The New River Gorge is known for many things, but four stand out to me: hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking and river rafting. Of those, I was able to accomplish two in the last two days. The Arrowhead Trail network was some immaculately maintained singletracks with opportunities for all experience levels.
|In this view, you can see some of the best rock climbing, hiking, river running and mountain biking in the country. Courtesy of West Virginia|
Visiting the New River Gorge for the first time was, in a word, overwhelming. There's just too much to do. Too many adventures to go on. Too many places that require week-long excursions. Too many historical sites. Too many hikes. Too much singletrack... I instantly regretted that I only had two days here. What was I thinking?
I've said this about nearly every place I've been, but this is the #1 place that I want to return to on this trip. At this point, I've just simply accepted that this is just a first pass at the central and southern Appalachians and that it will take my entire life to see and do all that I want. It is a vast mountain range.
|Rhododendron "Tunnels" are an enchanting feature on the mountain biking trails|
Well I was going to have to decide on something! I decided to wake up very early both days and mountain bike where I could and hike where I couldn't mountain bike. Next time I would hopefully go rafting or climbing.
Starting from the south on Route 64, I stopped in the Sandstone Visitor's Center and received a great deal of assistance from the rangers. They helped me plan a grand and exhaustive two days!
was the closest to the southern potion of the part and I spent plenty of time here. There's a trail which traverses the rim, much like the Grand Canyon. The Castle Wall Trail, in particular, dips below the rim and is a thrilling hike! Cliffs tower on one side and fall off into oblivion on the other making for a scary but scenic hike. It continues to other rim trails and ends at Turkey Point, a panorama.
|View from Grandview Trail|
|Castle Wall Trail|
This was the perfect place to start out. It really showcased what the area held for me in the next two days. The impressive cliffs of Castle Wall trail were enticing; I wanted to climb! This trail is not for the faint of heart though, it even got this climber's heart racing from time to time.
The next day, I started off with a biking trip along the Stone Cliff Trail of Thurmond
, West Virginia. This area is a real hotspot for rafting and is a popular put-in/take-out area. This trail follows the river for 2.7 miles before dead-ending. It is a deep and narrow section of the gorge with plenty of photo opportunities. The road from the rim to the river is also pretty well maintained. I was also happy to hear that the Amtrack Cardinal rides right to here from Chicago! Very fortunate news. As far as the mountain biking goes here, the trail was somewhat maintained and the riding was of moderate difficulty. Even on the weekend, I did not see anyone else.
|The Clovis Trail- an easy and delightful warm-up|
Turning further north, I headed to the famous Arrowhead Trail System which has been designed by the Order of the Arrow (Boy Scouts) with mountain biking in mind. This beautiful system of trails is impeccably maintained and provides both relaxing and intensely challenging singletrack. To date, I can only think of a few other places in the country that were as fun to ride as this one.
The system has been designed as a classic "stacked loops
" which offers an exponential number of ways to design your ride. There's an easy loop, a medium loop and a medium-hard loop. None of it was true "double black diamond" single track but it was plenty challenging. There's bailout points from several parts of each loop. Additionally, there are offshoots and side trails which add additional challenge. The elevation gain and loss isn't massive but it is very hilly so be prepared for a workout even on the smaller trails.
|Plenty of technical challenges|
|Singletrack for miles...|
I am not a serious mountain biker, by any means. However, I do enjoy great singletrack although I have my limits. These trails would be perfect if you are a mildly to moderately good mountain biker and the "easy trail" is a great trail to learn on. I found that it worked in as a great warm up for the full loop. All in all, I spent a good 6 hours biking and it was a total rollercoaster of a ride. I was tired, muddy and a bit bloody but with a big smile on my face!
As an Eagle Scout myself and a member of the Order of the Arrow, I felt an extra bit of pride knowing that these trails were designed and maintained by youth volunteers as one of the largest service projects in National Park History. The nearby Summit Bechtel Family Reserve
is a testament to scouting's lasting commitment to the adventure and preservation of the New River Gorge Area. (I can't wait to take my kids there!!)
|Ahhh the famous bridge from Long Point|
Was it really late afternoon already?? I had more to explore! Long Point
is probably the park's most popular hike due to its view of the famous New River Gorge Bridge. This is the one that makes the West Virginia State Quarter and is much of a symbol for the state as the Golden Gate is of San Francisco. Standing nearly 900 feet above the river, a drive across it hardly does the bridge justice; you have to hike to a viewpoint. There is one at the visitor's center but Long Point seems to frame the majesty of the gorge and the marvel of the bridge so perfectly. It can be reached from a 0.6 mile bootlegged trail from near the Arrowhead Parking Area and is an additional 0.7 mile walk. Elevation gain and loss are minimal and it can be biked save for the last 0.2 miles.
|The million dollar view from the appropriately named "Diamond Point"|
My day was nearing an end. I couldn't leave without hiking the best trail in the park known as "Endless Wall
". You can tell by the name that this area offers hundreds of climbing opportunities. The centerpiece of the hike is its halfway mark at Diamond Point where the view unfolds like a painting. Along the trail there are also several climber trails which lead to nice overlooks for casual hikers. This is the one hike in the park that everyone has to do. The service calls it an "unknown hike" but there were people here and there on the trail. Can you imagine traveling all the way out here and missing out on this though?
|So much I want to climb...|
So I'll be taking the train back here from Chicago as soon as I can. There's just too much to do and see for two days.
Read. Plan. Get Out There!