America’s newest national park is located in wild and wonderful West Virginia. The park seeks to protect the beautiful New River Gorge, created by one of the oldest rivers in the world. We spent Labor Day weekend hiking through lush scenery and camping on the river, amazed by this unspoiled treasure of the East.
New River Gorge National Park is nestled in the woods of West Virginia, a six-hour drive from Norfolk. We cut the drive in half and spent Friday night camping in Douthat State Park, one of Virginia’s six original state parks. Waking up, we could see how the Lakeside Campground fills up months in advance. The camping spots are right on the lake and offer stunning views at the crack of dawn.
We left Douthat in the morning and continued driving for a little under two hours to New River Gorge National Park. There is no real entrance to the park, which is spread out along the river and intertwines with towns and civilization. We navigated to the Grandview area of the park, the starting point of our weekend trip.
There are eight primitive campgrounds in the park, which operate on a first-come, first-serve basis. In return for roughing it without hookups or showers, camping is completely free. As the campgrounds are fairly small, they filled up quickly on a holiday weekend.
We selected three campgrounds in the Grandview area of the park: Grandview Sandbar, Army Camp and Glade Creek. All three are accesible for trailers and located right on the river. Grandview Sandbar was completely full by the time we arrived, around noon on Saturday. But we got lucky on our second attempt and snatched the very last spot at Army Camp.
Our stay at Army Camp was wild and wonderful: with just 11 spots, the campground offers a secluded camping experience amidst beautiful scenery. We took a refreshing dip in the crystal-clear river after hiking, which more than made up for the lack of showers.
There are three main areas in the park, each one equipped with a visitor center. We visited two out of the three in two days: Grandview and Canyon Rim.
Grandview Visitor Center
Like most visitors, we got our first good look at the impressive gorge from the Main Overlook. This popular viewpoint is just steps away from the Grandview Visitor Center. Several short but sweet trails depart from this point.
Castle Rock Trail & Grandview Rim Trail
The Castle Rock Trail is a 1.1-mile loop past impressive rock formations. If hiked counterclockwise, it connects halfway with the Grandview Rim Trail.
We ventured out a bit further north along the Grandview Rim Trail. Soon, we could see why New River Gorge is labeled the “Grand Canyon of the East”.
Canyon Rim Visitor Center
New River Gorge Bridge Overlook
A short path from the visitor center leads to two viewpoints of the New River Gorge Bridge, an iconic sight and impressive feat of engineering. The steel arch of the bridge was the longest in the world until recently.
Endless Wall Trail
The trailhead for the Endless Wall Trail is located just outside the Canyon Rim Visitor Center. We hiked the 3-mile trail as a counterclockwise loop, leaving from the small parking lot at the trailhead and walking back the last stretch along the road. The first part of the trail has several great viewpoints, but the grand finale is Diamond Point Overlook. We enjoyed a picnic with stunning views, before making our way downhill through the forest.
Fayette Station Road Scenic Drive
The Fayette Station Road is an 8-mile scenic drive to the bottom of the gorge. The end of the road promises scenic views of the New River Gorge Bridge from below, as well as great people-watching. This is where most whitewater rafting trips come to an end, but not before overcoming the last rapids.