Yearning for a fun getaway but nervous about traveling? We get it, and we’re here to help.
In this post, you’ll find a list of New River Gorge activities that get you outside in the fresh air and beautiful sunshine. No need to worry about group activities, close quarters, or social interactions. There is plenty to do and so much to see in our country’s newest National Park!
But if you are feeling adventurous, check out this post for more info about rafting, climbing all the other adventure activities that are opening back up with new guidelines.
We usually recommend that all visitors to the New River Gorge National Park hike the two most popular trails: Long Point and Endless Wall. Both offer spectacular views of the Gorge and the world-famous bridge. But because both these trails are fairly easy AND supremely impressive, they get lots of foot traffic. We now recommend hiking these trails early in the morning or later in the evening to allow for better social distancing.
For mid-day hiking, we’ve created a list of our five favorite lesser-known New River Gorge trails. They are beautiful but underused allowing for more serenity in nature.
Our suggestions only cover a small portion of the 100+ miles of trails in the New River Gorge. For a detailed guide, we recommend Bryan Simon’s “Hiking and Biking in the New River Gorge: A Trail Users Guide.”
Nearby WV State Parks & Recreation Areas
All the West Virginia State Parks inside and surrounding the New River Gorge have excellent trail systems, beautiful vistas, and picnic facilities. We’ve found that while the campgrounds and facilities are well-used, we seldom encounter many other hikers on the trail systems.
- HAWK’S NEST (12 miles from Fayetteville) -This popular state park is known for its panoramic view of the New River. The Hawk’s Nest Rail Trail is one of our all-time favorites.
- PLUM ORCHARD LAKE (18 miles from Fayetteville) – This 202-acre reservoir near Pax, WV is managed by the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources. There are no marked trails, but we visit this fishing lake every summer to see the abundance of pink and white water lilies in full bloom.
- SUMMERSVILLE LAKE (23 miles from Fayetteville) – The largest lake in WV offers more than just boating and swimming opportunities. There are several great trails including Longpoint Trail (not to be confused with Long Point Trail near Fayetteville).
- BABCOCK (21 miles from Fayetteville) – We consider this to be West Virginia’s most beautiful state park. The old grist mill is a popular attraction, but the trails are the real gems. We recommend Skyline Trail and Island in the Sky Trail for spectacular views and lovely flora.
- CARNIFEX FERRY (23 miles from Fayetteville) – Experience civil war history and learn about the making of our state at this historic state park.
Many people visit the New River Gorge for outdoor adventure and natural beauty without ever knowing the super interesting coal-mining history of the region. The National Park Service has done an excellent job preserving this rich history. They’ve left all the remnants in place – from enormous coal tipples to tiny chips of glass housewares – and installed informational signage and markers.
Nuttallburg Coal Mining Complex
Travel deep into the New River Gorge and explore the remnants of the Nuttallburg Coal-Mining Complex. You’ll see the headhouse, conveyor, tipple and coke ovens at the center of this once bustling mining community that English-born entrepreneur John Nuttall established in 1873.
There are seven trails throughout the complex. Some short and flat, along the river. Some long and steep, from the mine at the top of the mountain to the tipple at the bottom. Don’t miss the trail to the ghost community of Seldom Seen. The tiny pieces of old housewares will guide your way.
Hiking Through History
To help ourselves better understand these ancient mountains, we researched and wrote a blog post about the fascinating history of the New River Gorge. At the end of each section, we have provided a trail suggestion so you can hike through the history yourself. We’ve also provided links to additional resources so you can explore more deeply the subjects that excite you.
The Town of Thurmond
The current population of Thurmond, WV hovers around 5 (everyone takes a turn being the mayor), but back in the heyday of coal mining in the New River Gorge, Thurmond was a busy railroad town with two hotels, a train depot and the longest-running poker game in the United States.
Now you can explore the old town through National Park signage and maps. You may even recognize the buildings. The movie Matewan was filmed at Thurmond in 1986.
New River Gorge Scenic Drive
The National Park Service charted out a three-hour, 83-mile scenic drive that encircles the heart of the New River Gorge National River. From Canyon Rim Visitor Center in the north to Sandstone Visitor Center in the south, this scenic drive takes you to so many beautiful and educational points of interest.
You can start the NRG Scenic Drive anywhere along the route, but we recommend starting at one of the two visitor centers.
Fayette Station Road
Before the New River Gorge Bridge was completed in 1977, the only way to the other side of the river was to drive down windy Fayette Station Road to the bottom of the Gorge and back up again. This 100-year-old road is still in service today and we highly recommend driving it.
Fayette Station Road provides a breathtaking view of the underside of the New River Gorge Bridge and allows you to stop at several different trailheads along the way. Once you reach the bottom of the Gorge, park, and get out. You can put your toes in the river and watch rafters, kayakers and even standup paddleboarders come through Fayette Station rapids.
To access Fayette Station Road, turn right onto Lansing-Edmond Road from US-19 North. At ¼ mile turn right onto Fayette Station Road. Turn left at the fork.
African American Heritage Auto Tour
This self-guided tour takes you to 17 historic sites in Southern West Virginia. At each stop, you will learn about the history and experiences of African Americans in the coalfields. There’s lots of great information about the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel Disaster, Camp Washington Carver, Segregation, African American Music, and more.
EAT & DRINK
Fayetteville is known for its delicious food and for very good reason. From pies to pints, Fayetteville has something delicious for everyone and every meal.
All Fayetteville’s restaurants are now open for carry-out and some are open for limited indoor dining, but hours of operation are changing weekly. To help you stay in the loop, we’ve created a handy food guide with contact info and live links.
There’s also a Kroger in Oak Hill and a Walmart in Fayetteville if you prefer to prepare your meals at your home-away-from-home.
The best way to remember your trip to the New River Gorge is to capture a photo of its majestic beauty. Let us help you find the most photogenic locations and best vantage point – some of the best aren’t in any trail guides but only minutes from the car.
We hope this post gets you excited about visiting the New River Gorge National Park in a safe and respectful way. To ensure that your lodging is also safe, stay at Lafayette Flats. We take cleanliness seriously and it shows in our 400+ five-star guest reviews. Our award-winning boutique vacation rentals are in the heart of downtown Fayetteville and just minutes away from all the New River Gorge has to offer.