How To Spend One Day In New River Gorge National Park

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New River Gorge National Park is the newest national park and you can find it pretty much in the middle of West Virginia and we got to visit not too long before the change. If it isn’t already on your national park bucket list, it should be because it’s pretty cool!

We had two whole days to explore but went in with no knowledge of the park and no plan of what to do there. It’s a huge park SO spread out, it’s hard to decide what to do and in what order because of where everything is.

But that’s what I’m here for: to make these mistakes and find the best way to do things so you don’t have to! Everything in here and all of the options are going to feel very overwhelming but I’ve got suggestions of things to possibly skip based on what you want to do.

But first, I’m going to be assuming a few things about your day in New River gorge:

  • You have one full day, morning to night, not just driving through and visiting.
  • You’ll be staying in Beckley for at least one night (the night before you’re full day) but two would be ideal.
  • You want to do some hiking but not tons. (If you want to do more hiking than driving I have alternatives, too.)

Where is New River Gorge National Park?

New River Gorge National Park is pretty much right in the middle of the western half of West Virginia. I’m going to briefly interrupt with a fun geography fact quick: the western most point of Virginia is further west than the western most part of West Virginia.

Anyway, the New River Gorge Bridge and visitor center are just outside of Fayetteville but we stayed in Beckley which is about 30 minutes away.

Best things to do with one day in New River Gorge

I’m going to list everything in the order I would recommend doing them. I’ve mapped them out to find the most efficient route to see everything I’ve included, as well.

I’ll be real. There isn’t really an efficient way to do all of this but we’re going to do our best. It will be a jam packed day with a solid amount of driving so get started early! If this sounds like too much, don’t worry. I’ve got some suggestions on what to do (or not do) based on what you’re looking to see/do under this section.

You can even see the route and map right here to move things around and take things out easily based on what you want to do.

Canyon Rim Visitor Center

The visitor center is a must-stop at on any national park trip. Stop in for your park goodies then take a walk down to the bridge overlook. This is the perfect way to start your day if you’re planning on doing the Fayette Station Road.

There are a couple of other visitor centers (at Grandview and by the turnoff for Sandstone Falls) but they’re a lot smaller. This is the main visitor center.

Fayette Station Road

I’m not 100% sure how long this road is, but if I’m reading this map of it right, it’s about seven miles for the whole thing. This drive will take you through the forest of the park right down to the river.

Down at the bottom, you’ll be able to drive over the old wooden bridge and stop to hang out by the river. If you’re lucky, you might get to see some people rafting or kayaking in the rapids. There are also some hiking trails along the road if you want to stretch your legs.

I would plan 1-2 hours for this. Most of it is one-way so once you start, you’re pretty committed but it’s a really nice drive and you’ll get to see the big New River Gorge Bridge from a new angle.

Glade Creek Trail

If you want to do this whole trail you can, but it’s 5.6 miles round-trip so you would need 2-3 hours for this. Even just doing part of this is great and the drive down to it is nice. We started from the Glade Creek Campground and walked to this first little waterfall, doing maybe two miles round-trip.

This is a nice easy-moderate trail right along Glade Creek. It can be a little rocky so watch your footing. There are plenty of little paths down to the creek from the trail and if you’re a fellow mushroom lover, keep an eye out for those, too!

Main Overlook

If you love great views, this is the perfect stop. There are also quite a few hiking trails but for the view, it’s just a short paved walk from the parking lot to the overlook. We didn’t spend too much time here but it’s a nice view of the river way below.

Sandstone Falls

Finally, Sandstone Falls and the Sandstone Falls Overlook! It’s a tough call between this and Glade Creek Trail for my favorite thing we did in New River Gorge. There is a short but steepish walk from the parking to the Sandstone Falls Overlook which is way above the falls. It’s pretty cool.

From there, hop back into the car and finish the drive that feels very inconvenient at the time because it’s longish and not a loop. You’ll pass through a town, cross over the river then drive along the river until you get to the well marked trailhead.

This is a short boardwalk that takes you to some good views of the falls but if you’re confident walking on sometimes wet rocks, you can keep going past the end of the boardwalk all the way out to the falls. If you do this, just be careful, especially at the end and near the edge by the water. It’s not a high waterfall but it’s still not something you want to get caught in.

One day New River Gorge itinerary adjustments

If I took one thing out of this one day itinerary, I think it would be the main overlook. It’s a cool overlook but I like the other things on the list more and would definitely pick Sandstone Falls and that overlook over this.

BUT if you want to spend less time in the car and more time hiking, I would keep the main overlook and take out the Fayette Station Road. There are tons of hiking trails at the main overlook in Grandview to get out and explore.

If you want to do the drive and go down to the river AND see the overlook or hike there, I would take out Glade Creek Trail. It’s a great hike but, again, way out of the way and there are hiking options at the overlook and Fayette Station Road.

If you take out the Fayette Station Road, you may also want to consider taking out the visitor center or doing it the day before or the morning you leave because it’s way further from everything else on the list without the drive.

What to bring to New River Gorge

Water bottle – It’ll be hot and you’ll need to stay hydrated.  Even if it’s not hot you need to stay hydrated.  A Hydro Flask will keep your water ice cold all day long.

Sunscreen – If you plan on being outside, you’ll want sunscreen.  I like the Neutrogena a lot, but if you’ll be visiting a beach soon, you’ll want a reef-safe sunscreen.

Hat – You’ll want some kind of hat to keep the sun out of your eyes.  A baseball hat should be fine but a bucket hat or sun hat could help keep the sun off your neck.

Sunglasses – This is a must no matter where you are.  Sunglasses are best paired with a hat on those really bright days.

Light Jacket – Because you just never know.  Weather can change quickly depending on where you are, time of day, and season.  I usually use my rain jacket for this.

Good hiking shoes – If you’re hiking when it’s warmer, Chacos will be good.  If it’s fall, muddy, or a little cooler out, you’ll want closed toe shoes.

Tips for visiting New River Gorge National Park

  • The Fayette station road is long and will take up a couple hours of your day, so keep that in mind. It does take you down to the river which is cool because we got to see people kayaking in the rapids. And another BUT, it’s a really nice drive but more woodsy than sprawling views.
  • If you want to experience the park in a way most people don’t, consider a kayaking/rafting trip on the river!
  • There isn’t really one good place to stay because of how everything is spread out. We stayed in Beckley which is fairly central. The bridge and visitor center are to one side and sandstone falls is to the other.
  • If you can manage two whole days in the park, that would be ideal because it will be very hard to do all of this in one day.
  • You’ll want to bring lots of snacks because you’ve got a busy day ahead of you!
  • Like Cuyahoga, this is what I call a “city park” because it’s spread out with people living in it and towns all over. It might feel like you’re driving to the wrong place on occasion because you’re driving through neighborhoods, but it’s most likely right.

Have you been to New River Gorge National Park? What did you think of it? What was your favorite thing there? Do you want to go?

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