With all the weekends I have camped, I have done shockingly little in West Virginia. The area falls in the weird distance that it is just a little too far for a weekend, but I have yet to spend a full week there. My endeavor to work from the trailer in 2021 has opened up a lot of doors and I was very excited by the possibility of finally spending some time in West Virginia.
My first stop in the state would have to be the at the New River Gorge. The river is one of the oldest in North America, but one of America’s newest national parks. It is laid out a little differently that other national parks, as it truly follows the river. Accessing natural areas requires winding in and out of nearby towns and it should be kept in mind that the area is a part of Appalachia that has historically been disadvantaged. It is a great opportunity to learn about some of the mountain stories.
New River Gorge does not have a national park campground that will accommodate trailers. So I was limited to private parks in the area. And since I was traveling the second week of November, I was further restricted to those parks that hadn’t closed for the season. Riftrafters fit the bill and seemed very close to the start of the gorge and Fayetteville.
My site was a bit odd in that it was a pull in site. I literally pulled up onto the grass and then disconnected to pull around and park in a nearby parking spot. It wasn’t much of a problem – just unexpected. The sites that were open in winter were very close to the office, playground, and laundry. And many were crazy close to one another. I would say sites are hit or miss.
One of my favorite features of the park were the more primitive sites that extended back along the gravel road. Blue and I greatly enjoyed our daily walks back there. Cell service was also good enough to be able to work for a few days.
Fayette Station Road
A great place to start any exploration of the New River Gorge is, of course, the Visitor’s Center. There are several great short hikes to overviews from here, including one with MANY stairs. I also heard good things about the private bridge tour that launches from the area.
From the Visitor’s Center departs the Fayette Road Audio Tour. This road takes you down to the New River and provides excellent views of the bridge. There are a couple pullouts along the route to take in the view. Do not stop on the bridge at the bottom of the gorge or at any of the social pullouts before or after the bridge. Just past the river, is a picnic area with good parking that I recommend for an exploration stop. It is very easy to walk back to the bridge from there. I imagine it would also be an awesome spot to watch rafters float past in warmer months.
I also wanted to make a plug for the NPS app. I found the Fayette Road Audio Tour on the NPS website, but realized when I got home that so many of the tools I needed were on the app. I highly encourage anyone to check it out not just for the big national parks, but historic sites, monuments and more.
Endless Wall Trail
Every resource I turned to proclaimed this as the number one trail to hike in the area. It is a 2.3 mile end-to-end trail that skirts the edge of the gorge and provides stunning views along the way. A short road walk with ample shoulder loops the hike back to the original parking lot. Side trails descend ladders, leading to pitches for local rock climbers. Of Course, I couldn’t explore those with the dog. On a Friday in November, I had the trail nearly to myself, but the numerous “No Parking” signs along the road leads me to believe that it can be very crowded at times.
I live by the idea that “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear,” but the exception is dangerous weather. And in my opinion, one of the most underestimated weather conditions among hikers is high wind. The gusts on the Endless Wall Trail moved the trees vigorously, and in our eastern forests the Emerald Ash Borer has created way too many hazards. So I decided to stay out of the woods for the afternoon and explore one of the old mining towns instead.
Thurmond is only about a half hour from Fayetteville, but it is definitely a winding road. There is not much to Thurmond once you get there. A few signs tell the story of the old mining town which hosts an active Amtrack line. If I had been so inclined, I could have hopped on a train on Wednesday, Friday or Sunday at 6:59 PM and been back in Cincinnati by 1:31 AM or reached Chicago by 10:00 AM the following day.
I absolutely loved my visit and can enthusiastically endorse the area as wild and wonderful!