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Spring Adventures in New River Gorge

by Barbara Rogers

Mar 26, 2024

© Anthony Heflin | Dreamstime.com

Destinations / North America

New River Gorge, America’s newest national park at less than 4 years old, was formed by one of America’s oldest rivers. New River surges through deep canyons, surrounded by a rugged landscape of forests and rock cliffs. Family travelers to this 70,000-acre park will find outdoor sports and adventures for the whole family.


Best known for its whitewater rafting, New River drops from the mountains of western North Carolina, through Virginia and into West Virginia before joining the Gauley River to form the Kanawha River. It transects every ridge of the Alleghenies, and the national park protects 53 miles of the river.


Within the park, the river has two different characters. The lower river, known as Lower Gorge, changes quickly to a series of rapids ranging from Class III to Class V. Prized by experts, these powerful currents and crosscurrents, surging past boulders and undercut cliffs, are not suitable beginners or even moderately experienced whitewater enthusiasts. In contrast, the upper river forms long pools joined by easy rapids. The wide river here has several access points and is also a favorite for fishing.


Whitewater isn’t the park’s only attraction for families seeking outdoor adventures. More than 1,400 established rock climbs have made it one of the most popular climbing areas in the country. The hard sandstone cliffs range from 30 to 120 feet high, with plenty of crack and face routes. Most are more suitable for advanced and expert climbers.


Every skill level can enjoy the park’s hiking trails, which vary from flat, smooth walking to steep challenging terrain for hikers. Trails range from less than half a mile to 7 miles in length. The park’s bike trails make it a popular destination for mountain-biking trips, and several outfitters offer guided tours. One trail, Stonecliff, permits the use of e-bikes.


The Canyon Rim Visitor Center reopens this month after renovations, with all new exhibits and an orientation to all three national sites: Gauley River National Recreation Area, Bluestone National Scenic River, and New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. You’ll find interactive displays on geology, history, plants and animals, as well as recreation in the park. Kids can sign up here for the Junior Ranger program.


Free special ranger-led programs this spring include wildflower walks and a solar eclipse party on April 8, where kids can earn a special Eclipse Explorer Junior Ranger Badge.


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