Every year, Hubs and I celebrate our wedding anniversary by buying new gadgets or by taking a trip. Usually, each of these trips tends to focus on a specific park or city. However, this time I decided to plan a trip for us that focused on waterfalls. While most of us like waterfalls, Hubs grew up in the desert and loves them. I began looking for waterfall destinations that could be reached and explored during a long weekend away from DC. One of the areas that came up most frequently, and had great reviews, was the New River Gorge National River in West Virginia.
Quick History Break: Established by the National Park Service in 1978, the New River Gorge National River protects 70,000 acres of land along 53 miles of the New River in West Virginia. According to the NPS, it is one of the oldest rivers on earth and is the longest river gorge in the Appalachian Mountains. The New River is most famous for it’s recreational opportunities like camping, biking, hiking, and whitewater rafting.
Hubs and I drove down to the New River after work on a rainy Friday evening. By the time we reached the resort we were staying at we were exhausted. As Hubs is responsible for the hotel accommodations in our relationship (we each have our strengths and he is usually way more picky than I am about housing), I wasn’t really sure what to expect when we rolled into Daniels, West Virginia low on gas and starving. As it was well after dark it was a bit tricky navigating the roads to our accommodations, but we were able to find an open gas station and then set out again to find our lodging. After a series of backroads, courtesy of Google Maps (we later learned that is a very nice highway that also gets you there!), we found our lodging and immediately began to fall in love with The Resort at Glade Springs.
As we would be there for two nights, we booked one of the Executive Suites – which is equivalent to a small apartment. While it our suite showed its age, it was clean, parking was nearby, and one of the resort restaurants delivers pizza late at night! Of course, we quickly ordered up a pizza, reviewed the schedule for the rest of the weekend, and hit the hay! The next morning we enjoyed the hot breakfast buffet and wandered around the main Inn before hitting the road. (The next time we visit we must find time to actually take advantage of the resort accommodations!).
Activity 1: Our first New River Gorge National River stop was the Sandstone Visitor Center. I highly recommend stopping at any of the National Park Service (NPS) visitor centers. The rangers and volunteers can not only direct you to the closes restroom and restaurant, but can give you details on ranger talks, don’t-want-to-miss locations, and even the best places to see wildlife on a given day. Plus, each visitor center has a Passport to Your National Parks cancellation stamp stand. This stand is always my first stop within a visitor center so that I don’t forget (it’s happened) to add each parks cancellation stamp to my passport.
Outside the Sandstone Visitor Center we were greeted by an old riverboat (pictured). I love that the NPS makes extra efforts to add meaningful visuals to each of their visitor centers. They add so much to the story each location is sharing and give visitors something tangible to visualize throughout their trip. Inside, the visitor center had a wonderful video on the history and culture of the area. We also talked to a ranger about the best options for our short time frame and the rainy weather.
Activity 2: Once back in the car, Hubs and I talked about our options and decided that a long leisurely scenic drive would be our game plan for the day. We began by heading south on Highway 20 from the Sandstone Visitor Center towards Hinton. The first stop was the Sandstone Falls Overlook. What would normally be an easy trek down to the overlook quickly became a slippery task in the rain and mud. Nonetheless, we eventually made it down to the overlook. While the falls are pretty, they looked more like rapids from the overlook (click the picture for a larger view of the image). If time allows, I would recommend taking the time to wander down to the riverbank for a picnic (weather permitting) and closer vantage point.
Activity 3: Knowing that traipsing through the mud wouldn’t be the best activity for our health or our SUV’s interior, we changed plans and decided to head north towards 64 and make our way over to the Grandview Overlook. Grandview Overlook is located at the end of a stretch of highway that appears to be off the beaten path (you drive through a few farming communities), but it is beyond worth it when you make it to the end and are greeted with this view!
Activity 4: After the stunning view at Grandview Overlook, the rain picked up and forced us back into the car. We followed the highway into Beckley, WV and then took off towards Mt. Hope. Mt. Hope was once a bustling coal town that still holds many of it’s long-ago charms. Driving down main street you pretty quickly find yourself in a little coal heritage area. It’s easy to spot by the brick-framed “Famous New River Smokeless Coal” seam. Across the street are a handful of signs outline the Coal Heritage Trail and cultural history of the area. They are worth a read if you have time.
Activity 5: Back on the road after our short stop in Mt. Hope, we slowly made our way along narrow winding roads to Thurmond. I am one of those people who prefer taking different routes to and from places so that I can see more sights along the way. However, I didn’t mind taking Highway 25 in and out of Thurmond for two reasons: it is the only paved road and the scenery is beautiful. We almost miss this gorgeous waterfall on the drive (click the picture for a larger view of the image)! It is not easy to spot from the road and if you blink you will miss it. Thankfully, we were enjoying a slow drive with our windows down and were able to hear it. We pulled over at the next turnout and walked back – so worth it!
Activity 6: Just when you think you can’t possibly be headed in the right direction, you see the New River ahead and on the other side you can make out the town of Thurmond. Crossing over the New River is interesting as the one-lane road across the river appears to have been an after-thought to the train bridge. Thankfully, it was much more sturdy than it looked and we had no problem crossing it! Once across, you quickly realize that Thurmond is a mostly abandon village.
I recommend making your first stop at the Thurmond Depot Visitors Center like we did. As always, the ranger was super helpful in giving us an overview of the what we could do in the area, it’s boomtown history, and encouraged us to visit the museum upstairs. The museum took us about 15 minutes or so to explore and then we set off to wander around the village. Thurmond is full of surprises, including that the depot is still an active Amtrak station! I highly recommend taking some time to walk along the old store fronts if your schedule allows – you can practically feel their stories as you walk by.
Activity 7: After Thurmond, we made our way back to the Canyon Rim Visitor Center. The CRVC is the perfect place to view the New River Gorge Bridge and receives nearly 300,000 visitors a year. The bridge, known for it’s beautiful architecture, is so popular that it even has it’s own celebration: Bridge Day. I highly recommend taking the walking path down to the bridge viewing platform. There are a lot of stairs, but the first platform isn’t difficult to navigate to and still has an excellent views (see images).
Recap: All-in-all, I would highly recommend a trip to the New River Gorge National River in West Virginia. There are still plenty of things for us to do in the area and we definitely need another trip back to the Resort at Glade Springs so that we can take advantage of all the resort has to offer. It was quite a drive from DC at roughly 5.5 hours, but Hubs, Spotify, and the beautiful scenery made the drive pass quickly. For those wondering what path we took, I’ve included our route below: