The iconic bridge is stunning, and our newest national park offers much more.
Whitewater rafting. Hiking. Rock climbing. Zip lining. New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, the newest U.S. national park, offers all those outdoor adventures and more. The landscape features sculpted canyons, beautiful waterfalls and a bridge, some 876 feet above the river, that captivates from every angle.
More than 70,000 acres of land in southern West Virginia on each side of one of the oldest rivers in the world — a rare north-flowing river to boot — make up the park. The boundaries extend 53 miles from Hinton to Ansted, interweaving rugged natural beauty with a storied mining history.
New River Gorge National Park is an easy weekend getaway from Louisville, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Charleston, West Virginia. Though the park's lodging is limited to camping, surrounding towns offer motels, cabins and bed-and-breakfast inns. I stayed in Lansing with Adventures on the Gorge (AOTG), which offers cabins of all sizes and styles, as well as a campground for tents and RVs. Three restaurants on-site are open seasonally, and nearby Fayetteville has year-round dining options, including Tudor's Biscuit World for breakfast and Pies & Pints for artisanal pizza.
Leaving behind my four children, two dogs and one husband — all of whom had been within arm’s reach for nearly a year due to the pandemic — I headed alone from my home near Washington, D.C., to the park for a much-needed escape, if only for a few days. I was eager to hit the road, listen to a radio station of my choosing and get the cancellation stamp for our 63rd national park in my coveted, timeworn National Parks Passport.
I like to get an early start, so I was on the road by 6 a.m. Four hours later, my first stop in the park was Sandstone Visitor Center, the southernmost of four visitor centers. Because it was March, it was closed for the season, so I stretched my legs and motored south to Sandstone Falls. The largest waterfall on the New River, it plunges 10 to 25 feet and extends more than 1,500 feet across.