Issue 6: A Long Weekend in New River Gorge
I just might move there.
The biggest reason I hesitated to start a travel newsletter is that I did not want to share my favorite discoveries with everyone. But I went ahead and started the newsletter and so here, dear readers, is a gift: a recap of our recent July 4 weekend trip to New River Gorge, West Virginia. To say it was magical is an understatement.
New River Gorge NP
New River Gorge (NRG) National Park and Preserve was established as a national river in 1978 and redesignated as the country’s newest national park in December 2020. New River (or “the New”) is the heart of the park, and runs at the bottom of a deep canyon through the relatively narrow parkland. This gorgeous park offers visitors rafting, mountain biking, and climbing opportunities that are hard to find, and often even prohibited, in other national parks.
Thanks to the national park designation, the number of visitors increased by over sixty percent in 2021. But we were surprised to find the park and surrounding area to be relatively uncrowded, even during a holiday weekend. We spent about three days and three nights in the area, and stayed in this terrific AirBnB about 15 minutes outside the park in Oak Hill, WV.
Late backyard sunset at the Airbnb
While it is certainly possible to visit and enjoy NRG over a long weekend, I would not hesitate to spend a week or longer there if I had it. Here is a breakdown of our own packed itinterary.
We drove straight to NRG from DC on Saturday morning, July 2, and arrived in almost exactly 5 hours, encountering little traffic along the way. We immediately set out for the Endless Wall trail, one of the two most popular hikes in the park. After reading reviews on All Trails, we decided to hike the trail as a loop and park at Nuttall trailhead (this requires walking a small stretch of a two lane highway to the Endless Wall trailhead, which we did at the start of the hike).
Family photo time @ Diamond Point
The trail took 2ish hours ito complete, with lots of stops for viewpoints, snacks, and pictures. I did not trust my children enough to do it, but there is a climbers offshoot that nearly everyone I spoke with recommended. The offshoot brings you down steel ladders and into slot canyons, and includes some rock scrambling. I would definitely look into this trail with older children or adults.
My son and husband woke up bright and early the next day for their first ever rock climbing trip, through a guided tour at ACE Adventure Resort located about five minutes from our Airbnb. My husband and especially my son loved their experience. They climbed and rapelled for about two and a half hours with a guide and just one other participant.
The trip required climbers to be at least 8, so I hung out with my six-year-old daughter while my husband and son climbed. We visited a terrific local coffee shop, Range Finder Coffee, built into the back of a climbing gear store in nearby Fayetteville. I chatted with the barista, who also happened to be a climbing instructor, and learned of other local climbing guides that offer private tours and do not have age limits. The next time we are in NRG, I plan to book a trip through a smaller guide shop, like New River Mountain Guides or Appalachian Mountain Guides.
We reunited after the climbing trip, and spent the rest of the day at ACE Adventure Resort’s massive (and I mean, MASSIVE) floating water park. The park is a 5-acre spring fed lake full of inflatable obstacle courses, climbing structures, and slides. We were familiar with the concept, as my parents have a Wibit structure at their local lake. The version at ACE, however, took things to a level I had never imagined. My children played on the structures for 6 hours straight.
About a third of the total water structures
The lake was fairly crowded on a long weekend Sunday, and there were not many lifeguards (though everyone at the water park is required to wear a life jacket). My husband or I stuck fairly close to the kids at the water park, mostly to watch for accidental injuries from jumping too close to others. We would definitely return (I don’t think my children would forgive me if we didn’t), but continue to stay close to them in the water.
We wrapped up day 2 by returning to Fayetteville for dinner, this time at Wanderlust Creative Foods. The restuarant doesn’t take reservations, and I admit to (my own) crankiness when we came into a full restaurant at 7:15 pm with two hungry young kids. But readers, the food and service were both worth the wait. The menu is eclectic and after meeting the thoughtful and warm young chef, who trained in Boston, New York, and D.C., I wonder if the food is a reflection of his favorite dishes.
Our favorites at WCF: the brussel sprouts (a must order) and mussels.
We all got up early again on July 4, this time to head to Adventures on the Gorge for a rafting trip. Unlike the previous days, which had some periods of rain, July 4 was dry and stunningly beautiful. Like ACE, Adventures on the Gorge offers guided river, aerial, land, and lake adventures, as well as lodging and dining options. While similar, Adventures felt somewhat higher end to me, though the prices on most activities seeed comparable.
We opted for a full-day rafting trip, which our group of about 30 opted to do on inflatable two-person kayaks for added “adventure.” I hadn’t expected quite the adventure I got, with the distinction of being the only person on the trip whose kayak flipped upside down on the rapids twice. The trip was wonderful, and family-friendly. The guides were well-trained and skilled, and I never doubted our safety. In additon to kayaking, we enjoyed a great lunch, swam in the warm river, and jumped off cliffs into the water.
Light paddling in between the rapids.
After the rafting trip, we spent a couple of hours at one of the pools at Adventures on the Gorge. Adventures is quite the complex, and there’s lots to do even if you aren’t staying there. I roamed the walking paths while the rest of the family hung by the the pool, and here is just one of the beautiful views I took in:
View of New River Gorge Bridge from Adventures on the Gorge
We wrapped up July 4 at Pies and Pints, probably the most popular restaurant in the area. The pizza was delicious and inventive, and there is a small playground out back for kids. Also, they let you do the thing that you always want to do but can’t: split the pizza into two totally different halves (for us, sriracha shrimp and street corn). Tip: while the restuarant doesn’t take reservations, you can call ahead as early as opening to add your name to the list for a particular time, which can shorten the wait.
We slept in on our last day, and then went out for a terrific late breakfast at Cathedral Cafe, a locally-owned restaurant fashioned from an old church. After eating, my son and I headed to the iconic New River Gorge Bridge for Bridge Walk. The New River Gorge Bridge is the the longest single-span steel arch bridge in the U.S. and the third highest bridge in the country. It is also the only bridge in U.S. that allows visitors to walk on the safety and maintenance catwalk 25 feet beneath below the bridge. The catwalk under the New River Gorge Bridge is just 24 inches wide, but there is a substantial railing and visitors wear harnesses that are fastened to a cable running above the catwalk (the world’s longest continuous safety system). Bridge Walk visitors walk the entire 3,030 foot length of the New River Gorge Bridge with a guide that shared the truly interesting history of the bridge.
Since you are more than 800 feet above ground, the Bridge Walk is probably not the best idea for those with a serious fear of heights, but my companion overcame his own mild fear during the trip. We had a good time, and it was nice to do a leisurely activity at the end of a busy few days.
Our recommendations, all in one spot.
Eat: Every restaurant we visited in Fayetteville was great. Range Finder Coffee (only coffee); Cathedral Cafe (breakfast, lunch); Pies and Pints (lunch, dinner); Wanderlust Creative Foods (dinner).
Stay: We loved our Airbnb and would definitely return. The lodging options at Adventures on the Gorge also looked great.
Play: climbing and rapelling (next time, we’ll likely give New River Mountain Guides or Appalachian Mountain Guides a shot); whitewater rafing; ACE Adventure waterpark; Bridge Walk.
Other: On our last day in West Virginia, we got a tire leak. Not only did two people stop to help us change the spare, C Adam Toney Tire Pros, the tire store we later visited, repaired the tire so we could make it home and refused to take our money. I haven’t met kinder people in a long time.
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