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Looking for the best things to do other than hiking in New River Gorge National Park?
Welcome back to the latest installment of Things To Do In The National Parks Besides Hiking! This is a fun series I have to show off activities and attractions in national parks that involve little to no hiking.
Today is all about things to do other than hiking in New River Gorge National Park, the newest national park in the US.
This park is pretty big and has a few different areas to explore: Canyon Rim, Sandstone Falls, Grandview, and Thurmond Historic District.
As usual, this list is primarily not hiking but I have included trails that are less than one mile round-trip and considered easy by NPS.
This does not include moderate or strenuous trails less than a mile. That’s not to say everything on this list isn’t strenuous or active because some of it is. This list is a mix of activities in New River Gorge for people that can’t hike, don’t want to hike, or just don’t like hiking.
You’ll find short, easy trails, notable viewpoints, drives, and other adventure activities if they have them. Now, let’s get to it, all the things to see and do in New River Gorge that aren’t hiking.
Whether you just have one day in New River Gorge or five, you’ll be able to do a few of these things for sure.
Travel Services I Recommend:
AllTrails – This is my favorite hike tracking app.
America the Beautiful – The national park pass is essential.
Booking.com – This is great for finding and booking hotels.
Get Your Guide – I recommend Get Your Guide for booking tours.
National Park Obsessed – This is the best national park planner.
Skyscanner – Skyscanner is great for finding and booking flights.
Enterprise – This is my rental car recommendation.
See all my resources here.
National Park Goodies
- If you’re planning to visit three or more national parks within a year from your trip, definitely get the America the Beautiful pass. It will save you money in the long run if you’re going to more than three parks in a year. Buy the pass here.
- If you’re planning on doing a lot of hiking on your trip, or even at home, check out AllTrails! This is my favorite app to find, keep track of, and track my hiking activity. And it’s FREE! Sign up here.
- This Ultimate National Park Planning Bundle is a must-have. You get two ebooks and a planner, saving 50% by getting them as a bundle! If you want all the details, this is the bundle for you. Buy the Ultimate bundle here.
- This National Park Planner (one of the ebooks from the bundle above) is perfect if you just want some guidance in your planning. Buy the planner here.
- Get yourself a National Park journal for all of the NPS sites (400+!) to keep track of your travels!
- Consider reading some of these books set in national parks before your big trip, on your adventure, or once you get home to take you back to the parks until next time.
Best things too do in New River Gorge other than hiking
Here we go! This is where you’ll find the best things to do in New River Gorge that aren’t hiking (for the most part). You’ll find scenic drives, historic spots, short walks, overlooks, and more.
Drive the Fayette Station Road
The Fayette Station Road is an eight-mile one way road that takes you down to the river by the Canyon Rim Visitor Center then up on the other side of the bridge.
This is a beautiful road and will only take about an hour without many stops.
There is a small parking area by the river after crossing the Tunny Hunsaker Bridge so you can walk out closer to the river.
Go whitewater rafting on the New River
This isn’t an activity for me but you can go white water rafting in New River Gorge!
If you’re experienced, you can run the river on your own. If not, join one of the commercial outfitters allowed to run in the park.
The New River sounds better if you just want a little taste of rapids and the Gauley River is better for a bigger adventure.
Visit the Thurmond Historic District
The Thurmond Historic District is a great way to learn about the former thriving town and it’s railroad.
The depot is open in the summer and has exhibits about Thurmond. You can also see the old downtown area here.
If you do go here, just be sure to stay off the railroad tracks as the line is active. If you like history, this is a great thing to do in New River Gorge that isn’t hiking.
Visit Babcock State Park (yes, in the national park)
The highlight of this state park in a national park should be hat it’s a state park in a national park but it’s actually the old grist mill!
Which I suppose is still pretty cool. You can also go hiking, biking, and fishing here.
Join a ranger program
There are four ranger led programs offered in the summer including fishing, hikes, Thurmond Walks, and patio talks.
Patio talks are daily 30 minute talks given by rangers at 2PM at the Canyon Rim Visitor Center that cover a variety of park-related topics.
Thurmond Walks are offered daily at 11AM at the Thurmond Depot and include a roughly half-mile round-trip walk through town.
Hikes are offered at 10AM Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday and length/difficulty vary by day.
Gone Fishing (with a ranger) is only offered three times at Stonecliff at 10AM. Kids from 6 to 15 will get to fish with a ranger with supplies provided.
You can find the schedules here.
Go to the Grandview Overlook
The Grandview Overlook is not only the highest in the park, but it’s also where you’ll find beautiful views of the New River below.
This doesn’t require a hike, just a short walk from the parking area. I like to think of this as West Virginia’s Horseshoe Bend.
Walk the Canyon Rim Boardwalk
The Canyon Rim Boardwalk is just 0.1 miles and takes you to a view of the New River Gorge Bridge and the river below.
If you wan to continue, there are 178 steps to a lower overlook as well (which I would recommend doing if you can).
Stop at the Sandstone Falls Overlook
This sandstone Falls Overlook is easy to stop at on your way to the boardwalk. There is a parking area on the side of the road with an overlook.
There is a short walk to do the view and I will say, it’s pretty far away and not 100% the best view but it’s worth a stop since it’s nice and quick.
Hike the Park Loop Trail
This one is cheating because it’s 1.1 miles but I’m letting it slide. This can be hiked as a loop on it’s own from Fayetteville Town Park or as a connector to the Fayetteville Trail.
Walk the Sandstone Falls Boardwalk
The Sandstone Falls Boardwalk is just under a half-mile round-trip (it can be more if you walk further on the rocks, just be very careful).
Sandstone Falls is divided by islands and a whopping 1500 feet across making it the largest waterfall on the New River.
There are a couple of places here to view the falls and I would definitely recommend this trail. It’s short but great.
Drive the African American Heritage Auto Tour
This is a driving tour created by New River Gorge and it’s partners as an app to learn about the Black coal miner, rail workers, and community members that shaped the region.
There are seventeen historic sites that are part of the self-guided tour that takes you through Summers, Raleigh, Fayette, and Nicholas counties.
Some stops include the Quinnimont Missionary Baptist Church, Camp Washington Carver, Hawks Nest Workers Memorial, and Harlem Height.
If you like history, then this is another great thing to do in New River Gorge that isn’t hiking. You could combine this with other stops, too.
Do a little fishing
If you like fishing and have your own equipment with you and a fishing license for West Virginia, this is a great place for that!
The best seasons for fishing are spring and fall. There are a few public fishing spots in the park including Tug Creek Beach, Brooks Falls, Hellems Beach, and Sandstone Falls.
A few other places in different areas of the park are Meadow Creek, McCreery, Grandview Sandbar, Mill Creek, and Glade Creek.
See the Trump-Lilly Farm
This is a great stop for fans of history as you can see the remnants of an 18th century subsistence farm!
The farm itself wasn’t there then but it’s title can be traced back to then. Peter Davis bought the land from Alexander Stuart and settled there in between 1810 and 1850.
There is a lot of history at the farm but today it’s not quite what it once was as some of the fields have grown over and the house is a bit weathered but you can get a glimpse of life back then.
Directions to the Trump-Lilly farm directly from NPS: “To reach Trump Lilly farm use WV county road 26 (River Road just outside Hinton) north approximately fifty yards from its intersection with State Route 20, then follow a gravel road (the first left after crossing Madam’s Creek Bridge – marked Freezeland Mountain) along its winding ascent through second growth forest to the site.
The rugged unpaved road is characterized by a number of sharp turns, steep grades and panoramic views of Hinton and the New River below. There is a small parking lot at the farm.
It can be a bit tricky to find both the gravel road and the farm (at this time there are no signs at the farm). It is recommended that visitors stop by the Sandstone Visitor Center to talk to a ranger and get directions and up to date road conditions.”
Do some rock climbing
New River Gorge has quickly become one of the best places for rock climbing in the country and is home to over 1400 established climbs.
Most routes here are for advanced or expert climbers so if you’re just getting started, it might be better for a later trip.
See the Richmond Hamilton Farm
Similar to the Trump-Lilly Farm, the Richmond Hamilton Farm are the remains of subsistence farming in the area.
This farm can be found on the way to Sandstone Falls so it’s perfect to stop and see on your way there.
Directions to the Richmond Hamilton Farm directly from NPS: “To get to Richmond Hamilton Farm, exit I-64 at exit 139. Take Route 20 south towards Hinton.
Follow Route 20 for 10 miles south to Hinton. After reaching a traffic light, turn right on Route 20 and cross the New River. At the other side of the river turn right onto River Road.
Richmond Hamilton Farm is located about two miles down River Road on your left. Watch for a break in a stone wall. There is a parking lot and vault toilet at the entrance.
You can walk from there to visit two barns, an outbuilding, and the farmhouse.”
Hike the Seldom Seen Trail
This is an easy 0.6 mile round-trip trail that takes you to the remains of what used to be a residential community for some families employed at Nuttalburg.
Hit the bike trails
This is one of the most popular mountain biking destinations in the eastern US. There are even guided bike tours available in the region.
The Arrowhead Trails are a cumulative 12.8 miles of bike trails ranging from easy to intermediate.
Hike the Island Loop Trail
This is a half-mile round-trip hike looping around the largest island below Sandstone Falls.
It used to be an island used for farming, grazing, and timber but is returning to a forest today.
Where to stay near New River Gorge
Clarion Pointe – This is where we stayed and I liked it. It was easy to get to and close enough to the park.
Tru by Hilton – This is a highly rated option also in Beckley which is easy to get to and around.
Best places to camp near New River Gorge
New River Gorge is a great park for camping. All campsites are first come, first serve and they are FREE! Who doesn’t love free camping?
There are nine camping areas in the park and accessible sites are included in the other numbers, they aren’t additional sites:
- Stone Cliff Beach – 6 walk-in sites, 1 vehicle site
- Army Camp – 11 drive-in tent and RV sites, no hookups
- Grandview Sandbar – 10 wooded sites for tents and small/medium RVs, 6 walk-in tent sites, and 2 accessible sites, no hookups
- Glade Creek – 6 walk-in tent sites, five drive-in sites for tents and small/medium RVs, one accessible site, no hookups
- War Ridge/Backus Mountain – 8 drive-in sites for tents and small RVs, no hookups
- Brooklyn – 4 walk-in sites and one drive-in tent site
- Thayer – 4 walk-in sites, no alcohol permitted
- Meadow Creek – 26 tent only sites
- Gauley Tailwaters – 18 drive-in sites for tents and RVs, no hookups
You can also camp at Babcock State Park in the spring, summer, and fall. There are 52 sites: 28 with hookups, 24 without, and four are accessible.
Reservations can be made online, by phone or at the campground. There is a bathhouse with coin operated laundry, two water stations, two sewage stations, WiFi, and phone service (most likely).
Visiting New River Gorge National Park FAQs
Are you planning a trip to New River Gorge? Don’t know when to go? How long to stay? Keep reading to find out!
Where is New River Gorge National Park and Preserve?
New River Gorge is in West Virginia, pretty much right in the middle of the southern part of the state.
Some of the nearest towns are Beckley, Fayetteville, and Sandstone. There a a good number of small towns within park boundaries, too.
New River Gorge is what I call a “city park.” Or a national park that is in a city/has residential areas that aren’t employees in it. Cuyahoga Valley, Indiana Dunes, and Hot Springs are three others I consider “city parks.”
How long should I spend at New River Gorge National Park?
If you only have one day in New River Gorge, you can still see quite a bit as long as you don’t mind a busy day.
Two or three days would be best so you can see a lot and don’t need too rush. Like I said, it’s a pretty good sized park and can take a while to drive between places.
Is New River Gorge National Park worth visiting?
100% yes! While this isn’t the best national park ever, it’s still so beautiful and not all that busy. I really liked it and would love to go back with more time there.
How long does it take to drive through New River Gorge?
Just driving from one end of New River Gorge to the other (Fayetteville to Sandstone) takes about 45 minutes, up to an hour. It may take longer if you’re on smaller back roads.
The official New River Gorge Scenic Dive is an 83-mile loop that takes almost four hours to drive. That doesn’t include time to do any hikes, walks, or stops.
So, depending on what you plan to see and do there, an hour to four hours for driving but I would plan six to eight hours if you want to do things other than drive.
What is the best time of year to visit New River Gorge?
I don’t think there is a bad time to visit New River Gorge National Park but it definitely depends on what kind of things you want to do while you’re there.
The weather in New River Gorge seems to have pretty mild weather ranging from the high 30s in January to 60s and 70s throughout the summer, occasionally in the 40s and 50s in the fall and spring.
I would choose fall so you can see the leaves change but if you want to do a lot of rafting then summer may be better since it’s warmer. It also wan’t very busy when we went in the fall.
Have you been to New River Gorge? What did you think of it? Did you do any of these things while you were there?