9 Reasons Why New River Gorge National Park is the perfect getaway for the whole family

Travel is back and multigenerational family vacations are hot right now, especially trips that are heavy in outdoor times. Many of us have spent the past two years away from extended family, or at least not spending as much time with children and grandchildren as we would have liked, and we are keen to make up for that.

Some travelers still worry, to varying degrees, about large indoor events and crowds. Many vacationers look forward to national parks and activities to enjoy in the great outdoors. The National Parks Service’s newest national park, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve in southwest Virginia, might be a vacation spot that checks all the boxes for a family vacation.

I was a guest Adventures on the gorgeAdventure resort in Fayetteville, West Virginia. Adventures on the Gorge provided my meals, lodging, and activities. I am originally from West Virginia and this is one of the most beautiful parts of my state. . All opinions are mine

1. Easy access for travelers coming from the East Coast or Southeast of the United States

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is located in Fayetville West Virginia, 60 miles from Charleston. Visitors can get a flight from most places in the United States. It is a small airport so a flight connection may be necessary. Fayetteville has Amtrak service from Washington, DC. If you are coming from the east or southeast coast. The New River Gorge is within what most travelers consider a manageable one-day drive.

The writer's husband is rock climbing with Adventures on the Gorge

The writer’s husband is rock climbing with Adventures on the Gorge

Image credit: Jill Robbins

2. It’s the adventure of your choice

While many of the activities described below may be geared toward people with minimal restrictions on movement and a strong sense of adventure, this park can still be enjoyed by visitors who don’t want to climb over rocks and slide through treetops. . There are plenty of places in and around the national park to find solitude and contemplate the beauty of the area or to sit and enjoy the visit with loved ones. The sunset is especially beautiful. Adventures on the Gorge included a viewing area with Adirondak-style theater seating. Mother Nature puts on a great show.

The park and its surroundings inspire you to choose your own adventure. Groups can choose to do activities together, split the day and gather for dinner, or end the day around a campfire. Charleston and the Greenbrier Valley are about an hour’s drive away (each way). So, if adventure activities aren’t your cup of tea, there are other activities like golfing, shopping, drinking handcrafted beer in the coffin rooms and more to enjoy. You can also take a quick trip to the small town of Fayetteville, which has quite a few shopping and dining options.

Kayaking in the Lower New River

The Lower New River has more challenging (and more exciting) rapids.

Image credit: Whitewater Photography

3. White water rafting

Whitewater rafting is the most popular activity option in New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. The New and Gauley Rivers run through the park and the white water rafting season (May through September) awaits many fast-water enthusiasts. If white water rafting isn’t what you prefer, don’t worry. There are so many other things to do.

The Upper New River has Class I to Class III rapids, so rafters and kayaks can expect a nice run, although some people may not think it’s nice. I did this run with my husband and two teenage girls in June and the second to last set of slopes (aptly named Surprise Falls) were very steep. Our guide called it ‘Doozi’. This was an understatement.

We booked the kayaking tour with Adventures on the Gorge. They also offer tours of the New Loire River and Gully River, which are a bit wilder – Category IV and higher rapids. Safety equipment (helmets and flotation devices) is provided so that non-swimmers can participate in this activity, but you will need enough movement to get in and out of the water, paddle, and take directions from river guides. If you have physical limitations or movement restrictions, I recommend speaking to the guides before booking the trip to see what’s possible.

Hiking trail in New River Gorge National Park

Hiking trail in New River Gorge National Park

Image credit: Zack Frank / Shutterstock.com

4. Take a walk around the park

There are more than 100 miles of hiking trails in New River Gorge National Park, ranging from flat, smooth hiking trails to steep, challenging terrain. Trails range from 0.25 miles to 7 miles. Some trails can be linked for hiking. If you’re not sure which route is right for your group, talk to a ranger at a visitor center. Paper maps are available but I find it easiest to use a hiking app like All Trails to navigate. Make sure you download the map so you can access it without a cellular signal.

If you want to hit the trails but want a guide, Adventures on the Gorge offers two- and three-hour hiking tours. If you are hesitant to explore on your own or just want someone who knows the land area to show you the best scenic views and shooting locations, this could be an option for you.

There are some private properties within the national park, so be sure to heed any warnings on the posted signs.

5. Canyon Rim Visitor Center

The Canyon Rim Visitor Center is a great place to learn about the history of the park and this part of West Virginia in general. You’ll find an interpretive center with photographs and artifacts, a scale model of the entire park and reserve, and a theater. The theater shows an 11-minute movie shown in an episode that tells the story of the park.

The gift shop is well stocked with typical national park souvenirs and has a great selection of books. You can also get national parks passports stamped here. The outside balcony is a great place to look at the river. I took a lot of photos from this point of view and none of them did justice to the actual view, so I would recommend seeing it in person.

There is an accessible viewing area on the boardwalk as well as a staircase going down to the second view. The 150 steps give visitors a unique view of the New River Bridge from below.

A view of the New River from an altitude of 800 feet.

A view of the New River from an altitude of 800 feet.

Image credit: Lee Robbins

6. Gorge River New Bridge Walkway

A lot of the activities I described fall into the Active Vacation box. Other than being able to walk two miles, The New River Gorge Bridgewalk is not a particularly arduous trek. However, nothing, including flipping my kayak at Surprise Falls, has quite made my heart race like walking across that bridge.

Completed in 1977, the New River Bridge is 876 feet tall and ranks third in the list of the longest bridges in America. There is a 24-inch wide walkway just below the bridge. For $72, you can harness and take a guided tour across the bridge. There is a handrail you can hold onto if you’re nervous (that was me!) and your safety gear is bolted to an overhead cable. Having said that, I was terrified the entire time I was there. My kids and most of my other buddies described the experience as “exciting” and “exhilarating” so takeaways definitely differ from person to person. I’ll admit the views from above are amazing, but I think that’s unique to me.

Tours are guided by someone who knows the history of the bridge. You must be on tour to participate. The journey across the bridge is one way. The bus will pick you up at one end and pick you up at the other. Children must be at least eight years old to walk on the bridge. If you have physical limitations, wear a prosthesis, or use a wheelchair or cane, you can be able to participate. Call for details.

Bridge Day is celebrated in October every year to commemorate the completion of the bridge. The bridge is closed to vehicular traffic and visitors can enjoy watching BASE jumpers and rappers as well as regular bridge walking tours.

Lake Summersville, West Virginia

Lake Summersville

Image credit: Malachi Jacobs / Shutterstock.com

7. Flat water activities

Lake Summersville, one of the largest lakes in West Virginia, is located approximately 20 miles from New River Gorge National Park. If you enjoy the water but don’t want the thrill of the rapids, lake life is an option during the summer.

This reservoir was created when the Gauley River was dammed in the 1960s. The lake is launched six weekends during the fall for Gauley River Rafting. Summer visitors can swim, rent a float, paddleboard, or just enjoy the water views. Adventures on the Gorge offers a few options for lake adventures that you can book during spring, summer, and fall.

Bunkhouse in New River Gorge National Park

The cabin has grown into a tiny house style for 10 years and was just a short drive from the Canyon Rim Visitor Center.

Image credit: Jill Robbins

8. Adventures On The Gorge Amenities

In addition to the tours I already mentioned, Adventures on the Gorge offers zip-lining, laser tag, horseback riding, rock climbing, team building exercises, and more. Guests can be as active – or sedentary – as they want. All activities must be booked separately, although some combo packages are available.

There is a swimming pool, children’s playground, scenic patios, and plenty of stunning views. There are two restaurants on site as well as a coffee shop that serves light breakfast options. Most bookable activities require guests to be at least eight, with the exception of Timbertrek Adventure Park, which is open to children up to four years old. The Timbertrek Adventure Park and half-day rock climbing are easy “spectator sports” for parents or grandparents who want to see their kids participate without signing up for the activity.

A variety of accommodations is available, from luxurious cabins that sleep up to 14 people to campgrounds. We stayed in a bunk room for ten people. We found it comfortable, but a bit rustic. It worked because we were so active during our trip to the New River Gorge, we only got back to the cabin to fall into bed at the end of the day. If you envision more family time in and around your dwelling and amenities being important to you, you may want to consider other options.

Ace Adventure Resort and Glade Springs offer similar types of accommodation, although I don’t have first-hand experience with any of the properties. Airbnb and Vrbo also have plenty of options for vacation home rentals.

Although our unit had bed space for 12, it only had one bathroom, which probably wouldn’t work well for a larger group.

Greenbrier, West Virginia

Greenbrier Valley is less than 50 miles from the park.

Image credit: Rui Serra Maya / Shutterstock.com

9. Explore the nearby Greenbrier Valley

The beauty of the area and the location is a big part of why I think New River Gorge is a great place for a multi-generational trip where you have a group of people with different interests and abilities. Guests less on an adrenaline junkie might enjoy a side trip to nearby Greenbrier Valley, which is less than 50 miles from the park—about a 90-minute scenic drive, each way.

Greenbriar Valley has five golf courses, two covered bridges, a llama farm, and more dining and shopping options. Sometimes the challenge of putting together a successful multigenerational journey is to find options that everyone is happy with, and this community offers some choices that might tick that box.

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