Saturday, June 15, 2024

New River Gorge National Park

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Early in May I decided I wanted to go to New River Gorge National Park in relatively near by West Virginia. 

20240508_173258After looking at the route from here to there,  I wasn’t sure I wanted to take Winnona with memories of tackling the narrow winding mountain roads of North Carolina in the  summer of 2022.   So I thought I’d go in the car for a couple of days and check out the roads and the campgrounds.  Of course had David been here, we would have just taken Winnona, gone sight unseen as he had nerves of steel and could take her anywhere without hesitation.

20240508_192046I asked my friend Mary if she wanted to come and she did.  So I looked around at VBRO and AirB&B in the area and they were upwards of $175 a night.  No wonder I have an RV.  At least campsites are usually less than half of that unless you are in a some la-de-da place.

I found Babcock State Park relatively near New River and booked a cabin for $130 a night.  The cabins were built by the CCC in the 1930’s and as you can see have the perfect porch for reading.  It overlooks Cade Creek Far below


Inside there is one main room with a double bed, dining table, a fireplace and two rocking chairs.  There is a separate bedroom too small to take a picture of with a twin bed. The bathroom is 1/4 the size of the small bedroom.  The distance between the edge of the sink and the wall is one quite a few people would not be able to get through in order to reach the toilet.  Luckily we weren’t among those but seriously it could be a problem for some people.


In the evening, while Mary read on the porch I took a walk down the road beyond the cabin.

The sign at the gate told me this was now Sewell Road Trail which was formerly a narrow gauge railroad access to the town of Sewell, a company town for the coal mines.


Partway along the trail there was a sign telling me I had arrived at Sugar Cane Run Falls along the official West Virginia Water Fall Trail.  It’s been a very very dry year here and the “falls” were pretty small.  But I love that West Virginia has a “waterfall trail”.


I continued on down the road 5000 steps worth and wondered if I had gone further would I have come to any remnants of the town.


Earlier in the day we had gone by a couple of campgrounds on my list and boy were they sorry.   We decided to see more tomorrow.

We went on to the National Park’s main visitor center, Canyon Rim

IMG_1885The park has 4 visitor centers.  Canyon Rim is the largest located just east of Fayetteville on the east side of the river.  It is open all year long has a book shop, gift store and auditorium showing films about the park.  

The Thurmond Depot Visitor Center is found in the ghost town remains of one of the once thriving mining towns in the bottom of the gorge and is only staffed during the summer.  Grandview VC is a small information center at the park’s highest elevation which has great views and is 1400 feet above the river.  Also staffed only in the summer.  Tus we didn’t get to visit either of them.   The 4th visitor’s center is the Sandstone VC located at the southern end of the park.  We visited it on our last day in the park.

The Canyon Rim center was newly renovated and reopened this January.  It has many engaging and informative exhibits.


It was interesting to learn that Historian Carter G Woodson who is considered the father of African American History worked as a young man in the New river coal fields and went on to be the only person of enslaved parents to earn a PhD.  He earned his PhD in history from Harvard in 1912.


They had head sets you could put on and listen to coal miners tell about days in the mines and about the conflicts with the Coal companies over worker’s rights and safety conditions.  Not sure who collected this oral history.  There were several different speakers and stories.



From there we took the boardwalk to take a distant look at the famous bridge and river.


It really is a gorge with the New River wayyy down in there.  I found its history most interesting but then I love history.  IMG_1887

For centuries the New river was virtually inaccessible until 1873
when the railroad opened this part of West Virginia for coal mining.   Most of the coal towns are gone now as mining was played out and abandoned.  

The name New River is strange since this river is one of the oldest in the country.  Estimates are that the river has been in its present course for 65 million years.  But it was once an even longer river that flowed through central Ohio, Indian and Illinois and emptied into the Mississippi.  Then   about 10,000 years ago the last of the glaciers buried the river and diverted its waters into the Ohio and Kanawha River which the glaciers created.   Another indication of its ancient age is that it flows across the Appalachian plateau and not around or from it as others do.  The river was there BEFORE the Appalachians, the second oldest mountains in North America, were formed. 

On another day I got some closer pictures.  Definitely a mighty river.  We saw no one kayaking the river during our time here.  Not sure why. 


Before the New River Gorge Bridge opened in 1977, the only one way to cross the gorge was on a narrow, winding 8-mile-long road down to the river. This 100-year-old road still winds down to the bottom of the gorge, across a narrow bridge, and up the other side

You can drive the steep switch-backed old road and listen to a guided tour as Mary and I did.  It took 45 minutes to make this trip which with the bridge takes 9 minutes.


The New River Bridge is the longest steel span bridge in the country and the 3rd highest at 876 feet above the river.   Its length is 3030 feet.  The arch is 1700 feet.

IMG_1892The arch alone weighs more than 21 million pounds.   It is seriously impressive.

And Fayetteville celebrates it with  West Virginia’s largest single-day festival: Bridge Day, this year on October 19th.  The bridge is closed to traffic on that day and thousands of people can walk across and watch daredevils BASE jump  876 feet into the gorge below.  Are they crazy??   Rappellers ascend and descend from the catwalk. It is billed as one of the largest extreme sports events in the world.  Last year there were 341 jumpers from 35 states and 4 countries. 

So many people in one place to watch this craziness didn’t appeal to Mary and I as much as the possibility of taking a catwalk tour.  For $72 River Expeditions will secure you in harnesses which are securely fastened onto a safety cable making it impossible to fall from the Bridge while you walk along a 24” catwalk which has a substantial railing.  The Bridge Walkers walk the entire 3,030 foot length of the Bridge  The tours are 2-3 hours in length.  You can make reservations for this.  Not sure if they do it on Bridge Day. 

Mostly for its great name, we chose The Secret Sandwich Society in Fayetteville for our dinner before returning to the cabin.


   We were able to eat outside and it seems we were the only patrons who did.  All the others were inside.


  Mary made the mistake of asking the receptionist what was her favorite thing on the menu and she replied the brussel sprouts appetizer described as crispy brussels with parmesan.  She order them but absolutely HATED them (she insisted I capitalize it) so I was the beneficiary.  The brussels were larger than I like but we ate them when they were the size of a dime off of our own plants.  But clearly Mary did  like the french fries.


Our second day we made the rounds of the rest of the campgrounds I had researched and found only one that wasn’t a complete disaster.   So my conclusion was that I’d rather stay at the state park even though I’d be limited to 14 days and it is 20 minutes from the National Park.  Babcock is a very interesting park and like the National park it has trails we did not have time to hike.  Spending two weeks or a month in this area would maybe enable me to see and do everything.

Walking up the road in front of the cabin I found a set of steps that went down but had no specific cabin number.  Of course I took them, and this is what I found.  There is a paved trail that runs above the cabins and apparently a set of steps leading to a swinging bridge.


What a surprise!  The swinging bridge has stone pillars and goes safely across Cade Creek to a line of cabins on the other side.


Same creek that our cabin is high above.


The bridge led to another set of stairs going up to the cabin road on the other side but first it went to this rock slab covered I’m not sure what.  All of this was built in the 30’s by the CCC, the cabins, the bridge, the stairs and whatever this is.  Any guesses?


Here’s one of the cabins I found on the other side before I turned around and went back over the swinging bridge.  There are 28 cabins at the park.  13 are along the creek. the others are located deeper into the park.


Going back down the steps, this was the view of the bridge as I returned to it.


And the path that led from the bridge back to the steps up on the other side.  This was all just so lovely.   What a great accidental find.


The Glade Creek Grist Mill has a weather beaten look and is on a the boulder strewn picturesque Glade Creek that the swinging bridge crosses and our cabin is above.   We both though it must have been restored but it was built in 1976 from the salvaged parts of other mills that had ceased operation. It is a replica of the original Cooper’s Mill that was located nearby. 


Milling died as an occupation in West Virginia in the 1950’s but nostalgia brought back interest in it.  The Glade Creek Mill is a working Grist Mill.  During the summer and week-ends in spring and fall it is up and running.  Visitors can tour the mill and learn about the process that grinds corn into cornmeal.   Sadly for us, we were here during the week.


The cascades and waterfall are also on the West Virginia waterfall trail.  There were several men fishing here on the day we visited.




On our last day in West Virginia. we set out on a different and easier route back which enabled us to stop at the Sandstone Visitor Center.  I read that “the 9800 square foot center is a green designed facility offering an example of energy and water conservation in a sustainable building design.”  It also has a book store, gift shop, auditorium with films and uniquely has an outdoor garden featuring native plants.

The exhibits inside were wonderful.  I especially loved the floor showing the river from its source in Blowing Rock North Carolina to where it flows north dropping 900 feet to meet with the Gauley and form the Kanawha River in West Virginia.  This picture is about the best I could do but it’s really something to see in person.


We then took another driving tour down to the river.  This time we drove 36 miles round trip down to the town of Hinton, cross the river and up the other side in order to stop at the bottom and see the Sandstone Falls which spans the river where it is 1500 feet wide.  It was raining and hard to get pictures that showed its beauty.  The river drops 10-25 feet here.  Rain forced us to skip the island loop trail which looked to be quite muddy.

As the map above shows, there are the lower falls



And the upper falls.



I really would like to return to New River Gorge National Park especially in a spring where the rains have made the falls more normal.  I’m sure I could spend at least a month here hiking all the trails in the State and National Park.

But I am so glad I did this scouting trip.  We had a good time.  I found a route, I-64 W to WVa Highway 19N,  that I could bring Winnona without the winding mountain roads we took to get here.  And importantly I discovered that there really is not much in terms of camping for big rigs.  If you have been to New River National Park, I’d love to hear about your experience and especially where you stayed.    I’d like to find a spot to stay an extended period of time without having to move.

Many thanks to Mary for being my traveling companion and for driving especially the sketchy road that was “the shortest route” to get there.


  1. I've heard a lot of good things about that park. I'm so glad you shared all this wonderful information. We don't have our rig any more, but that would make a nice trip by car some fall day or early spring day. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Not sure if the National Park itself has cabins but those at Babcock were really nice and there are tons of things to do. Hope you make the trip.

  2. I am simply in love with the cabin, inside and out! Definitely worth it with the atmosphere and the views, especially with the price of plain hotels...
    Neat swinging bridge but The New River bridge is spectacular over the gorge...
    Not sure about at the end of the steps, how about a mother n law suite, lol, just kidding. Maybe where they'd smoke and cook meat, separate from the living quarters due to animal and insect issues?
    The mill is quite charming, as well. Thanks for the tour Sherry!

    1. I'd love to stay 2 weeks in the cabin if it weren't so expensive. Love your idea for the end of the steps. Thanks for the comment Shayne.

  3. What a gorgeous park and fun adventure! We've not been there, but I'm putting it on my list now. It sounds like you had a great time with a good friend (despite the HATED Brussels sprouts, LOL). Thanks for introducing me to a new destination!

    1. So much hiking in the area Laurel and there are other state parks not too far away so one could spend a couple of months there easily I think. Glad I could show you something new. That doesn't happen often.

  4. Love the cabin and the bridge is beautiful with quite a history. I would have ordered the Brussel sprouts..seems people are into them or they aren’t - I happen to like them. Love the shop name. Neat place, neat trip.

    1. You grew up with fresh brussel sprouts in your backyard so I'm not surprised that you like them but usually both in the grocery and at restaurants they are too big. These had been braised and coated. I liked them too. It was a neat trip and I really want to go back and stay much longer. But it looks like that would be either WAY expensive or require moving every 2 weeks.

  5. If I could have a cabin like that I don't think I'd ever want to travel again. What a gem you found! I'd even eat Brussel sprouts for every meal if I could live there! :cD

    1. It was definitely darling and small but not smaller than an RV. I think I've loved every CCC cabin that I've ever stayed in. Those men did great work and what a wonderful program.

  6. Pretty neat excursion and beautiful scenery. Really liked the bridge and would love to see it. This park is about 5 hours from wshere we lived in Md. So many beautiful places in that area. Thank you for sharing...

    1. Really wish you were still in Maryland Roger. There are so many things to do. I'd love to see you all more often.

  7. Glad you scouted the area and found a great place to stay sans RV. Lovely park! Sorry Mary, I happen to like Brussel Sprouts, and grill them with steak occasionally :)

    1. I'm with you on brussel sprouts Laurie. Grilled is great.

  8. Cute "little" cabin for a stay in a beautiful place. ~Gaelyn

  9. I enjoyed this travel log because I want to see the New River Gorge also, so I was looking for pointers on what to see, etc. Thanks.


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