The best way to truly experience the New River Gorge National Park is to take the trails less traveled. By avoiding the most popular hiking areas – and other humans – you are much more likely to see wildlife, find undisturbed flora, and experience the natural rhythms of the forest.
Here are five less traveled trails we visit and recommend.
Polls Plateau Trail
5 Mile Loop | Moderate | 45 Minutes from Lafayette Flats Boutique Vacation Rentals in Fayetteville, WV
Highlights: upland forest, passes through old farmstead, very secluded and quiet, good opportunity for wildlife viewing, small stream crossings, thick rhododendron.
>Trailhead: Take US-19 South towards Beckley for 19 miles. Get on I-64 East via the East Beckley Bypass/Joe L. Smith Dr (you will be on this bypass for 5.3 miles). Travel on I-64 East for 9 miles. Take exit 133 (Bragg). Turn left and travel .8 miles on Pluto Rd (Rte. 27). Turn left at the church onto Polls Branch Rd. The parking area is at the end of the road. Closest Address for Google Maps: Polls Branch Rd District 3, WV 25918
Gwinn Ridge Trail
3.16 Mile Loop | Moderate | 50 Minutes from Fayetteville
Highlights: older forest, hill meadow, Aspen grove, secluded and quiet, near Sandstone Falls which is definitely worth exploring. You can also call nearby Three Rivers Avian Center to see if they are able to provide a tour of their facility for rescued birds (304-466-4683).
>Trailhead: Take US-19 South towards Beckley for 19 miles. Get on I-64 East via the East Beckley Bypass/Joe L. Smith Dr (you will be on this bypass for 5.3 miles). Travel on I-64 for 14.7 miles. Take exit 139. Turn left and follow WV-20 South toward Hinton for 5.8 miles. Turn left onto Brooks Mountain Rd. and travel 1.5 miles on a gravel road. Keep left at the intersection toward “Three Rivers Avian Center.” Continue along road for 1 mile and there is a gravel parking area on the left. Closest Address for Google Maps: Three Rivers Avian Center, Brooks Mountain Rd, Brooks, WV 25951
6.02 Miles (3.01 Out & Back) | Easy | 25 Minutes from Fayetteville
Highlights: parallels the New River, old-growth trees, beautiful view of the river, just across the river from the old railroad town of Thurmond which is worth exploring.
>Trailhead: Take US-19 South toward Beckley for 8 miles. Exit left onto WV-16 S/WV-61 S. Travel for 1.5 miles and turn left onto Red Star Shortcut Rd (small green sign on left). After .6 miles, turn left onto Thurmond Rd. Travel 6.6 miles along Thurmond Rd. to a three-way intersection (you’ve gone too far if you cross the bridge). Turn right and continue down a paved road for 1.5 miles. Turn right at the “Stonecliff” sign. Closest Address for Google Maps: Dun Glen Boat Launch & Group Camp Site, Thurmond, WV 25901
1.4 Miles (.7 Out & Back) | Difficult | 10 Minutes from Fayetteville
Highlights: short but very challenging, interesting rock formations, mine entrance visible, you can continue down the mountain on the .6 mile Conveyor Trail to reach Nuttallburg Mining Complex which is well signed and worth exploring.
> Trailhead: Drive north on US-19. Shortly after crossing the New River Gorge Bridge, turn right onto Lansing-Edmond Rd. Continue for 2.5 miles. Turn right onto Beauty Mountain Rd. Travel .1 mile. Turn right onto the road just beyond Nuttall Cemetery Rd. The parking area is by the gate. Closest Address for Google Maps: Headhouse Trail Trailhead, Edmond, WV 25837
Terry Top Trail
3.82 Miles (1.91 Out & Back) | Moderate | 20 Minutes from Fayetteville
Highlights: well-defined and large trail, open ridgeline, passes by an old family cemetery dating back to 1800s, frog pond, pine thickets, very quiet.
Trailhead: Take US-19 South toward Beckley for 10.8 miles. Exit left toward Glen Jean (you will see an Exxon/Subway on the left). Turn right immediately at the stop sign onto WV-6 S/WV-61 S. Travel for 2.7 miles and then turn left onto WV-61 South. Travel 1.9 miles and turn left at the large Summit Bechtel sign. Drive 1.1 miles along this road and take the first PAVED road on the right (Mill Creek Rd). Drive 1.6 miles, passing the National Park boundary sign on the left. The trailhead will be .4 miles inside the boundary on the right. It is marked by a 4’ pole sign (easy to miss). There is room to park by the gate. Closest Address for Google Maps: Jack Furst Drive and WV-61, Piney View, WV 25801
While you are exploring these trails less traveled, take time to stop and listen to the forest. Just 10 minutes of quiet, seated attention will allow you to observe the forest in its more natural, active state. Folks who practice forest bathing call this finding a “sit spot.” You will be amazed by what you hear once you settle and allow the birds, bugs and animals to return to normal activity.
Here are a few facts about this forest to contemplate during your time in the woods. We find these fascinating!
Helpful Info & Advice for Trails Less Traveled
- Before departing, check the National Park website or visitors center for trail closures.
- There are no bathrooms/facilities at the trailheads listed above.
- 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 paper maps/trail guides with us.
- In the very 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 Enjoying Nature in the New River Gorge National Park.