The Newest National Park: New River George

The National Park Service designated New River Gorge in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia as the United State’s newest national park in December 2020. This addition to the National Park System marks a significant recognition of the area’s natural beauty and recreational opportunities. Spanning over 70,000 acres, the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna, along with a playground for outdoor enthusiasts.

The New River Gorge encompasses a 53-mile stretch of the New River, one of North America’s oldest rivers and one of the rivers that flow north. Contrary to its name, the New River is geologically ancient, with estimates of its age ranging from 3 to 320 million years, carving a deep and intricate canyon through the Appalachian Mountains. The region is steeped in a rich history, of Native American tribes, early settlers, and the coal mining boom that once thrived in these mountains.

Old Mill at New River Gorge park
Old Mill at New River Gorge park

The New River Gorge has a varied ecosystem ranging from riverine to forested landscapes. The park is home to an array of wildlife, including white-tailed deer, river otters, and a variety of bird species like the peregrine falcon and the bald eagle. The diverse habitats support a rich floral diversity, from the rhododendron thickets to the hardwood forests.

Rafting the New River Gorge

The New River Gorge is a premier destination for outdoor recreation, offering a wide range of activities that cater to all ages and skill levels. The rugged terrain and the flowing waters create a perfect backdrop for various adventures.

  • Rock Climbing: The gorge is renowned for its rock climbing, with over 1,400 established rock climbs. The sandstone cliffs, ranging from 30 to 120 feet, offer routes for both beginners and seasoned climbers.
  • Whitewater Rafting: The New River provides excellent whitewater rafting experiences. The upper section offers a milder ride, suitable for families and beginners, while the lower section presents challenging Class IV and V rapids.
  • Hiking and Biking: With over 100 miles of trails, the park hosts hikers and bikers of all levels. The trails wind through scenic forests and historical sites.
  • Fishing and Hunting: The river and its tributaries are popular for fishing, offering bass, perch, catfish, and trout. The park also has designated areas for hunting.
  • Camping and Picnicking: the park offers numerous camping sites and picnic areas.
New River Gorge Bridge scenic view in fall. View from the lower gorge with reflection of the bridge in the river and fall foliage on the mountain sides. Horizontal color photo.
New River Gorge Bridge

The New River Gorge Bridge stretches across the New River at a staggering height of 876 feet and extending 3,030 feet in length, standing as one of the longest steel arch bridges in the world. Completed in 1977, the bridge dramatically reduced the travel time across the gorge from 45 minutes to under a minute. The bridge not only serves as a vital artery for transportation but has also become a cultural and recreational landmark, hosting the annual Bridge Day festival where thousands gather to celebrate and partake in BASE jumping and rappelling. The New River Gorge Bridge is very likely the most photographed place in West Virginia. The U.S. Mint chose the bridge to represent West Virginia on the state commemorative quarter. In 2013, the National Park Service listed the New River Gorge Bridge in the National Register of Historic Places.