New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is one of West Virginia's unique gems. It was established in 2020 to maintain and protect the famous New River Gorge, the eponymous attraction of the park. The gorge lies in the Appalachians in southern West Virginia, attracting numerous visitors annually.

Apart from its stunning landscape, a magnificent ancient river known as the New River flows through the gorge from south to north, passing past three states. Other fascinating features lying in the area include spectacular falls, historical attractions, and striking artificial landmarks. Not only do tourists visit the park for its attractions, but also for the myriad of activities available.


The New River Gorge: A Brief History

The gorge is named after the New River, an ancient river dating back over 300 million years ago that flows through the Appalachian Mountains. Gradual erosion caused by the river's course way led to the formation of the gorge.

Related: You Can Jump From This Appalachian Bridge (Legally) Once A Year

The New River is anything but new as it dates back to the era of the supercontinent Pangea. It was formed from the collision of North American and African plates, a phenomenon that led to the formation of Pangea. The crash impacted the Appalachians by uplifting the ranges to Himalayan heights leading to the formation of the Teays River.

The Teays flowed north from present-day western North Carolina through the Virginias, then turned west into the Ohio River before pouring into a vast inland sea. As the mountains experienced a period of uplifts, the highly erosive kept cutting through the ranges more rapidly than the uplift rate.

Due to the waterway's unique course running contrary to how other Appalachian rivers flow, a formidable Canyon was carved directly through the Appalachian Plateau. Over 300 million years later New River starts from the source carved by the river and then flows in the same northward course way. The deep Canyon carved by the river is now known as the New River Gorge, with its unique orientation lying at the heart of one of the most extensive intact temperate forests in the world.

Related: West Virginia Is Also Called 'Almost Heaven,' And This Is Why You Should Visit

The gorge also acts as a biogeographical corridor for wildlife by facilitating a north-to-south movement and vice-versa. Additionally, the New River Gorge has a lot of niche habitats for diverse organisms to occupy, further supporting rich flora and fauna.

Albeit it ideally supports a north-to-south migration, New Gorge's steep and rugged topography presents a significant obstacle when traversing from east to west. This challenge affected the indigenous communities living around the area until a steel bridge was set connecting the steep Canyon's escarpments.

The gorge's orientation exposed by the waterway span over 300 million years ago. One of the exposed layers in the deep Canyon is bituminous coal, a relatively soft black coal that readily burns while producing little smoke. This historically sought-after rock layers date to the Pennsylvanian carboniferous subperiod that brought forth shale and sandstone rocks.

During the Pennsylvanian period, vast swamps covered large regions of the globe, releasing thick layers of peat that eventually formed coal. The carving of the area by the New River exposed bituminous coal along the gorge leading to the rise of mining towns around the area. Mining in the area was abandoned in the 1960s, leaving behind inaccessible ghost towns that are currently fading into rapidly regenerating forests that attract numerous adventurers year-round.

Why Is New River Gorge A Major Tourist Attraction?

The deep Canyon's potential as an adventurer's paradise is still growing, with new hiking tracks, mountain biking trails, and other facilities added every year. The growth is evident in the number of tourists the park gets, clocking over a million since its inception.

Tourists explore the area to try out the multiple outdoor activities in store for them. These adventure-filled activities include whitewater rafting, kayaking, bird watching, rock climbing, mountain biking, and camping while watching the magnificent New flowing through.

New River Gorge carves out a vast, stunning swatch through the Appalachians, making it the longest and deepest in the mountains and ideal for rock climbing the escarpments. The unique conditions around the gorge offer perfect niches for diverse wildlife, making the region apt for birdwatching and game viewing.

Whitewater rafting or kayaking the river for water enthusiasts guarantees an unmatched adrenaline-pumping experience. Its wild Class IV and Class V rapids guarantee visitors a rocky but exhilarating ride to try out the mentioned water activities.

The gorge also features a marvel of engineering, the New River Gorge Bridge, America's longest of its kind. A walk through the bridge's catwalk takes vacationers 1.25 miles from one end to the other. The trip often lasts two to three hours, with tourists walking tagged by a safety rope while viewing the outrageous yet magnificent New River flowing below.

New River Gorge has also emerged as one of the country's most famous rock climbing destinations. This interest comes as no surprise as the rocks at the gorge consist of hard sandstone that ranges from 30 to 120 feet in height. The deep Canyon also has abundant face and crack routes, with most routes favoring advanced and expert climbers.

Tourists also explore the area to hike the numerous emerging trails ranging from a quarter mile to seven miles in length. The hiking difficulty of the terrains varies from steep, challenging to flat, shallow walking tracks. Additionally, several of these trails can be connected to make for a more extended and more exciting excursion.

The New River Gorge also has various bike routes attracting mountain biking enthusiasts. Apart from that, travelers also enjoy ziplining, an activity also offered in the area. To get to this magnificent attraction, tourists use the following means:

  • Car: The best way to get to New River Gorge is by driving. The area is accessible from interstates 64,77,79, and the U.S Route 60 (Midland Trail Scenic Highway)
  • Plane: The closest major airports are the West Virginia International Yeager Airport and Raleigh County Memorial Airport. Tourists flying in either need to take a taxi or rent a car to get to the park
  • Train: Nearest Amtrak stations closer to the attraction are Prince and Thurmond. From the train stations, travelers take taxis to the New River Gorge.
  • Shuttle Bus: Known as the New River Gorge Shuttle, the bus service moves in a loop charging $2.50 per single ticket and $10 passes for four rides

The New River Gorge is a haven for adventurers searching for thrilling experiences. However, since the establishment of the New River Gorge Park and Preserve, more facilities catering to various vacationers, including families, have been established. All tourists exploring the area or planning to are guaranteed a vacation like no other.