When the New River Gorge was designated a National Park in 2021, we immediately saw a huge influx of travelers who were interested in expanding the list of national parks they had visited. Many of these travelers seemed more interested in a quick trip to get their National Park Passport stamped than truly experiencing the New River Gorge.
While quick trips are fun, many of our guests have told us they regret not staying longer. They were surprised that there was so much to do and see. So, how much time should you invest in your New River Gorge trip? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. But whether you are looking for adventure, nature, history, or culture, our 5-day sample itinerary will help you plan a perfect visit to America’s newest national park.
Home Base – Fayetteville, WV
Fayetteville, often named on lists of America’s coolest small towns, is loaded with small-town charm and has a unique vibe due to its proximity to the outdoor adventure playground that is the northern section of the New River Gorge National Park. Situated literally on the rim of the New River Gorge, Fayetteville is the gateway to the park and the only town with its own National Park trailhead (and many other trailheads within 5-10 minutes of town).
Boasting more great local eateries than a town of less than three thousand should reasonably have, most are conveniently located in a walkable historic downtown. Fayetteville is also close to all the major features in the northern section of the park, and it is a convenient starting point for day trips to all the others. This makes Fayetteville the ideal place to base your New River Gorge adventure.
Plus, Lafayette Flats Boutique Vacation Rentals is in downtown Fayetteville, WV. The historic building that houses our four modern vacation rentals is within walking distance of all the good stuff. Book 5 nights at Lafayette Flats and save 25% as part of our New River Gorge Explorer Package (itinerary, discount & free trail guidebook).
Itinerary Day 1 – Northern National Park Attractions
Start your day with delicious Croissant French Toast at Cathedral Café, an iconic Fayetteville eatery. After breakfast set off on a trek to one of the National Park’s most photographed vistas, Long Point. It’s only a five-minute drive from town to the easy-to-find trailhead, and then an easy 1.6-mile hike to the stunning view of Gorge with the historic New River Gorge Bridge front and center! After your hike, stop for lunch at nearby Arrowhead Bike Farm – home to goats, mountain biking, bratwurst, and craft beer. A great place to relax and refuel.
Next on the itinerary is another hike, but not just any hike. This one was voted the top National Park hike in America, The Endless Wall. From the Fern Creek trailhead, this trail leads you through a lovely hemlock forest before taking you to the very rim of the Gorge. At Diamond Point Overlook, as you stand atop the towering cliffs that line the New River for as far as the eye can see, you’ll understand why it is called “The Endless Wall.” Because of the popularity of this trail, it’s best to visit on weekdays or very late on weekend afternoons.
After your hike, stop at the National Park’s Canyon Rim Visitors Center. Inside are exhibits that tell the story of the New River Gorge, its people, and the bridge that connects it all. Take the walk down the steps to the bridge overlook for another unique view of this amazing structure!
From here, it is only natural to take the historic drive through the Gorge on Fayette Station Road. Once the only way to cross the New River for 20 miles in either direction, this road takes you down a narrow mountain road with many switchbacks, under the New River Gorge Bridge, and over the river on the Tunney Hunsaker Bridge for a classic photo-op. You’ll want to park at the bottom in the Fayette Station parking area to get out and explore the area along the Fayette Station Rapid where you can watch rafters and kayakers brave the class IV whitewater.
“Download the National Park’s audio tour of Fayette Station Road before heading down into the Gorge. This old road has a fasinating history and lots of great stops.” ~ Amy
Back in your car, continue through the Gorge and up the opposite side. Make a stop at the Kaymoor Trailhead and take a short walk across the Wolf Creek footbridge up to Kaymoor Trail Falls, a beautiful cascade so close to the trail that you can reach your hand into the spray. If you are up for another hike, you can continue along the mostly-level Kaymoor Trail for 2 miles to the old mine, abandoned more than 60 years ago.
After a busy first day, treat yourself to dinner and libations at another Fayetteville institution, Secret Sandwich Society. SSS boasts of a fantastic array of unique sandwiches and salads (Shawn recommends the Velvet Burger, and Amy suggests the Eleanor salad), and don’t miss their Key Lime Pie for dessert. After dinner, stroll through the historic downtown and enjoy the small-town vibes before turning in for the night. Tomorrow’s a big day!
Itinerary Day 2 – Southern National Park Attractions
Break your fast at Wood Iron Eatery. This cozy café in a historic Fayetteville house has many unique breakfast offerings and is a local favorite. Try the Handheld or the Loaded Napoleon Tots. Next, head out on a day trip to the southern end of the National Park. First stop, Sandstone Visitors Center, about an hour’s drive from Fayetteville. This facility does a great job of interpreting the New River Gorge for visitors through visual displays about the geology, natural history, and human interaction with the river. A replica of a batteau, the boats formerly used to transport people and goods through the treacherous waters of the Gorge, sits outside the center and provides a tangible connection to travelers from another era.
“Don’t miss the Sandstone Falls Overlook and Brooks Falls Overlook on Rt. 20 between the visitors center and Sandstone Falls. The bird’s eye view of the waterfalls really adds to your appreciation of them once you’re up close and personal.“ ~ Shawn
Sandstone Falls, a 1,500-foot-wide series of ledges that span the river from bank to bank, is about a 30-minute drive from the visitors center, and well worth the trip. A lovely boardwalk connects the parking area to several islands from which to view the falls, which makes it a perfect spot for people of all abilities to spend time enjoying nature and listening to the thunderous roar of the untamed river.
Nearby, the National Park Service has preserved two historic former subsistence farms. The Richmond-Hamilton Farm sits along the river road that leads to Sandstone Falls. The other, more remote but worth the 25-minute side trip is the Trump-Lilly Farm. Sitting high on Freezeland Mountain overlooking the upper New River Gorge, this farm was first settled in pioneer days and still contains many of the original structures like the farmhouse, and several barns and sheds. Ancient nut and fruit trees surround the homestead and the fields, which have been allowed to mostly grow over with pollinator-friendly plants but are still well-defined and accessible through gentle walking trails. Rarely visited and far off the beaten path, it is one of our favorite places to spend time, so we added it to this itinerary.
Just upstream from Sandstone Falls is the historic railroad town of Hinton. This little burg of less than 2,300 residents is beginning to see new life as a tourism hub, with several new eateries and shops opening in the downtown area. Among our favorite places for lunch are Lucky River Café and The Market on the Square.
If you’re in the mood for a hike after lunch, head to Big Branch Trail, only 10 minutes from Hinton. It’s a moderately challenging 2-mile trail that takes you past waterfalls and the ruins of a former homestead.
Worthy Detours Along the Way
- Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine – Take a deep dive into the history of coal mining at this unique living museum where you can take a trip underground in a former coal mine.
- Polls Plateau Trail – If it is quiet solitude in a splendorous natural setting you seek, we know the place you can find it. The beautiful and quiet Polls Plateau Trail is easy to get to, which always makes us wonder why we’re always the only ones there.
The road back to Fayetteville leads through Beckley, the largest town near the Gorge. Even though it is home to less than 20,000 people, it has some delicious options for dinner. The local favorite for fine dining and special occasions is The Char with its throw-back supper club vibe and delicious fare, and Pasquale’s is a top-notch Italian restaurant with all the traditional dishes you would expect.
Itinerary Day 3 – Fayetteville, Culture & History
No trip to West Virginia would be complete without breakfast from Tudor’s Biscuit World, a regional staple where you can feast on delicious breakfast sandwiches made with homemade buttermilk biscuits (Amy recommends the Mary B, and Shawn prefers the Thundering Herd).
Make your New River Gorge trip more memorable with whitewater rafting! Cross the Big Bridge to Lansing, where you will get on the bus to Cunard for a half-day trip through the lower New River Gorge with Adventures on the Gorge. You’ll experience the splendor of the wild river and bond with your boatmates as you paddle your way through the rapids and enjoy a riverside buffet lunch as well!
We hear from a lot of guests that they are a little nervous about taking a whitewater rafting trip. Our advice is don’t be! The whitewater guides in our area have a great safety record and there are several different trips designed for varying levels of excitement. But if there’s no getting past the nerves, don’t worry, there are other awe-inspiring guided tours to add to your itinerary:
- Bridge Walk– Walk along the catwalk under the 876-foot-tall New River Gorge Bridge.
- Tree Top Canopy Tours – Aerial thrills as you glide from tree to tree through an ancient hemlock forest.
- New River Gorge Eco Tours – A guided forest hike where you experience nature and learn about the natural and human history of the New River Gorge.
- Paddleboarding with Mountain Surf Paddle Sports – Easy instructions and guided tours of many New River Gorge locations.
“One of my all-time favorite experiences in the New River Gorge was doing aerobatics high above it in a Stearman Biplane! I highly recommend Wild Blue Adventure.” ~ Shawn
Take in some local culture with a visit to Love Hope Center for the Arts, Fayetteville’s local art gallery inside a historic church building. Peruse the shops in downtown Fayetteville. Make sure to visit Lost Appalachia Trading Company for unique art and apparel, and Waterstone Outdoors for gear and gifts.
Up for some history? Make the 20-minute drive to Thurmond, a once bustling railroad town along the New River, its abandoned yet preserved “Commercial Row” gives visitors a unique view into early 20th-century industrialization. The National Park Visitors Center is located in the old train depot, which still has passenger service on Amtrak’s Northeast Cardinal with service to Chicago and Washington DC.
“On your way to Thurmond, look for the roadside Dunloup Falls, one of the many stops on the West Virginia Waterfall Trail in the New River Gorge region. While some waterfalls are exclusively rain dependent, this showstopper is always flowing and beautiful.” ~ Shawn
To combine history and nature in one trip, make the drive to Nuttallburg, a former mining complex and company town. The trip to Nuttallburg through Keeney’s Creek gorge is stunning with several roadside waterfalls, and the National Park’s interpretive displays will lead you through the ruins of the mine, once owned by Henry Ford. We recommend the leisurely walk to Seldom Seen, the site of a former town just downstream from the main Nuttallburg complex.
Back to Fayetteville for a great dining experience at Pies and Pints. Known for its delicious artisan pizzas and craft beer selection, this is the original location of what has grown into a regional chain. Try the Grape & Gorgonzola pie (or the Heirloom Tomato pie if it’s in season) with a pitcher of locally brewed lager or root beer. If you saved room for dessert, make one more stop at The Stache.
Itinerary Day 4 – Central National Park Attractions
Enjoy breakfast in your beautiful original art-filled flat. All vacation rentals at Lafayette Flats have full kitchens, and there are two grocery stores within 10 minutes: Walmart and Kroger.
After breakfast, make the 40-minute drive to Grandview for – as the name implies – the grandest of views to be found anywhere in the park. The main overlook is easily accessible and worthy of the itinerary alone, but the area also boasts several wonderful trails along the rim of the gorge with magnificent vistas of their own.
Worthy Detours Along the Way
- Tamarack Marketplace – “The Best of West Virginia,” Tamarack is a showcase of handcrafts, fine art and regional cuisine. In addition to the retail marketplace, it has working studios for resident artisans, a fine art gallery, a theater, and a food court.
- Glade Creek Trail – Starting the 5.6-mile Glade Creek Trail from the Upper/Beckley trailhead allows you quick access to the gorgeous waterfall, Kate’s Falls. The very short (.2 miles) but steep waterfall spur is marked about 1.1 miles from the Glade Creek trailhead.
Picnic Lunch – Grandview has no food services within the park but does have some lovely picnic areas. That’s why we recommend bringing lunch with you. Stop at Grandview Farms Country Store to pick up cheese, chips, preserved meats, fruit, and sweets for a picnic at one of Grandview’s many picnic shelters or tables. You’ll find it on the left side of the road shortly after exiting I-64 on the way to Grandview.
There are many easy but highly rewarding trails to explore in Grandview. The Castle Rock Trail meanders along the bottom of a phenomenal wall of sandstone cliffs, and at the top of those cliffs, the Grandview Rim Trail takes the high road all the way to the Turkey Spur Overlook where you get a 270-degree view of the double-bend of the New River over a thousand feet below.
If you like live theater, consider staying at Grandview and adding an evening of outdoor drama to your itinerary. During the summer, Theatre West Virginia presents professional stage productions under the stars in the scenic Cliffside Amphitheater. Two of the rotating shows, Honey in the Rock and The Hatfields and McCoys, portray stories from West Virginia’s history as musicals. An evening here is a perfect ending to a day of New River Gorge adventuring.
If you plan to take in the show, you’ll need to grab dinner first. The best place to do this is The Dish Café in nearby Daniels, where you can have a great farm-to-table dining experience in a relaxed atmosphere and be back in time for the curtain.
Itinerary Day 5 – The Best of the Rest
There’s still lots to do on your last day! If it’s Sunday, you won’t want to miss the fabulous brunch at Smokeys on the Gorge, just across the bridge in Lansing. After breakfast, drive to Brooklyn to access the Southside Trail. Good for both walking and bike riding, this wide, flat trail runs 7 miles between Cunard and Thurmond. The trail passes through several old mining sites and former mining towns where you can see the ruins of houses, commercial buildings, and coke ovens.
If you want to challenge yourself, head over to Kaymoor and take the Kaymoor Miner’s Trail to the former town at the bottom of the Gorge. Getting to the mine entrance mid-mountain is relatively easy compared to hiking the 821 steps to the bottom. Only add this stop to your itinerary if you’re able to hike back up!
For a tasty and healthy lunch, try The Takeout in Fayetteville, where you can choose your flavor and whether you want it on a sandwich, wrap, or a bowl. We like the Bahn mi-inspired Pacific, either on brioche (Shawn’s fave) or in a sushi bowl (as Amy prefers).
After lunch make the 25-minute drive to Babcock State Park, where you can pose for a selfie in front of the iconic Glade Creek Grist Mill, or rent a boat or kayak for a paddle on the picturesque Boley Lake.
“Don’t miss the best vista in Babcock State Park. It is only .8 miles into the Skyline Trail when starting at the lower trailhead near cabin #5. If you’re too tired for another hike, access the vista from the park road to Manns Creek Picnic Area. Look for the bench.” ~ Amy
Next, hop over to Hawks Nest State Park for yet another iconic view of the New River Gorge. If you have one more hike in you, make sure it’s on the Hawks Nest Rail Trail, which follows Mill Creek for its last two miles before meeting the New River. Stunning views of the boulder-strewn creek and close encounters with waterfalls are plentiful, and a quick side trip will take you to an old abandoned mine entrance with an art-deco flair.
Back to Fayetteville for a delicious dinner at Wanderlust Creative Foods. This little eatery offers such diverse dishes as chicken tikka masala and lamb burgers in a casual setting. After dinner, take one more stroll through this charming town and pop into Southside Junction Taphouse for a nightcap or to take in some live music before retiring.
There you have it, a fun-filled 5-day New River Gorge itinerary. But wait, there’s something else you should know:
The National Park is Only the Centerpiece of Spectacular Outdoor Recreation
While New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is a worthy destination by itself, its proximity to other state and national recreation areas makes it a particularly attractive vacation spot. In addition to the two West Virginia State Parks we mentioned above, these itinerary-worthy locations are nearby:
- Gauley River National Recreation Area
- Summersville Lake & Summersville Lake State Park
- Carnifex Ferry State Park
- Bluestone National Scenic River
- Bluestone State Park
- Pipestem Resort State Park
- Little Beaver State Park
- Plum Orchard Lake
Have we convinced you to spend more than just a weekend in the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve? If so, click here to get a special discount code for booking 5 or more nights at Lafayette Flats Boutique Vacation Rentals in downtown Fayetteville, WV.
Who are we? Amy & Shawn, New River Gorge hikers, WV Master Naturalists, and owners of Lafayette Flats Boutique Vacation Rentals in downtown Fayetteville, WV in the heart of the New River Gorge National Park.
Craving more data for your New River Gorge exploration? Read “New River Gorge Waterfalls You Can Drive to” and “What the Media Gets Wrong About New River Gorge National Park.“