New River Gorge National Park

My parents are quite the little travelers – not only do they do a ton of traveling on their own, but they’ve even traveled with us a few times (Japan, Budapest, Slovenia, Channel Islands, and more!). What I’m getting at is they are great travel buddies, and we have very similar travel styles. So when my parents invited Zack and I for a long weekend trip to West Virginia, I said, “Count me in!”

What’s in West Virginia? Apparently a really cool National Park.

Really cool was an understatement.

New River Gorge National Park was EPIC, and I’m still trying to figure out how I had never heard of it.

Unfortunately Zack couldn’t come along this time (literally JUST started a new job), but that didn’t stop me from tagging along. Here’s our daily breakdown including all the hikes and viewpoints you simply can’t miss:

DAY 1

We were on the road by 6:00AM and got to the park around 11:00AM. Our first stop was the Canyon Rim Visitor Center where we got our first view of the gorge. There’s also a short boardwalk that descends 178 steps to a great view of the New River Gorge Bridge (the 2nd highest bridge in the United States).

We had a quick picnic lunch then headed out for an afternoon of hiking.

Endless Wall Trail: It’s about a 3 mile loop and an easy to moderate hike, walking through the forest and along the cliff edges with many incredible viewpoints of the New River and bridge.

Long Point Trail: This moderate out-and-back trail is about 3.2 miles. The way out is great – mostly downhill with one fairly steep section at the end. But that meant the way back (1.6 miles) was almost entirely up hill. And after a long day, I was exhausted! But don’t let that keep you from checking this hike out – the panoramic view is worth it.

DAY 2

We started our morning at Sandstone Falls. We were all really excited about this – the largest waterfall on the New River that spans 1500 feet wide. (And you know I’m a sucker for a good waterfall.) You’ll follow a short boardwalk out to the river with several viewpoints of the falls. We kept waiting for the magnificent, close-up view we had seen in all the photos, but none measured up. Until we noticed a small dirt path leading off the boardwalk. It took us just about as close as we could get to the falls without actually being in the water. And NO ONE was around except a couple local fisherman. This was the view we were hoping for. Absolutely beautiful.

Island Loop Trail: This trail is just off the Sandstone Falls boardwalk (this one is an official trail unlike the little dirt path we took to the waterfall). Easy 0.5 mile loop around one of the islands below the falls.

Big Branch Trail: We almost passed on this 2 mile loop because it was labeled as Difficult, but there was a large waterfall, so we decided to go for it, and in my opinion, it wasn’t too bad. Definitely heed the trailheads instructions and go left. You’ll follow the creek and climb slowly uphill, but it’s not too steep. After several creek crossings you’ll come to the large waterfall – worth it. You’ll continue to climb a little higher before you start to loop back towards the road. Then you have a long way downhill but tread carefully as it was fairly steep at times.

Grand View Overlook: One of the most stunning views in the entire park for sure. And the starting point for the next hike. There’s not much else to say – the picture really speaks for itself.

Castle Rock Trail and Grand View Rim Trail: These 2 trails are connected making a 3.2 mile out and back hike if you decide to do both. If you only choose 1, Castle Rock Trail is a must. The trail is narrow with a giant rock wall towering to your left and the gorge to your right. The rock formations are a sight to behold. If you continue onto Grand View Rim Trail, you’ll eventually make your way to Turkey Spur Overlook and have another great view of the gorge. My favorite part here was the “natural AC” – a burst of cold air blowing out from a crevice in the rock.

After a FULL day of hiking, we headed back to the hotel to freshen up before heading out to a nearby brewery. The Freefolk Brewery was the perfect way to end the day – kicking back with a couple beers (I opted for the Soul Sister Sour). Cheers!

DAY 3

On our final day we headed out to the nearby Little Beaver State Park and did a few short trails (Lake Loop and Beaver Creek Trail). I don’t have any photos or videos from this park because my phone ran out of space πŸ™ƒ. From there we began our drive home. We contemplated stopping for another hike on the way, but we were all pretty exhausted. We did make a pit stop in Mount Airy which wasn’t anything special in my opinion. Felt super touristy and a little cheesy. If you’re a big Andy Griffith fan maybe you’d find it more charming, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

The real highlight of our drive home was seeing 4 bears running along the road! Super cool!

If you love hiking and spending time outdoors, New River Gorge National Park should be on your list. It was so much fun with so many diverse hikes. AND it’s FREE! Want even more? Check out my vlog and cinematic short on YouTube too!

In other news – Zack and I have officially booked our fall vacation!! We’re heading off to Amsterdam & Greece this fall! Still seems unreal – it’s been so long since we’ve travelled internationally (thanks to a global pandemic), and I seriously CANNOT wait!

– Courtney

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