FAYETTEVILLE, W.Va. — Trail guide Levi Moore has been hiking the New River Gorge for decades. Now that it's become part of the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, he's being asked more often for advice on trekking than ever before.
While some better-known trails, such as Endless Wall, have gained worldwide attention, Moore says he has a few of his favorites that he thinks hikers visiting the park should experience.
"If I had to pick a 'top three,' they would easily be the Big Branch, Glade Creek, and Southside trails," he says. "Though they vary in difficulty, all are easy to get to and offer plenty of parking, bathroom facilities, picnicking options, and lots to see and experience."
Big Branch Trail
The Big Branch Trail ascends a small swift-falling stream, Big Branch, from the New River into a mountain forest, passing several waterfalls and fording the creek along the way.
"I recommend Big Branch because of the multiple waterfalls and stream crossings—with one of the taller waterfalls in the park being on this trail," Moore says.
The trail wanders approximately two miles in a loop and is notably beloved for its spring wildflowers—especially toothwort, bloodroot, trout lily, and spring beauties. The stone ruins of a farmstead may be observed where the path leaves the creekside near its highest point.
Moore recommends following the loop trail clockwise from its trailhead near its mouth on New River at the Brooks Falls parking area, ascending the stream, and then descending through switchbacks along a steep hillside to the river.
"It's a much more pleasant experience climbing slowly along the branch first rather than tackling the exhausting steeper climb at the outset." You'll find more information on the trail here.
Glade Creek Trail
The Glade Creek Trail follows its namesake stream for more than seven miles through one of the most remote mountain valleys in the central park, passing through a wonderland of rocks and waterfalls along the way.
"I like Glade Creek because of the creek itself, which is beautiful, and the ease of the trail. Also, its chief waterfall is less than a mile from its main trailhead on the New River."
While the trail is a through-trail, with upper and lower trailheads near Little Beaver State Park and at the New River respectively, many hikers walk a few miles up and back from the lower trailhead near the mouth of the river, where the park service operates a campground and river access area.
The drive to the lower trailhead on graveled Glade Creek Road is an attraction itself and a favorite woodland tour route for sightseers who prefer to look without exerting too much effort. You'll find more information on the trail here.
The Southside Trail follows the New River for seven miles, passing stupendous views of the river up close and through the ruins of several abandoned mining towns, most evident where beehive coke ovens line the route. The trail was formerly a railroad and so is an easy trek for most folks.
"My first choice would have to be the Southside Trail. This virtually level, railroad-grade rail trail offers views of two separate styles of historic coke ovens and multiple mine-work foundations and views of the New River and easy access thereto.
Rush Run, Red Ash, and Brooklyn were all once-bustling communities on the former rail line. The first mile of the trail upstream from the Cunard River Access is open to motorized vehicles. The following six miles are bikeable as well.
"Also, the trail includes access to the legendary 'Island of Death,' located just off the trail," Moore says, referring to a remote graveyard on an island off the trail. You'll find more information on the trail here.