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A&A Visit New River Gorge & Shenandoah National Parks | Travel Review

End of Week #99


Outlanders River Camp, Luray VA > Boondocker's Welcome host, Woodbine MD

Miles traveled since last week's post = 118 miles


Total miles traveled to date = 13,850 with trailer



It's #NationalParkWeek! I will be honest, I did not even know that when I planned this post, but look at how nicely that works out. We had the pleasure of exploring two gorgeous National Parks last week, in the Virginia's - in what I would call wonderfully wild land. These two parks might be lesser known, compared to some of the favorites out west, but that doesn't mean they aren't as beautiful and full of rich history too!



A&A Visit New River Gorge & Shenandoah National Parks


New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia


Where did we stay


Little Beaver State Park - Located in the town of Beaver, WV, about 30 miles south from the New River Gorge Bridge, is a cute, quiet state park called Little Beaver. It sits on Little Beaver Lake, which is also a small dam, and has miles of hiking (& biking) trails to explore right in the park. Our site here was large, and the park was fairly empty during our 3-night stay. We had water and a 30-amp electric hookup, and were situated slightly uneven in our site, but were able to level it out with blocks.


I feel this was a better choice than the commercialized RV resorts a bit north of here, and it was a lot less costly as well. In total, there are seven West Virginia State Parks near the New River Gorge, so there are plenty of options to choose from if you do not like the commercialized RV resort route. However several of them did not yet open and/or did not have availability.



History & Environment


Say hello to our newest National Park, number 63, added to the National Park System as of January, 2020! Although the designation of the park itself is very new, the New River is in fact very old... like one of the oldest rivers in the world kind of old. It is older than the Appalachian Mountains themselves, and they are the oldest mountains in the USA. Here at the New River Gorge, the river cuts through the Appalachian Plateau, and some of the exposed rocks are as old as 330 million years!


This area is really a tale of where three rivers meet - the New River, the Bluestone River, and the Gauley River - all of which are famous for sport fishing and whitewater rafting. Years ago, this area was fueled by coal miles, and railroads, which eventually helped open up this remote countryside to an industry. For centuries, many parts of the New River were completely inaccessible to people, which heavily isolated parts of West Virginia and made it impossible to ship coal to the outside world. Congress set to change that in 1978 when it established the preservation of this free-flowing waterway, and now every year there are millions of new visitors that come here for recreational activities and to explore the endless beauty.


Within the park itself, the New River's elevation drops 750 feet within just 50 miles, creating one of the nations premier whitewater stretches. The forests of the New River Gorge are also home to some 1,400 plant species and a variety of animals - including endangered Virginia big-eared and Indiana bats.


What to do


There are 70,000 acres of protected land within the New River Gorge - creating an endless array of things to do for outdoor enthusiasts alike. There are 53 miles of whitewater, wild beauty here, that have served the needs of southern Appalachian people for many years. No matter what you are into, there is something to meet your needs in the New River Gorge, including boating, fishing, hunting, climbing, hiking, mountain biking, paddling, scenic driving, camping, and more!



Here are some of the activities we did while staying in the New River Gorge Area:


Canyon Rim Visitor Center


Located on the north end of the park, next to the New River Gorge Bridge itself, is the Canyon Rim Visitor Center. We stopped here to pick up maps of the park, scenic drives information, and hiking trails. From this location you can take up close and personal photos of the Bridge - a true icon for the New River, and a bridge that changed the way accessibility and transportation happened in this region of West Virginia.


The Bridge itself was completed in 1977, and is one of the most photographed places in all of West Virginia. Every year on the third Saturday in October, the bridge becomes the host to "Bridge Day", a day filled with activities, festivities, BASE jumping, and pedestrian walks across the bridge.


Scenic drive


Encircling the heart of the New River National Gorge and the park itself, is a recommended scenic drive that can take you about 100 miles through all of the best hikes, viewpoints, and scenery in West Virginia. While we did not complete the entire circle drive, we did cover the entire western half pretty well, and really enjoyed both the Canyon Rim Overlook and the Grandview Overlook. If we would have had more time we would have continued on to Sandstone Falls, which are the largest falls on the New River - spanning about 1,500 feet across.


Here is the link to the see the map of the suggested drive.


Hiking


If you are into hiking, there are hundreds of miles of trails to pick from, including trails that lead to old coal towns, waterfalls, geological formations, or just views of the Gorge. We squeezed a short hike, and a tad bit longer one into our scenic drive around the western half of the park.


  • Canyon Rim Boardwalk - (0.2 miles roundtrip) I would hardly call this a hike, as it is more like a strenuous climb down, and then back up, several sets of staircases - but as it did stir up a bit of a sweat in me, I'm adding it to this list. From this lookout at the end of the stairs is where we saw magnificent up close views of the New River Gorge Bridge.

  • Long Point Trail - (2.9 miles roundtrip) This trail traverses field and forest on a nicely groomed trail, until it reached a rock outcrop that turns into a sheer cliff viewing directly at the New River and the Bridge. The views were simply spectacular, and we even spotted a waterfall in the far distance of the side of one of the cliffs. Stunning!

To view a full list of all the different hiking trail options, click this link.



White water rafting


There are a handful of licensed outfitters that run river trips from spring until fall, which you can also find more information out from a visitors center in the park if you are interested. Otherwise the best way to choose the right location, and the right outfitter is to do some heavy google research and read a lot of reviews!


Walk under the bridge


If you are up for an extreme heights adventure, you can check out the bridge walk opportunity to walk right on and underneath the New River Gorge Bridge. We came across this haphazardly, as we were walking a trail and saw advertisement for it. I believe you are strapped to a rope the entire walk, and it appeared you walk the entire length of the bridge, if you are brave enough!


Explore the town of Beckley


Located just about 10-15 minutes away from Little Beaver State Park, is a nearby larger town called Beckley. There are many shops, grocery stores, and restaurants here to check out or fill up on supplies. We went to Kroger foods here and it made me realize how this is one of my more preferred grocery chain options.



Shenandoah National Park, Virginia