The Raleigh County Veterans Museum: Dedicated to honoring the service and sacrifice of local veterans, this museum features a collection of military artifacts, uniforms, and memorabilia.

Lewisburg

Located about an hour southeast of New River Gorge National Park, Lewisburg is a historic town known for its antique shops, art galleries, and gourmet restaurants. Some notable attractions include:

  • The Greenbrier Resort: This iconic luxury resort, which dates back to 1778, offers world-class dining, golf, and spa services, as well as a secretive Cold War-era bunker.
  • The North House Museum: Housed in a restored 1820s log cabin, this museum showcases the history and culture of the Greenbrier Valley.
  • The Lewisburg Farmers Market: Held every Saturday morning from May through October, this lively market features fresh produce, baked goods, and handcrafted items from local vendors.

Hawks Nest State Park

Situated just north of New River Gorge National Park, Hawks Nest State Park offers stunning views of the New River Gorge and a variety of recreational activities, including hiking, fishing, and jet boat rides. The park’s main attraction is the Hawks Nest Overlook, which provides a breathtaking panorama of the gorge and surrounding mountains.

The Greenbrier River Trail

Stretching 78 miles from Lewisburg to Cass, the Greenbrier River Trail is a scenic rail trail that follows the path of the Greenbrier River. The trail is open to hiking, biking, and horseback riding, and offers a unique way to explore the natural beauty of the region.

By venturing beyond the boundaries of New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, visitors can gain a deeper appreciation for the rich history, vibrant culture, and stunning beauty of southern West Virginia. Whether you’re interested in exploring charming small towns, discovering hidden natural wonders, or immersing yourself in the region’s fascinating past, the New River Gorge area offers no shortage of captivating attractions and experiences to enjoy.

Final Thoughts About New River Gorge National Park

New River Gorge National ParkNew River Gorge National Park and Preserve is a true gem for nature lovers, adventure seekers, and anyone looking to experience the rugged beauty of the Appalachian Mountains.

With its stunning scenery, diverse outdoor recreation opportunities, and rich cultural heritage, the park offers a one-of-a-kind destination that is sure to leave a lasting impression on all who visit.

Throughout this comprehensive guide, we’ve explored the many facets of New River Gorge National Park, from its geologic wonders and ecological diversity to its historic sites and starry night skies.

We’ve delved into the best seasons to visit, the top scenic drives and trails, and the most compelling attractions and activities to enjoy.

We’ve also provided practical tips and information on camping, safety, and preserving the park’s natural resources for future generations.

But perhaps most importantly, this guide has aimed to capture the essence of what makes New River Gorge National Park so special – its ability to inspire a sense of awe, wonder, and connection to the natural world.

Whether you’re gazing out over the misty expanse of the gorge at sunrise, listening to the rushing waters of the New River, or marveling at the brilliance of the Milky Way on a clear night, the park has a way of reminding us of our place in the grand scheme of things and the importance of preserving wild places like these.

Of course, no guide can fully capture the experience of actually visiting New River Gorge National Park in person. That’s something that each visitor must discover for themselves, through their own unique lens and personal journey.

But by providing a comprehensive overview of the park’s many highlights and offerings, this guide aims to inspire and empower readers to embark on their own adventures and create their own lasting memories in this incredible corner of West Virginia.

As you plan your visit to New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, remember that this is a place that rewards curiosity, exploration, and a willingness to step outside your comfort zone.

Whether you’re a seasoned outdoorsperson or a first-time visitor to the area, there is always something new to discover and appreciate here.

So come prepared, but also come with an open mind and a sense of wonder. Embrace the challenges and the opportunities that the park presents, and let yourself be transformed by the experience.

In the end, a visit to New River Gorge National Park is about more than just checking off a list of sights and activities. It’s about forging a deeper connection to the natural world, to our shared heritage, and to ourselves.

It’s about recognizing the value of wild places and the importance of preserving them for future generations. And it’s about creating memories and stories that will stay with us long after we’ve left the park behind.

So what are you waiting for? Pack your bags, grab your sense of adventure, and head to New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.

With this guide as your companion, you’re sure to have an unforgettable experience in one of America’s most spectacular natural wonderlands.

Have you visited New River Gorge National Park? If so, what did I miss in this overlander’s guide?

Share your thoughts in the comment section below. Thanks for your input! It is greatly appreciated!

Patrick @DarkSkyOverland


Dark Sky Overland is an overland lifestyle brand that was created to support the various trips I take to National Parks and other designated Dark Sky Parks within the United States. It was also born out of a strong desire to simplify life after my wife of over 24 years passed away from a three year battle with inflammatory breast cancer (IBC). You can learn more about my story at https://darkskyoverland.com/about/.

Patrick @DarkSkyOverland

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