Rail trails are former railroad corridors that have been converted for hiking & biking. These types of trails often have three tremendous advantages over regular hiking trails.
First, rail trails often contain substantial infrastructure left behind by the railroad companies, like trestle bridges over creeks. These provide easy access to rugged areas of the forest. Second, railroad corridors were built at grades a train could travel which makes for gentle inclines. Third, the corridors are usually very wide which allows multiple hikers and bikers to comfortably use the trail at the same time.
Rail trails in the New River Gorge also provide an important tie between the natural and cultural aspects of this National Park. Walking along any of these rail trails transports you back to days long ago when trains brought miners and their families into the uninhabited Gorge and sent tons of coal back out to the rest of the country.
We love a good rail trail and thankfully, the New River Gorge is full of them. Here are our top five!
Hawks Nest Rail Trail*
4.74 miles (2.37 out & 2.37 back) | Moderate
15 minutes from Fayetteville
HIGHLIGHTS: long trestle bridge, the trail follows beautiful Mill Creek which is full of waterfalls, easy access to old mine entrance (very short spur to right at 1.5 miles in), the trail ends at Hawks Nest Lake with access to jetboat rides, additional trails, and Hawks Nest aerial tram which takes you up the mountain to Hawks Nest State Park Lodge.
TRAILHEAD: Take US 19 5.3 miles to the intersection with US 60. Turn left (west) and drive 6.3 miles to Ansted, WV. Turn right on Ansted Bank Road (near Walgreens). Turn left on Hawks Nest Road. This road goes under US 60 and leads to the trailhead.
6.88 miles (3.44 out & 3.44 back) | Easy
25 minutes from Fayetteville
HIGHLIGHTS: provides views of the historic town of Thurmond and the New River, several trestle bridges, includes an enormous sandstone boulder that detached from the nearby cliff and now blocks the old railroad (steps have been permanently constructed to bypass the bolder and continue along the trail). Special note: the trail is currently closed at 1.9 miles in due to a slide, but we still recommend hiking the open section.
TRAILHEAD: Take Glen Jean exit on US 19. Turn left almost immediately at the stop sign. Drive .5 miles then turn right on Main St. followed by an immediate left at the historic Glen Jean Bank Building. Drive 5.1 miles on Rt. 25 to the Rend Trail Head on the left.
12.8 miles (6.4 out & 6.4 back) | Easy
20 minutes from Fayetteville
HIGHLIGHTS: a huge variety of wildflowers in bloom during April & May, provides a great view of New River with its rapids and rafters, parallels a run of historic coke ovens, provides only access to historic Red Ash Island, provides easy assess to the historic town of Thurmond.
TRAILHEAD: From US 19, follow WV 16 through Fayetteville for .7 miles to the intersection with Gatewood Rd. Bear left and follow Gatewood Road for 4.5 miles before turning left onto Cunard Rd. Follow this road for 1.8 miles. Turn left toward Cunard River Access area. Turn onto the gravel road from the access area and drive 1 mile to the trailhead.
Keeneys Creek Rail Trail
6.4 miles (3.2 out & 3.2 back) | Easy
25 minutes from Fayetteville
HIGHLIGHTS: goes through a quiet and beautiful forest, includes the tallest trestle bridge in the New River Gorge, takes you through a rugged area on an easy 4% grade, crosses under an old coal conveyor, the trail is very close to the old mining complex of Nuttalburg which warrants further exploration.
TRAILHEAD: Drive north from Fayetteville on US 19 and cross the Bridge. Turn right onto Lansing-Edmond Rd and continue 6 miles. Turn right onto Keeneys Creek Rd. Follow this road for 3.5 miles to the parking area on the right (before the main Nuttallburg parking area). Special note: the road to Nuttallburg is currently listed as closed on the NPS website.
Glade Creek Rail Trail
11.4 miles (5.7 out & 5.7 back) | Moderate
40 minutes from Fayetteville
HIGHLIGHTS: quiet and secluded trail, extremely shaded by towering ridgelines (good for hot, sunny days), runs along beautiful Glade Creek which contains a nice swimming hole, islands, and waterfalls.
TRAILHEAD: Take Glen Jean exit on US 19. Turn right at the immediate stop sign and travel on WV 16/61 for 2.8 miles. Turn Left on WV 61 and travel 4.4 miles. At the Y intersection, turn left onto WV 41 and travel 4 miles. Turn right and travel 5.6 miles on the gravel Glade Creek Rd to the trailhead.
*Hawks Nest Rail Trail borders New River Gorge National Park on West Virginia state-owned land. While technically not within the park boundaries, it is just too good not to include on our list!
Helpful Info & Advice for New River Gorge Rail Trails
- Check the National Park website or visitors center for trail closures before departing.
- Take plenty of water, snacks, and bug spray.
- We are leisurely hikers and usually cover 2 miles per hour on a moderate trail. Use our guidelines to plan and schedule your hike appropriately; you don’t want to get stuck out after dark.
- Make sure to put valuables out of sight and lock your car at the trailhead.
- Cell phone service is available at some point on most New River Gorge trails but we always take our handy trail guide with us.
- In the extremely rare case that you see a black bear, stay calm. Do not run or approach the bear. Make as much noise as possible to scare it away.
Enjoy this post? You might also like New River Gorge National Park: Trails Less Traveled.
Who are we? Amy & Shawn, New River Gorge hikers, WV Master Naturalists, and owners of Lafayette Flats Boutique Vacation Rentals.