The Endless Wall Trail is “The Best National Park Hike” for Many Reasons
Of all the New River Gorge National River trails, The Endless Wall Trail has the most character and diversity. From the serenity of an ancient Hemlock forest to the pulse-quickening views from atop the cliffs overlooking the Gorge, it provides the casual hiker with a taste of everything that makes The New River Gorge National River such a special place.
Voted “The Best National Park Hike” by USA Today readers in 2015, it is a trail you don’t want to miss when visiting the New River Gorge.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Plan a daybreak hike, if you can. The Gorge is at its most beautiful when the sun begins to penetrate the morning mist that gathers over the river.
- You can hike the Endless Wall Trail as a loop (beginning and ending at your car) but walking on the public road for about 1/4 mile is required to complete the loop.
- This easy 2.4 mile hike (2.7 miles with the road return) usually takes a leisurely hiker about 1 ½ hours to complete, but you should allow extra time for sightseeing.
- The Endless Wall Trail is a great choice for a hike during every season. You really need to experience this beautiful area, and the view it provides, in the spring, summer, autumn and winter.
Finding the Endless Wall Trailhead
The trail arcs between two trailheads located a half-mile apart along Lansing-Edmond Road, and most of its 2.7 miles run alongside the northern rim of the gorge. There are numerous spots where even non-adventurous hikers can stand atop the rocky cliffs and gaze at the New River 900 feet below.
The Fern Creek trailhead is a mile and a half from US Route 19 (the primary route for north-south travelers from Ontario, Canada to Florida) and is one of the closest trails to the New River Gorge Bridge. Its convenient location means it gets a lot of visitors during peak travel season.
If you find the Fern Creek trailhead parking lot full, continue driving to the Nuttall Trailhead and either walk the trail from that end or make the road hike back to Fern Creek (resist the temptation to park along the road if the lot is full because local police will ticket and tow).
The Terrain of the Endless Wall Trail
Beginning at the Fern Creek trailhead, the trail takes a leisurely and mostly level path through an Eastern Hemlock forest that is as enchanting as any woods you will ever see. It’s always tempting — when you first get on a trail – to hurry up and put some miles behind you, but you will want to take your time here to soak in the beauty of the forest. You can try to get a glimpse of the multitudes of birds that you hear high up in the canopy, or just appreciate the amazing diversity of plant and fungi along the trail.
As the Hemlocks begin to thin out and mix with deciduous trees, the trail descends slightly to cross Fern Creek. At the footbridge (about ½ mile along the trail) take a few minutes to sit and listen to Fern Creek and pay attention to where it flows. Just around the bend, less than 100 yards from the bridge, the creek drops through a cleft in the Nuttall Sandstone and becomes Fern Creek Falls. While the falls aren’t visible from above, an unmarked but well-worn trail on the right side of the stream will take the adventurous hiker through a Rhododendron thicket to the very edge of the cliff where the thundering of the falls below can be heard. Check out the Long Point Trail to catch a glimpse of the Fern Creek Falls from the other side of the Gorge.
Rhodo Tunnels and Climber’s Ladders
After the trail crosses Fern Creek, it begins a mild climb back through the Rhododendron maximum, whose blooms are West Virginia’s official state flower (they usually bloom in June) and whose evergreen leaves make up the garland that adorns much of the New River Gorge. Called “rhodo” by rock climbers who have to contend with it to access their favorite climbing spots, it often obscures the view of the foot-traveler and sometimes forms tunnels that seem like passageways to some enchanted land.
Once the trail has reached the elevation of the Gorge’s rim, there are several side paths that lead through the rhodo to the precipice. A couple of these paths end at permanent metal ladders installed by rock climbers to allow them to access the trail that runs below the cliffs from which they launch their ascents. If you have the time and ability, climb down and take a look around.
The View from Diamond Point is Priceless
About 1 mile from the Fern Creek parking area (1.2 miles from Nuttall) is a short trail that leads to Diamond Point (the intersection is clearly marked with a sign). The view from Diamond Point is not to be missed: From this one spot you can seem more than a mile upstream and downstream. The New River Gorge Bridge is partially visible as is the former site of the Kaymoor coal mine and the community of the same name.
You can hear the rumbling of trains passing through the Gorge and the joyful squeals of rafters on the rapids below. Here, you will understand why the trail is called The Endless Wall, as you see the high wall of Nuttall Sandstone stretching into the distance and disappearing around the bend in both directions. If you look closely you may see rock climbers scaling the cliffs on one of the hundreds of established climbing routes.
When you leave Diamond Point, you can either go back the way you came or continue on to the opposite trailhead and walk the road back to your car. If you started your tip from Nuttall, though, you will miss the beautiful Fern Creek drainage if you return the way you came.
Tips for enjoying The Endless Wall Trail:
- In from late spring through early fall, the Fern Creek drainage is home to lots of very interesting mushrooms. Take your time and look around.
- Don’t turn back too soon and miss Diamond Point! Many hikers get to one of the lesser overlooks and think they have found it. Remember, the short trail that leads to Diamond Point is well-marked, so don’t miss it.
- Be aware of your children and their proximity to the edge of the cliffs. This is for their safety as well as the safety of climbers below that could be hit by falling debris that is carelessly kicked loose. Don’t allow your children to throw anything over the edge; you never know when there might be people on the rock or on climbing access trails below.
We find the Endless Wall Trail so spectacular that we always take our friends and families on it when they are visiting the New River Gorge. Even though we’ve hiked it dozens of times, it never gets old. The trail’s character changes throughout the year.
When we explore other areas of the New River Gorge, we use Bryan Simon’s “Hiking and Biking in the New River Gorge: A Trail Users Guide”. It contains so much great information about the hundreds of miles of trail in this beautiful part of West Virginia.
Not only do we use our friend Bryan’s book ourselves, but we also have several copies in the library at Lafayette Flats for our guests to use.
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