Visiting America's newest national park? There are countless trails to walk, rocks to climb, and streams to paddle, but there are three places every visitor should see in the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve in West Virginia.
According to ranger Jodi French-Burr, whether you're visiting the park for an afternoon or a week, these three locations spring to mind.
"I’d say the top three hot spots to visit are the Canyon Rim Visitor Center, the Thurmond Historic District, and Grandview," says French-Burr.
"For deeper park dives, people need to have the right vehicle to handle often smaller and thinner roads, even though I put Thurmond on that top three list with its smaller road, and be physically able to do things like hike or boat.
"Know there are other easily accessible hot spots, but if I had to pick just three then these would be the three.
Canyon Rim Visitor Center / New River Gorge Bridge
Seated at the very edge of the New River Gorge, the Canyon Rim Visitor Center overlooks the gorge at one of its most scenic locales and includes a boardwalk and stairway to a spectacular view of the New River Gorge Bridge. The center is perhaps the most visited resource in the new national park.
"The Canyon Rim Visitor Center is certainly the best year-round orientation stop for the national park and a view of the bridge," Burr says.
Just off the US-19 expressway near Fayetteville, West Virginia, the visitor center is easily accessible and provides state-of-the-art facilities, including windows that overlook the gorge and provide comfortable and wheelchair-accessible year-round views.
Thurmond National Historic District
Now a ghost town with a population of five permanent residents, historic Thurmond lies deep within the heart of the gorge and provides park visitors an opportunity to imagine more vividly what life here might have been like at the turn of the 20th century.
"The Thurmond Historic District is the ultimate history sampler for the park," French-Burr says.
A seasonal Thurmond Visitor Center is open in warm-weather months in the town's historic railroad passenger station, though visitors are welcome to explore the town and the handful of historic buildings overlooking the New River year-round.
"I think it's the most fun to park in the parking lot on the Dun Glen side of the river and walk over New River bridge to the depot and town," she says.
Thurmond is an eight-mile drive from the US-19 expressway at Glen Jean. Visitors should allow themselves 20 minutes to make the drive, which follows a curving and somewhat narrow road into the gorge. Larger vehicles such as campers should use caution accessing the site.
At scenic Grandview, park visitors may avail themselves of spectacular views of the New River Gorge at its deepest and widest.
"The Grandview section of the park is ideal for gorge views and an easy, short stroll on a trail," French-Burr says.
Among the best-known destinations in the national park, Grandview includes a seasonal visitor center and miles of scenic trails, including a famous flagstone trail to its main overlook and a winding staircase to the summit of Turkey Spur Rock.
The 1.6-mile Grandview Rim Trail is among the most beloved trails in the park and follows the canyon rim alongside a series of spectacular overlooks. Grandview is also home to the Cliffside Amphitheatre, home of the historical outdoor dramas "Hatfields and McCoys" and "Honey in the Rock.
There's far more to see and do!
If these three top attractions aren't enough to satiate your appetite during a trip to the park, there's plenty more to see. The Endless Wall Trail, Sandstone Falls, and the Glade Creek Trail are also among the best-known park highlights.
"Know that there are other easily accessible hot spots, but if I had to pick just three, then Thurmond, Grandview, and Canyon Rim would top the list," French-Burr said.