Science is just starting to understand why people like waterfalls. It turns out that when water molecules collide while tumbling over rocks and into a splash pool they release negative ions into the atmosphere. When these negative ions hit our bloodstream our bodies produce biochemical reactions linked to alleviating depression, relieving stress, and boosting energy. Even before we learned about the health benefits, we knew that being around waterfalls is a healing experience. Visiting a beautiful waterfall is a balm for the soul, and on a hot day, a cool escape from the heat.
With a drainage area of hundreds of square miles and a nine-hundred-foot drop in elevation from rim to river, the New River Gorge is naturally home to a lot of waterfalls. And we mean a LOT. Quite literally, too many to count. While many of these waterfalls cascade down the walls of the Gorge in places too remote to easily visit, many spectacular falls can be found on the roadside. We’d like to share with you some of our favorites, along with detailed directions so you can make the most of your waterfall-chasing time.
Easily the largest waterfall in the park, it is also the most accessible. Even folks with mobility challenges can enjoy Sandstone Falls thanks to the National Park Service’s system of boardwalks and trails that give several different views of this waterfall that is 1,100 feet wide and nearly 30 feet tall. Photographers love to spend time here because there are so many angles and viewpoints to shoot. Even if you’re not after the perfect shot, the roar and spray of the giant falls is an experience you should not miss when visiting the New River Gorge National Park.
Directions from Fayetteville: Take Route 19 South to Interstate 64/77. Follow I-64 to the Sandstone exit 139 on I-64 (the National Park’s Sandstone Visitor Center is just off this exit and has excellent exhibits on the natural and cultural history of the upper New River Gorge, plus park maps and information). Drive south on Route 20 to Hinton (you will pass the Sandstone Falls Overlook which provides an aerial view of the falls from 600 feet above the river). After crossing the bridge at Hinton you will begin driving alongside the New River down River Road. Sandstone Falls Day Use Area is 8 miles from Hinton.
At the opposite end of the New River Gorge, more than 60 miles downstream from Sandstone Falls (and outside the confines of the National Park) is another river-wide waterfall that is easily accessible. The falls lay at the lower end of a lake formed by both the ledge that creates the falls and a man-made dam that diverts water to a hydroelectric plant on the left side of the river. The falls are no less impressive than Sandstone, but a little further from the shoreline, so bring your long lens if you want the best photos. The area below the falls is a public fishing access area run by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, and you can launch your kayak or stand-up paddleboard here to explore the falls close up. We highly recommend the guided SUP tour offered by Mountain Surf Paddle Sports.
Directions from Fayetteville: Take Rt. 16 north to Gauley Bridge. Continue on Rt. 60 for two miles and the falls are on your left.
Since we just left you at Kanawha Falls, let’s stop at this beauty that is just a couple of miles east on Route 60. Right at the base of Gauley Mountain, this 65’ waterfall is one of the tallest and most beautiful you’ll see anywhere. Its proximity to the main road makes it a popular stop for travelers, and while you can walk a short path and rock-hop right up to its spray, it can also be seen perfectly through the front windshield of your car from the parking lot. We recommend going early in the morning to avoid crowds, especially if you are after a good photograph.
Directions from Fayetteville: Take Rt. 16 north to Gauley Bridge. Cathedral Falls is located at the foot of Gauley Mountain just before the town of Gauley Bridge.
Coal Branch Falls
This 25’ drop can be seen along the National Park access road that leads to Cunard, just across from the Brooklyn Mine Trailhead. Park there and walk across the road for a great view. Getting close requires some scrambling, but the intrepid waterfall chaser is rewarded by an up-close view and a wonderful spray area.
Directions from Fayetteville: Follow Rt. 16 south through town. Take a left on Gateway Road (the sign indicates Kaymoor and Cunard). Follow Gatewood Road for 4.6 miles and turn left at the sign for Cunard. Go 1.8 miles and turn left at both of the signs indicating Cunard River Access Road. Look for the Brooklyn Mine Trail sign and parking area. The waterfall is across the road.
Fayette Station Road Waterfalls
The old road that used to travel the distance spanned now by the New River Gorge Bridge is one of our favorite scenic drives in the national park, and there are several waterfalls along the route. During wet weather, innumerable smaller falls and cascades can be seen and heard as you drive down to the bottom of the gorge and back up the other side. Once you cross the river at the bottom and start up the other side, you will see the Kaymoor Trailhead. Park respectfully along the road just around the next curve. From here, you can walk across Wolf Creek on the Kaymoor Trail bridge. Just a few yards in, you will pass so close to an unnamed waterfall on your right that you can literally extend your hand into its spray.
Directions from Fayetteville: Turn right (north) onto US 19, drive across the New River Gorge Bridge and take the second right onto Lansing-Edmond Road (County Route 5 and 82). In 1/4 mile, turn right onto the road with a road sign marked “Fayette Station Road.” The road forks almost immediately; take the left fork. Fayette Station Road continues into the gorge on a series of two- and one-way roads, passing under the New River Gorge Bridge twice.
This list barely scratches the surface of the treasure trove awaiting waterfall chasers in the New River Gorge. To take a deeper dive, we recommend checking out the award-winning book West Virginia Waterfalls: The New River Gorge by Ed Rehbein and Randall Sanger which has dozens of beautiful photos and GPS coordinates for dozens of waterfalls within the park. Guests of Lafayette Flats will find this book in their flat, courtesy of co-author and photographer Randall Sanger.
A few words about safety: Where there are waterfalls, there are often slippery rocks, moss and mud. It’s easy to get distracted by trying to get into the perfect position for a photo and find yourself in a spot with poor footing. Even far from the stream, the spray from a waterfall can make rocks and logs extremely slick. Please be careful!
Who are we? Amy & Shawn, New River Gorge hikers, WV Master Naturalists, and owners of Lafayette Flats Boutique Vacation Rentals.
If you enjoyed this post you might also like Top 5 Rail Trails in the New River Gorge and Southside Trail: Best Spring Hike in New River Gorge National Park.