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  • Writer's pictureMiriam Diaz-Gilbert

Fun at New River Gorge National Park is Waiting for You

Updated: Jun 24

Hiking, Rock Climbing, Whitewater Rafting, and Horseback Riding in West Virginia

.Hiking up to Long Point for a view of the New Gorge River Bridge. From our photo collection.

After the Covid summer of 2020 and our cancelled plans to hike in three national parks in Washington state. When we read about America's newest national park, we got very excited. We began planning our trip to our 26th national park visit, and America's 63rd park - New River Gorge National Park and Preserve in West Virginia, and only a 7-hour drive from our home.

I devoured every article about New River Gorge NP that I found online and in my newsfeed. Then I started to plan. First, because the articles warned of crowds and long lines at the park, I called the park to see if we had to make a reservation to enter the park. None is needed to enter this free national park and there were no long lines. In May, I made hotel reservations. In June, I made reservations for rock climbing, white water rafting, and horseback riding for two.

Day 1 - Grandview

On the first Monday in August, we got in Jon's car and left our house at 3 am. We arrived at the Sandstone Visitor Center in the park around 11 am. We got trail maps and chatted with Park Ranger Sheila. I learn a lot when I chat with park rangers. This time I learned from Sheila that her grandfather donated the land where Boston College is built, and she learned our son Sebastian and daughter-in-law graduated from BC in 2013. Small world!

Jon and I then headed out for some afternoon hiking. We drove to the the Grandview Visitor Center and found our way to the Castle Rock trail head and hiked 1.2 miles to Grandview Rim Trail, another 3.2 miles. The end of this trail took us to the Grandview Overlook.

Spectacular view from the Grandview Overlook. From our photo collection.

We then navigated through technical terrain and boulders to get to Castle Rock Trail.

.From our photo collection.

We continued on Tunnel Trail for another mile and the end of a fun afternoon of hiking. Along the way we ate a packed lunch consisting of Jon's homemade trail mix, fruit, crackers, water, and Nuun hydration.

Along the way, Jon found fallen tree limbs and we transformed them into walking sticks. The Tunnel Trail took us to another vantage point of Grandview and New River.

.From our photo collection.

After hiking about three hours, we left the park and got take-out from Dickie's B-BQ in Mt. Hope and checked into to the hotel, Days Inn, also in Mt. Hope. We do not recommend this place. It's falling apart and not at all welcoming.

Day 2 - Rock Climbing

We started Tuesday with an early morning stop at Canyon Rim Visitor Center to pick up my Junior Ranger workbook to complete and earn my patch. I also bought a Junior Ranger vest in the gift shop. I was so excited.

We then walked down 178 steps to a boardwalk and observation deck overlooking New River Gorge Bridge. There we met a family, originally from Turkey, living in Virginia Beach. Turns out, the mom and I taught at two different universities near each other in Philadelphia many years ago. And I have also taught students from Turkey. Again, small world.

Then Jon and I drove to Long Point trailhead. As we entered the trail head, we met an elderly couple, who has been to 58 national parks. They had finished hiking. Jon and I continued 1.6 miles. We navigated some technical parts with ascends and descends surrounded by huge rhododendron bushes that were really humungous trees. We arrived at a spectacular view of the New River Gorge Bridge.

.From our photo collection.

After hiking back down to the car, and eating sandwiches Jon made, we headed back to Canyon Rim Visitor Center to meet our rock climbing guide Jimmy from Appalachian Mountain Guides After signing off on paperwork, Jon got his climbing shoes. I brought my own that I use for indoor climbing. We got our climbing gear - a harness and a helmet. Then we followed Jimmy in his white pick-up truck.

I love rock climbing and welcome every opportunity to conquer a mountain. The first time we rock climbed was in Acadia National Park in Maine. Once we got to the site, we had to climb up the side of a mountain in our hiking boots for about an eight of a mile, and then the fun on a vertical rock called the Pinnacle began.

.From our photo collection.

Jon stopped after the first 35 ft. plateau but I continued and climbed to the next two plateaus about 100 feet up. I could see the bridge from afar. Jimmy and I took a short rest and talked about this, that, and the other.

And then I had one more climb before rappelling down the Pinnacle.

.From our photo collection.

It was a day of hiking and rock climbing. A day well-spent in nature and exercising the body. We couldn't wait to go white water rafting the next day.

Day 3 - Whitewater Rafting

The next morning we drove to New River Expedition about 30 minutes away from Days Inn. We needed to be at the resort site by 8:45 am. After signing off on paper work, we visited the resort gift shop and bought straps for our sunglasses to prevent losing them in the rapids. We and about 45 more adventure-seeking people, mostly freshmen from West Virginia State University on orientation, and our guides set out for some wet and wild fun.

After getting our paddles and strapping on our life-vests and helmets, we cramped into an old, old, school bus for about a 30-minute drive on winding, narrow country roads. I felt like I was in Puerto Rico with my students on my summer study-travel course in the early 2000s.

Once we arrived at the river, we were assigned our group and guide. Our raft contained two parents and their two adult children, two adult friends, Jon and I, and our guide Drew.

Photo by Whitewater Photography.

I wore my bright pink rain coat and Jon wore this bright red Yellowstone National Park raincoat.

And then it was one rapids adventure after another on category 3 to category 5 rapids for 7.2 miles down the river to ending just north of New River Gorge Bridge. There was scary excitement when Jon fell overboard backwards after we hit a category 3 rapid. The other set of parents also fell overboard. I hung on to my paddle and grabbed on to a strap in the raft for dear life. Jon was pulled in by two young girls onto their raft.

But before all this whitewater fun, we stopped on a sandy beach area for a lunch of sandwiches, salads, watermelon, pudding, and water prepared for everyone. It was nice to see so many young college students enjoy themselves before the start of their semester.

After we got back on the rafts, some rafters swam in the river, including Jon, and walked on water on the Jesus Rock. When we were all on the raft, and approaching the end, Drew assigned me to the bow of the raft. I had to kneel and wait for the last category 5 rapid to slam us and fill my nose with water. A lot of fun!

From our photo collection.

When the whitewater fun was over, we climbed back on the bus exhausted, wet, tired, but happy for a day of rafting and laughter. After the six-hour adventure, we got take-out dinner at Panera and returned to the hotel after another day of exercising mind, body, and spirit but this time in a lot of white river water.

We ate dinner and watched the Olympics in our hotel room, showered, and rested for horseback riding the next morning.

Day 4 - Horseback Riding

We drove to Hico, about 45 minutes away to arrive at Cowboy Town by 8:45 am. The owner, Shane, greeted us with paper work to sign. Three other adults were also waiting to climb on their horse. I immediately fell in love with my horse Bubba, age 12. He was gentle and sweet.

From our photo collection.

Jon and I have gone horseback riding in Aruba, Puerto Rico and Vieques Island many times, and near Grand Tetons National Park in Montana. But without fail, Jon's horse is always a bit disobedient and wants to do his own thing. Jim was no different.

.From our photo collection.

But lead by our guide Eddie, we all enjoyed our horses on a 4-mile ride in the solitude of the trails in the woods through rocks, mud, tree roots, switchbacks, and a lot of poop from our horses. And then I had to say bye to Bubba. I gave him a hug, and he loved it.

From our photo collection.

After horseback riding, we hiked the Endless Wall Trail for a view of New River at Diamond Point. To get to the the Endless Wall and Diamond Point was a 5.8 mile hike and well-worth it.

.From our photo collection.

The view of The Endless Wall from atop Diamond Point is breathtaking.. From Diamond Point we could see New River, where we went whitewater rafting the day before.

From our photo collection.

It was another great day with horses, trails, nature, and the river, topped off by a stroll in scorching heat in historic Thurmond, home to a railroad depot and a one-way bridge. We spoke to the ranger at the Thurmond Visitor Center and learned a little bit about Thurmond.

From our photo collection.

On the way back to the hotel, we spotted a country store in Chimney Corner. We stopped in to browse. We bought swirl lollipops for our grandchildren Jordan and Sawyer, and a jar of Wildflower honey for our neighbors. They watered our flower and vegetable gardens while we were away.

We had a great chat with the owner, originally from Maryland but a transplant from Los Angeles. She loves West Virginia. And so do we!

.From our photo collection.

After we got back to the hotel, Jon helped me to complete my Junior Ranger workbook.

From our photo collection.

Day 5 - Summerville Lake

By now we had hit all the key places, and trails in New River Gorge NP, and had checked off rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and horseback riding. So on day 5, we decided to explore areas outside the park. We drove to Summersville Lake in the Gauley River National Recreation Area.

But first we stopped at Canyon Rim Visitor Center to have my completed Junior Ranger workbook checked by Ranger Dave ,and to be sworn in as a Junior Ranger and earn my patch - my 19th national parks Junior Ranger patch. Masks are required in all the visitor centers. Sporting my new Junior Ranger vest, I was happy to me sworn in with my mask on. And once again, a small world - Ranger Dave is originally from the same county Jon is from.

We got in the car and off we went. Then we headed for a hike up Long Point Trail, about a 3.5 mile hike roundtrip, and to a beautiful overlook of Summersville Lake on a spectacularly sunny blue sky today. Once again, we were surrounded by more rhododendrons that kept us cool.

The view of Summersville Lake from atop Long Point is stunning.

From our photo collection.

We spent some time enjoying this spectacular view of Summersville Lake, a little piece of heaven on Earth.

From our photo collection.

We made a video recapping our amazing week in New River Gorge NP, Summersville Lake, and West Virginia. Enjoy!

Then we hiked back down the trail, and as is our practice, we left our walking sticks at the trailhead for a new pair of hikers to enjoy.

From our photo collection.

We got in the car. I googled 'hamburger place,' and Long Point Bar & Grille in Mt. Nebo popped up. I had my delicious, juicy hamburger and spicy fries. We ate outside on the patio and just talked about all the fun we had.

We had so much fun at New River Gorge NP and surroundings. Now it's on to national park 27 for us. We don't know which one, yet. There are many more national parks to explore.

Hope you've been inspired to visit New River Gorge NP, and to go rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and horseback riding.

Want to know what other national parks we have explored? Check out all of our adventures here and here.

Happy Trails!

© 2021

I am the author of Come What May, I Want to Run: A Memoir of the Saving Grace of Ultrarunning in Overwhelming Times. Our adventures in national parks make an appearance in my book. Read excerpts, praise, and reviews, and order the book here from from the publisher, Amazon, Bookshop, or Barnes & Noble.

You can order the book exclusively from the Wipf and Stock Publishers website, use code ultrarunning40, and receive a 40% discount. Offer expires 9/3/24. You can also order It on Amazon, Bookshop, or Barnes & Noble. It's available in hardcover, paperback, e-book, and Kindle.

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