One of the newest additions to the national park system, New River Gorge National Park is a hiking and whitewater rafting paradise. Encompassing more than 70,000 acres, the park boasts deep canyons, rich cultural and natural history, and is home to one of the oldest rivers in North America.
Why Visit New River Gorge National Park in an RV?
New River Gorge offers several free camping areas right along the river. Most locations offer primitive camping free of charge, with sites available on a first-come, first-served basis. That means a road trip to visit this park in a smaller RV or travel trailer will make your trip much more comfortable.
Smaller rigs are best if you are planning to stay at one of the camping areas along the river. If you are looking for a campground with full hookups, you’ll need to camp on the rim of the river gorge. Many of the park’s roads are narrow and windy once you leave the rim and head down into the canyon.
If you’re trying to enjoy some of the park’s notorious whitewater, having a warm, dry RV to come home to at the end of the day will be critical. Especially if you happen to go for an unexpected swim.
When to Visit New River Gorge National Park
New River Gorge National Park is open year-round, but the visitor centers are closed on major holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day). April through October tends to be the park’s busiest season, as the weather is excellent and the river runs at optimal flow rates.
The weather in this part of the Appalachian Mountains can be unpredictable, however, so let’s look a little deeper at average weather trends for the park throughout the year.
Note: Reported temperatures and precipitation averages are for nearby Beckley, WV.
New River Gorge National Park in the Spring
High temperatures in the park throughout the spring range from around 51℉ in March up to 70℉ in May. The average low for March is around 27℉, but that average climbs to 47℉ by May. These months also see average rainfall accumulations between 3.27 and 4.57 inches.
New River Gorge National Park in the Summer
Summer brings the park’s warmest temperatures along with the highest chances of precipitation. July is the hottest month, with high temperatures averaging around 78℉ and lows near 59℉. On average, It rains a little over five inches during that month, making it the wettest month of the year in the New River Gorge.
Average highs for June and August top out in the mid-70s, and average lows stay in the mid-50s. June and August also experience about 3.5 inches of rainfall on average.
New River Gorge National Park in the Fall
Daytime temperatures in the fall stay relatively mild, making this the best time of year to experience the changing fall colors of the park’s oak and maple trees. The average high temperature for September is 71℉ and drops roughly 10 degrees month-over-month for October (62℉) and November (52℉).
Average lows begin around 50℉ in September, but overnight temperatures will start to dip below freezing by late October-early November. Precipitation averages for these three months are 2.94, 2.42, and 2.88 inches, respectively.
New River Gorge National Park in the Winter
December through February can be a very cold time to visit the park. Because of this, visitation during these months is much lower than the rest of the year. Average high temperatures rarely rise above 40℉, and average overnight lows stay well below freezing. Precipitation averages for these months are 3, 2.81, and 2.54 inches, respectively.
Don’t Forget! Temperatures can vary widely from the rim down to the bottom of the canyon. Check forecasts for Beckley, Fayetteville, or Sandstone to get a more accurate picture of what to expect for the area of the park you plan to visit.
Where to Stay
New River Gorge National Park only offers primitive camping areas. Primitive means there is no access to drinking water, sewer outlets, or electrical hookups. Some locations do have limited restroom facilities, however.
Each of these campsites is located in the canyon along the river. They are available on a first-come, first-served basis, and no reservations are accepted. Here’s a list of campsites in the gorge with links to each for additional information:
- Army Camp
- Glade Creek
- Grandview Sandbar
- Meadow Creek
- Stone Cliff Beach
- War Ridge/Backus Mountain
Some of these campsites are only accessible via maintained dirt or gravel roads. Stop into a visitor center and consult a park ranger regarding road conditions, height clearance restrictions, or anything else you want to know before you hit the road directly to any of the park’s campgrounds.
Staying Outside The Park
If you’re looking for full hookups, here are some of the best full-service campgrounds within close proximity to New River Gorge:
- Rifrafters Campground: In Fayetteville, WV, less than 10 minutes from the Canyon Rim Visitor Center.
- Beckley Exhibition Mine Campground: In Beckley, WV, about 22 minutes from Grandview Visitor Center and 27 minutes from Sandstone Visitor Center.
- Lake Stephens Campground & Marina: In Surveyor, WV, about 40 minutes from Grandview Visitor Center and 45 minutes from Sandstone Visitor Center.
Tips For Your Camping Stay
Because reservations aren’t required for any of the camping areas in the park, this section will focus on ways to make your stay more comfortable and help you Leave No Trace when you depart.
- Stays are limited to a maximum of 14 days within a 28-day period.
- Quiet hours at all campsites are from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
- All campsites are located some distance away from markets, gas stations, and, in many cases, cell service. Plan ahead and pack everything you need for your stay.
- Most sites (excluding War Ridge) provide easy access to the river for fishing and boating.
- Swimming in the river is NOT recommended. Hazards include sudden dropoffs, powerful currents, and rocky banks and shoals. If you do go in, make sure you wear a PFD at all times.
- Treat the river with respect by packing out your trash.
Check out the park’s website for more information on camping regulations, group campsites, and backcountry camping in New River Gorge.
How to Get Around New River Gorge National Park
A regular passenger vehicle is the best way to get around the park. So whether you unhook your tow vehicle from your trailer or haul a toad behind your RV, you won’t want to negotiate the narrow park roads in a large class A motorhome.
Major highway access to the park is gained by either Route 19 between Beckley and Hico or I-64 between Mossy and Sandstone. Most of the taxi services in the area are based in either Beckley or Oak Hill.
Keep in mind that Google and Apple Maps may not be completely reliable in the park. They may direct you to rough, inaccessible parts of the New River Gorge if you don’t have the correct coordinates entered or the location services on your device can’t get an internet connection.
At the start of your visit to New River Gorge National Park, plan on stopping by one of the park’s four main visitor centers: Canyon Rim, Sandstone, Grandview, or Thurmond Depot. Use the park’s transportation page to find the exact coordinates for the location where you want to start your journey.
Places to Go
Whether you’re looking for sweeping views of the gorge or you’re more interested in exploring historic sites, there are plenty of places to visit during your time in the park. Here are a few of the best places to go in New River Gorge National Park:
Fayette Station Road
Exploring this hundred-year-old winding road is like stepping back in time. It will give you a glimpse of what visiting the park was like before the modern New River Gorge Bridge was completed in 1977.
Fayette Station Road descends into the gorge with a series of hairpin turns before crossing a narrow bridge over the river and ascending the opposite side of the canyon. There are plenty of viewpoints and historical markers along the way, along with remnants of some of the canyon’s early boom-and-bust communities.
Grandview is a must-visit destination if you’re into hiking, picnicking, or just casual sightseeing. You’ll find some of the park’s most dramatic scenery there. On a clear day, you can see all the way to the bottom of the gorge and as much as seven miles of the river and its surrounding watershed.
The Main Overlook and the Turkey Spur Overlook are the major viewpoints to check out while visiting Grandview. But the area is also known for its eye-popping collection of Catawba rhododendrons, which are in full bloom in the spring.
New River Gorge Bridge
A trip to this national park isn’t complete without driving over the modern New River Gorge Bridge. The bridge currently holds the title of the longest steel span in the Western Hemisphere, and it crosses the gorge at a whopping height of 876 feet above the river.
When it was finished in October of 1977, the bridge provided a solution to one of the region’s most challenging travel issues. What used to be a 40-minute drive along narrow, winding roads to cross the river became a short, one-minute journey over a bridge that offers magnificent river views on either side.
The once-thriving community at Nuttallburg was one of the region’s most important coal mining towns. What remains today is one of the most intact examples of a coal mining complex in West Virginia, if not the entire United States.
If you visit, you’ll find remains of the town’s tipple, conveyor, coke ovens, and outbuildings, along with hiking trails to explore the surrounding natural areas. Keep in mind that the road to Nuttallburg is narrow, winding, steep, and subject to frequent washouts. Check the park’s website for current road conditions before your visit.
Sandstone Falls is the largest waterfall on the New River. Water cascades around a series of islands, and the river drops 15 to 25 feet through the falls. Here, the river is nearly 1,500 feet wide, and the falls begin its transition into the narrow gorge as it makes its final push to the confluence with the Gauley River.
Visiting Sandstone Falls in the autumn provides great opportunities for photographers. The seasonal colors create a dramatic backdrop for the river as it cascades over the falls. As an added bonus, the trip to Sandstone will take you along two of the park’s most scenic roads — Route 20 and River Road.
From the turn of the century until the early 1920s, Thurmond was the place to be. This classic boomtown was the heart of the area’s coal mining industry and it boasted the largest revenue of any town along the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway.
The rich banks of Thurmond attracted coal barons and other wealthy visitors from miles around. At one time, the railway brought nearly 75,000 passengers to town every year, but the advent of diesel locomotives changed everything. Today, the community is still largely untouched by modern development and provides an important link to the park’s human history.
Things To Do in New River Gorge National Park
The many activities to enjoy here range from casual drives along the rim of the gorge to exhilarating rides on the river’s gurgling rapids. Here is a quick overview of all the awesome things to do in New River Gorge National Park:
If it’s your first time at New River Gorge, taking a scenic drive is a great way to see a lot of the park in a day. Because the deep river canyon bisects the region, some destinations require driving a little out of the way to find a bridge where you can safely cross or a road that can take you down to the river’s edge.
The New River Gorge Scenic Drive is the longest route and is the best for first-time visitors to get an overview of everything the park has to offer. It is roughly a three-hour drive that covers 83 miles on divided highways and winding two-lane roads. Plus, it includes two important stops: the Canyon Rim and Sandstone visitor centers.
Whitewater rafting is one of the best reasons to visit New River Gorge during the summer. The park’s 53 miles of free-flowing river are divided into two sections based on their whitewater classifications.
The southern section offers a calmer experience, with the largest whitewater reaching class III rapids. The northern section features some of the biggest rapids in the state, ranging from class III to class V levels.
The main whitewater rafting season on the New River runs from April through October, and there are a number of commercial outfitters in the region. The section from Hinton to Thurmond is the best for paddling on your own, but be sure to educate yourself on whitewater rafting on the New River before you go.
There are nearly 100 miles of hiking trails to explore in the park, with options for hikers of all fitness levels. Due to the river, the trails are broken up into six areas: Grandview, Glade Creek, Sandstone Brooks, Fayetteville, Thurmond-Stone Cliff-Cunard, and Nuttallburg.
Here is a quick overview of one popular day hikes in each area (trail distances are one-way unless otherwise noted):
- Grandview Rim Trail: This moderate 1.6-mile hiking trail connects the Main Overlook and the Turkey Spur Overlook and is one of the best hikes for first-time visitors.
- Glade Creek Trail: This moderate 5.6-mile multi-use trail follows an abandoned narrow-gauge rail line and is one of the best hikes in the park, especially if you’re seeking a refreshing swimming hole.
- Island Loop Trail: This easy half-mile round trip trail circumnavigates the largest island below Sandstone Falls, which was once the site of a prominent grist mill.
- Long Point Trail: This moderate 1.6-mile multi-use trail winds through the forest before ascending onto a high point with incredible panoramic views of the New River Gorge Bridge.
- Southside Trail: This easy 7-mile multi-use trail passes through the abandoned mining towns of Red Ash, Rush Run, and Brooklyn while offering great views of the river along the way.
- Keeneys Creek Rail Trail: This easy 3.3-mile multi-use trail follows a former rail line that connected the town at Keeneys Creek to Nuttallburg along the main C & O railway.
Always check in with park rangers at a visitor center to get the most up-to-date information on trail closures and conditions before your hike. Also, it’s a good idea to grab paper maps of the park’s hiking trails instead of relying on app-based phone maps.
There are also backpacking opportunities in the park, with stays limited to 14 days. The park’s website offers more information on the best trails for backpacking and where you can and can’t camp while on a backpacking trip.
Many of the park’s dirt trails are multi-use, which means they are appropriate for hiking and mountain biking. Road biking isn’t as popular in the park, as the steep, winding roads make it incredibly difficult and dangerous.
E-bikes are currently only permitted on the Stonecliff Trail, but the National Park Service is exploring adding new biking routes in the near future. Check the park’s website for more information, along with safety tips for biking in New River Gorge.
There are more than 1,400 established climbing routes in New River Gorge National Park. Since the park is open year-round, climbers can enjoy these routes any time, but the best seasons for rock climbing are late April to mid-June and mid-September to late October.
Most of the cliffs for climbing in New River Gorge are sandstone ranging in height from 30 to 120 feet. Most of the routes are suited for advanced and expert climbers – rated at 5.9 or harder. For less experienced climbers, check with local guide companies that can take you out and put you on a wall safely.
Spring and fall are the best times of year for fishing in New River Gorge. The river is an excellent warm water fishery that boasts an abundance of fish species, including four different types of bass, walleye, muskellunge, and others.
The park offers many river access points, with most anglers targeting early mornings and late evenings when the fish are most active. You’ll need a West Virginia fishing license before fishing in the park, and you should read up on current regulations and safety tips on the park’s website before your visit.
Hunting in Southern Appalachia is a tradition that has been passed down for generations. Early settlers hunted as a way to find food, and the idea of hunting just for sport would have been unthinkable.
Today, hunting in the park is more regulated, with specific No Hunting Zones enforced. The West Virginia Department of Natural Resources is the best place for information on hunting licenses, seasons, rules, and regulations.
Guided Interpretive Programs
Whether you’re visiting the park with kids or just want to learn from an expert, there are a number of ranger-led programs you can enjoy. These presentations are beginner-friendly and free unless otherwise advertised.
Some examples of guided activities in New River Gorge include wildflower hikes, garlic mustard (an invasive species) removal, old-growth forest hikes, rhododendron walks, and lunar eclipse viewings.
What to Bring and How to Prepare
Due to the remote nature of some of the park’s campgrounds, planning and preparing in advance for RV travel to New River Gorge is vital. Even if you are going to set up camp in a developed campground outside of the park, here are some tips to help you enjoy the most comfortable experience possible:
- Pack for a self-sufficient trip. If you’re camping in the gorge, places to re-supply will be far away. Pack an extra camping cooler and consider bringing a portable generator and a portable holding tank to make your extended stay more comfortable.
- Use paper maps. Navigating with smartphones and even GPS units can be unreliable. Start your trip at a park visitor center to pick up paper maps and other resources.
- Be ready for wet weather. That means packing rain jackets, pop-up shelters, and making sure your RV awning is in good condition.
- Learn how to identify poison ivy. If it has leaves of three, let it be, but here are more tips for staying away from poison ivy in the park.
- Keep a clean camp. Black bears are often encountered in the park. Don’t leave food or trash out when you leave camp and keep pets on a leash at all times.
- Stay safe! Review the rest of the National Park Service’s tips for a safe visit to New River Gorge.
Brief History of New River Gorge National Park
New River Gorge is one of the newest additions to the US National Park System. Although it enjoyed some level of protection as a national scenic river since 1978, it was officially redesignated as a national park in December of 2020.
The New River itself is widely considered one of the oldest rivers in the world. Experts trace its origins back to anywhere between 10 and 360 million years ago. It also happens to be one of the few rivers in the world that primarily flows from south to north.
The park was created to tie together the rich natural and human history that has taken place along the banks of the river over the centuries — including the subsistence lifestyles of the region’s native peoples to the boom-and-bust of the logging and coal mining industries.
The construction of the New River Railroad, which was completed in 1874, led to many changes in the region. It opened the door for the area to become more involved in the nation’s coal and logging industries. and led to the creation of boomtowns in places like Thurmond.
It also allowed areas like Army Camp to serve as a training and testing ground for constructing floating bridges during the Korean War. There are also some amazing hidden history highlights that you should learn about before your visit to New River Gorge National Park.
If you’re a fan of early human history in the Americas, there are many stories surrounding the New River and its settlements that aren’t widespread in most US history books!
Tucker Ballister is a Technical Content Writer for Camping World and a lover of the open road. You can check out more of his adventures and outdoor advice at thebackpackguide.com.