New River Gorge Bridge not only record bridge in national park

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New River Gorge Bridge not only record bridge in national park
The McDonald Bridge is the highest on the U.S. Interstate Highway System. (Photo courtesy Joel Christian Cook)

GRANDVIEW, W.Va. — The world-renowned New River Gorge Bridge isn't the only record-breaking high bridge in the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve in West Virginia. Another of the highest bridges in the U.S. is located some 20 miles south.

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The Phil G. McDonald Bridge is 176 feet lower than the New River Gorge Bridge, but it is officially the highest bridge in the Interstate System, whereas the gorge bridge is part of the U.S. Highway System.

The McDonald bridge crosses the canyon of the Glade Creek 700 feet above the creek. In contrast, the gorge bridge crosses the New River 876 feet above its raging whitewater rapids, where rafting outfitters have famously been guiding trips for decades.

Paddle-boarders navigate toward New River Gorge Bridge
Paddle-boarders angle toward New River Gorge Bridge. (Photo courtesy River Expeditions)

The bridges share at least two noteworthy similarities. Both cross scenic canyons within the national park and revolutionized motor vehicle travel through the central Appalachian Mountains.

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  • The New River Gorge Bridge opened in 1977 and was the final piece of the north-south US-19 expressway completed through southern West Virginia.
  • The McDonald bridge opened in 1988, the last piece of the east-west I-64 expressway between the Atlantic Coast and the Mississippi River.
  • The differences between the two are obvious when it comes to construction. The gorge bridge uses a single arch to support its deck, while two very tall piers support the McDonald bridge.
  • The New River bridge is 3,030 feet long, whereas the McDonald is 2,179 feet. The New River Gorge Bridge was the world's longest single-span arch bridge for 26 years and is now the fifth-longest.

Both bridges can be observed and studied by park visitors from below; however, the McDonald Bridge is much more difficult to reach and can require four-wheel drive.

Beneath the New River Gorge Bridge, a paved parkway winds through the gorge, allowing visitors to stop at overlooks and scenic areas between the Canyon Rim Visitor Center, at the north end of the bridge, and the town of Fayetteville, at the south end.

Beneath the McDonald bridge, however, the best views are from trails that wander the canyon along Glade Creek. Here, the seven-mile Glade Creek Trail provides exceptional views accessible to anglers, hikers, and mountain bikers. A steep gravel road leads to its upper trailhead and a view of the bridge there. Motorists should consult the National Park Service beforehand to determine road conditions.


Four must-see attractions in the New River Gorge National Park

New River Gorge Bridge, Fayetteville, West Virginia, New River Gorge Region
New River Gorge Bridge spans the New River. (Photo courtesy Ed Rehbein)

Are you planning a visit to America's newest national park? There are countless trails to walk, rocks to climb, and streams to paddle, but there are also three places every visitor should see in the New River Gorge National Park in southern West Virginia. Whether you're visiting for a week or a day, consider visiting these four landmark park resources. Read the full story here.

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