FAYETTEVILLE, W.Va.—Visiting America's newest national park? There are countless trails to walk, rocks to climb, and streams to paddle, but there are four places every visitor should see in the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve in southern West Virginia.
According to park ranger Jodi French-Burr, the following four locations are must-see destinations whether you're visiting the park for an afternoon, a weekend, or a full week.
"I’d say the top four hot spots to visit are the Canyon Rim Visitor Center, the Thurmond historic district, Grandview, and Sandstone Falls," 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."
French-Burr emphasizes that the national park contains innumerable waterfalls, overlooks, and historic landmarks. "Know there are other easily accessible hot spots, but if I had to pick just four, these would be the four."
Canyon Rim Visitor Center / New River Gorge Bridge
Seated at the 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 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. It provides state-of-the-art facilities, including windows overlooking the gorge and providing 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 allows park visitors 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 attraction, the Thurmond Visitor Center opens in warm-weather months in the town's historic railroad passenger station. However, 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 the 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 it's 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.
Another must-see park destination, at scenic Sandstone Falls, the New River drops over a river-wide waterfall and through a network of small islands across which the park service he built a series of wheelchair-accessible boardwalks. A half-mile trail also accommodates an easy walk through the woodlands around the falls.
The falls are a favorite destination for anglers, waders, and sightseers, though visitors who plan to take a dip should know that the falls at their highest are powerful and deadly. Small rivulets and minor falls near the islands are relatively safe when water is low in summer, but strong currents near the falls can easily sweep swimmers and boaters into dangerous cataracts.
There's far more to see and do!
If these four 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, Long Point Trail, and the Glade Creek Trail are among the best-known park highlights.
"Know that there are other easily accessible hot spots, but if I had to pick just four, then Thurmond, Grandview, and Canyon Rim would top the list," French-Burr said.
For more information, visit the national park website or call visitor information at (304) 574-2115.
Mysterious stone face attracting curious in New River Gorge
An enigmatic stone face carved into mossy sandstone along the rim of the New River Gorge is attracting increased attention as tourism grows in the New River Gorge National Park & Preserve. Though its origins are popularly regarded as a mystery, the bas-relief countenance was likely carved in the 1950s, and the son of its creator may still live in the area near Fayetteville, West Virginia. READ THE FULL STORY HERE.
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