West Virginia’s Newest National Park: New River Gorge

Earlier this year, West Virginia’s New River Gorge was named the United States’s 63rd national park as part of a federal omnibus spending bill. Finally, our legislators have done something right! New River Gorge is filled with a massive 72,000 acres of woodlands, rivers, ravines, and Appalachian mountains. Visitors can expect to take part in any one of dozens of fun outdoor activities.

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is more like the type of location you would expect to find in lush Southern California

The timing is probably strategic, as national park visitation has skyrocketed during the coronavirus pandemic. Even unfamiliar Indiana Dunes National Park (in Michigan) has had trouble with overcrowding. The park is one with very limited resources because it isn’t as popular as the bigger parks. This last year has changed everything.

But New River Gorge National Park and Preserve doesn’t have that same problem — in large part because its visitors have the option to spread themselves out over such an enormous region. And populations will likely always be sparse anyway, since the closest city is three hours away.

West Virginia Tourism Commissioner Chelsea Ruby said, “There is not one standard entry-and-exit point. Travelers who visit will not have to sit in a long line just to get in. It’s almost as if the park has natural crowd-control build from within, given its accessibility and expanse.”

The omnibus bill provides the park with the option to buy up to 3,800 acres just for parking if needed.

Although visitor populations aren’t unbearably high, park enthusiasts recommend booking nearby hotels well ahead of time. Already established hotels, camping areas, and outdoor resorts plan to add new lodging. Adventures On The Gorge is one such resort operating in the region, and has publicized plans to add new camping areas and glamping tents to increase its already-high capacity. There are currently 90 campsites. Those who want a room can look at the cabins nearby.

Co-owner of Water Stone Outdoors said, “This place was bound to be discovered. It’s truly one of the outdoor recreational meccas in the United States.”

Although the entire park is scenic, most visitors will want to head to the New River Gorge Bridge, which hangs 876 feet over the river below and spans 3,000 feet end-to-end. The bridge has a walkway underneath for those who want to journey across on foot. 

What activities might you enjoy in the park? You can go whitewater rafting, ziplining, mountain biking, rock climbing, hiking, or drive along the self-guided African American Heritage Auto Tour to experience a piece of the park’s storied past.

The best part? The park is established, but not so established that you have to pay a hefty price just to camp there. Many campsites are free — as long as you’re willing to accept a lack of amenities. Visitors should check COVID-19 updates for current lodging options.

Where To Go Ziplining In West Virginia

You might remember the last time you said, “Let’s go do something fun!” But when was the last time the answer was, “Let’s go ziplining!” Even though it’s a wild ride and will get the heart pumping, some of the more recent activities we’ve discussed — like rock climbing, mountain bike riding, or skydiving — have greater popularity. But those who’ve gone ziplining from a serious course are often hooked for life. What greater way to experience nature’s beauty than from up above and while racing through the air?

The best zipline rides are the ones that last more than a few seconds. Try Mega Zip Line at River Riders in Harpers Ferry for a 2100-foot-long ride. It’s still short because you’re going 50 mph, but that’s what makes it such a rush!

Another great option is the 2500-foot line in Burning Rock Express, Sophia. This one goes 60 mph and reduces your altitude by a moderate 300 feet. Whoooosh!

Other great options include the Gravity Course at Adventures on the Gorge in Lansing, Grand Vue Park’s Canopy Ride in Moundsville, The Plunge at ACE Adventure Resort in Minden (but keep in mind it’s short), and WVU’s Research Forest in Bruceton Mills. 

You’ll find the longest line along the East Coast at AdrenaLine on the aforementioned Gorge in Lansing. From the zipline platforms, you’ll scout three different counties. 

Depending on when you go ziplining, you’ll need to make sure you’re dressed for the occasion. Not every course closes down in winter, so make sure you’ll be warm and toasty — it can get very windy up there. Your guides will provide you with all the requisite information and safety tips to get you flying down one of the zipline courses in no time, but most places have a training station where you can practice maneuvering before you take on the real thing. And that’s when the fun begins.

Where To Go Rock Climbing In West Virginia

Are you an experienced rock climber or are you just starting out? Either way, West Virginia has some of the best locations to feel the adrenaline rush of rock climbing while you take in stunning scenery. West Virginia isn’t called the “Mountain State” for no reason! Our state parks are especially good spots to learn the art of climbing. Here are the best places to go rock climbing in West Virginia!

West Virginia climbers often rank the New River Gorge as the best spot to climb for those who consider their skills advanced or expert-level. There are around 25 sandstone-climbing areas — and none of them are easy. Check out the Endless Wall. It’s one of the most popular spots east of the Mississippi River! 

If you’re more of a beginner, you can find qualified guides at NRocks Outdoor Adventures. Summersville Lake is another spot worthy for those who are just getting started — especially because it’s the state’s largest lake and it affords climbers the opportunity to cool off after a long day. We recommend spending a day rock climbing, and a night camping nearby!

Other popular destinations include Seneca Rocks, Coopers Rock State Forest, Meadow River, Franklin Gorge, Smoke Hole Canyon, Bozoo, Bear Haven Recreation Area, and North Bend State Park. 

Seneca Rocks in particular is one of the most popular and iconic destinations in the state, and offers many options for experienced climbers. Keep in mind that your skills will need to be top notch to make it through one of these courses unscathed!

Rock climbing is a dangerous sport, and it’s not for the faint of heart. Injuries — and even deaths — occur every year all over the country because someone makes one mistake. Check out koonz.com if you suffered a rock climbing injury because of someone else’s negligence. We’re all entitled to live freely and safely — and sometimes that means holding others accountable for their mistakes, especially when those mistakes change the outcome of a life or lead to financial instability.

We realize that not everyone takes rock climbing safety seriously, but consider this: if you become a falling object, you could hurt someone who doesn’t know you’re up there. These are the basic safety precautions every rock climber should take:

  • Double and triple-check harnesses and knots before putting any weight on either.
  • Wear a helmet to protect your head from falling rocks and debris.
  • Don’t take your eyes off the leader — and don’t take him off a belay unless you know for a fact that he’s anchored in and ready.
  • If you’re a beginner, don’t go rock climbing without an experienced friend or guide who can ensure you have all the right gear for the job.
  • Don’t let the rope fall in front of your leg when leading. Falling with the rope outside of your leg reduces the opportunity to sustain a head injury.
  • Use multiple anchors and carabiners. To ensure better protection, always use three anchors. 

Where To Go Mountain Biking In West Virginia

There’s no sport more wild than mountain biking! It requires ironclad willpower and a strong desire to succeed in the face of adversity — because there’s nothing but adverse conditions along all but the most basic of mountain biking trails. And you’re in luck in West Virginia, because our beautiful state is rugged, mountainous, and difficult to traverse when you’re not sticking to paved roads. These are the best places for mountain biking in the WV wilds.

If you’re looking for a more family-friendly “bike” ride instead of an off-the-beaten path excursion, then head to the C&O Towpath, Harpers Ferry, or Shepherdstown. These each have relatively flat tracks appropriate for all ages and skill levels — and they’re beautiful as well.

For those looking for literal mountain biking, there is no end to the possibilities.

Advanced bikers should head to the North Fork Mountain Trail, Plantation Trail, Table Rock Trail, or Douglas Falls Rail Trail.

Expert bikers should head to the Timberline Trail or Thomas City Park and Trails.

Intermediate bikers should head to the CVI Trail, Daily Sods North Trail, Blackwater Falls State Park Trail, or Dobbin House Trail.

Most of the highest ranked mountain biking trails in West Virginia are situated in Canaan Valley, so feel free to begin your search there!

There are several tips to keep in mind, even if you’re an expert mountain biker. Always take maps of the trail, extra water, extra food, a compass, and whistle. While other bikers probably won’t race toward the sound of a whistle, it could help alert rescuers to your location if you get injured too far away from a road and have to be lifted out. Before heading off into the wilderness, always be sure your bike is ready for the trip. You bring your car to the mechanic every once in a while for a tuneup, right? Treat your bike the same way!

Is It Possible To Live “Off The Grid” In West Virginia?

“Off the grid” living has become increasingly popular in recent years. It means something different to everyone. For one particularly strong-hearted Republican, it might mean dodging the tax man. For a survivalist, it might mean living off in a cabin in the woods without electricity or running water. For someone whose heart is bent on making a self-sustaining living, it might mean homesteading with a heavy reliance on renewable energy like solar and wind power. 

But is it possible in West Virginia? The quick answer is “yes” because there are no laws that specifically prohibit this type of lifestyle. But first you should take a long look at why you want to live off the grid and what you hope to accomplish by doing so.

Adam Fullman built his own debt settlement firm in California, and he was kind enough to tell us about his experiences with clients who were really just looking to escape from their problems. He explained that people sometimes panic when they accrue too much debt or feeling themselves sliding toward bankruptcy, and while lifestyle changes are recommended, off the grid living isn’t one of them.

But some people are wired that way. These are the people who enjoy building their own home, digging their own wells, setting up their own electrical and plumbing systems, planting their own garden, breeding their own livestock, etc. 

Choosing to live off the grid in West Virginia means reliance on alternative forms of energy that don’t require a subscription. Most of these individuals will set up a combination of solar and wind power, and supplement energy by storing it in batteries. They have a generator or two for emergencies. Solar power systems are great if you want to apply for a federal tax credit. 

If you don’t want to be connected to the county water system, that means digging your own well and septic tank. Many off the grid enthusiasts will collect rainwater in barrels and recycle and reuse as much of it as they can. Some of the more hardcore individuals will build an outhouse as the primary bathroom! We wouldn’t invite the parents.

Keep in mind that living this life becomes more complicated if you have kids. Homesteading requires a lot of hard work, which means free time — and you won’t have much free time if you have to homeschool the kids because school is too far away.

The price of land in West Virginia is significantly lower than the national average, which makes it the perfect state for off the grid living. It also ranks much lower for property taxes and in cost of living expenses. The latter might not be as important because hopefully you’ll be producing much of what you need by yourself. 

Another obstacle is the prevalence of natural disasters, which pose more of a problem for those living off the grid. If you own land, you might be able to apply for a land patent to avoid property taxes — but that also means you won’t have access to emergency services if disaster should befall you or your family.

Where To Go White Water Rafting In West Virginia

If you’ve never experienced the adrenaline rush of paddling down the rapids, you’ve never lived! Many people are scared away by the possibility of being thrown off the raft, but take it from those of us who have embarked on this adventure already — while it does happen, the momentum and physical forces associated with rafting will keep your butt mostly glued in its seat. In fact, the worst part about rafting is the seat itself! Your butt will be sore for the next day and a half.

But that aside, it’s still an adventure we feel compelled to recommend to anyone in halfway decent physical condition. If you want a new experience, put this one at the top of your list. Here are a few good locations where you can go white water rafting in West Virginia.

  • Cheat River. Acceptable for beginners.
  • Gauley River. For experienced or expert rafters. Nicknamed the “Beast of the East” for a reason. Come in autumn for intense Class V rapids.
  • Lower New River. For experienced or expert rafters.
  • Upper New River. Acceptable for beginners.
  • Potomac River. Acceptable for beginners.
  • Tygart River. Acceptable for beginners.

Each of these options have a number of outfitters who will gear you up with paddles and helmets. Most won’t send you off on a rafting trip without an experienced guide or instructor, who will start off each excursion by teaching you all about rafting safety. You won’t go anywhere until you’re ready!

Check out Adventures on the Gorge at New River Gorge Bridge if you would like professional advice on which excursions might make the most sense based on your age, experience, and overall fitness levels. We recommend taking it easy on a shorter trip during your first outing. If you enjoyed rafting, then come back in a week or two for a longer adventure!

The Most Important Precaution When Spending Time Outdoors

If you’re an outdoors enthusiast, then you probably know that the hours you spend in nature are good for you — usually. The fresh air and scent of natural objects like dirt and trees can actually release happy hormones into your brain, and coupled with exercise (which does the same thing), can help mitigate depression or anxiety. And sunlight itself provides Vitamin D, which supports your bone, muscle, and immune health. What could be better?

Perhaps the better question is “what could be worse?” 

Breast cancer misdiagnosis attorney Devan Peters said, “Cancer is a tricky beast. We can list dozens of carcinogens, cancer-causing agents, to avoid, but we can’t pinpoint the one that catalyzed the growth of cancerous cells in a specific person’s body. If we can ever do that, we might be able to devise better treatments and prevention techniques, and even personalize them from individual to individual. This would make recovery more likely, and cut down on cancer rates across the country.

One of those aforementioned carcinogens is ultraviolet radiation, which, as you know, is pretty much connected to sunlight. How do you get your daily dose of Vitamin D without putting yourself at risk for cancer? Easy: where sunscreen every time you go outdoors, even if the sun isn’t shining. You can get a burn even on a cloudy day, and if there’s any light at all, then your body is absorbing UV rays.

Once you smear on that sunscreen, being outdoors has other benefits as well. It can reduce the need for that next cup of coffee because studies show that even as little as 20 minutes outdoors can “jolt” your brain the same way the java does.

Scientists placed cyclists in front of differently colored videos in order to study their overall brain activity and mood. Those who were placed in front of a nature-colored screen experienced a mood boost and didn’t feel as exhausted as those who were placed in front of grey or red-colored videos. This might be mostly psychological, but at the end of the day what does it matter? A mood boost is a mood boost.

Spending too much time indoors — and in front of screens — can cause near-sightedness, which makes it tougher to see. Elementary students who spend more time outdoors than the majority of their classmates mostly had better vision, according to another study.

Sunlight might even mitigate the reception of pain (or distract you from it). In part, this might be because sunlight is known to reduce stress levels in the brain. Ask backpackers — who, by the way, studies show experience a boost in creativity when they spend the majority of their time walking in the woods away from electronics.

Many of us suffer from seasonal depression, which leaves us anxious or exhausted to boot. This is probably because we’re not getting enough fresh air. Studies show that we should still make the effort to get outside when it’s freezing, because even a cold environment can have the same neurological or psychological effects as a warm one.

Elk River Trail Building Continues Into 2021

It seems that new trails are being conceived, coordinated, built, and funded everywhere we look. The first ten miles of the first phase of the Elk River Trail here in West Virginia were opened at the beginning of July last year, just barely a year after the network was announced by Governor Jim Justice. The plan involved purchasing land required to build a 72-mile-long section of trail — which would also make it the second-longest rail trail on this side of the Mississippi River. 

Governor Justice said at the time: “I’ve said for a long time that the natural beauty we have here in West Virginia is one of, if not our single greatest treasure and I’m tickled to death that we are on the move toward making this a reality. Adding a rail trail of this size, in this absolutely gorgeous part of our state, is going to give us a tourist attraction that’s one of the very best of its kind in the country and it’s going to bring in people from all over the world to discover just how wonderful it is in West Virginia.”

Tourism Commissioner Chelsea Ruby believes “This exciting new project will give us one more tool in our toolbox as we work day in and day out to promote West Virginia to visitors. With four beautiful seasons and unmatched natural beauty, this extensive rail trail network will provide for additional recreational opportunities to explore Almost Heaven now and for years to come.”

The Elk River Trail will continue to be built this year, and for now we have not received an exact timeline on when it will be finished — in part because the coronavirus pandemic has made those plans uncertain.

Other states like New York have recently completed their own planned trails. The Empire State Trail goes from New York to Canada and Albany to buffalo, offering hundreds of miles of outdoors to explore even further north!

Outdoor Jobs For Nature Lovers In West Virginia

Most of us are probably hunkering down right now — whether because of COVID-19 cases rising or the fact that winter is in sight — but those of us who love the outdoors will be adventuring no matter what. And even if the cold weather keeps us indoors for a few months, we’ll still be looking forward to the future. What better way to do that than search for a new job? Here are the best outdoor jobs for nature lovers in West Virginia.

Landscapers often choose to start their own businesses (but beware, because the markets are competitive and you might be better off working for someone else and taking less risk). This provides good exercise and keeps you outside all day long. The downside is that you probably won’t be working much in winter. Many landscapers transition to similar jobs in the off-season, such as snow removal.

Perhaps the most obvious job is farming. You don’t exactly create your own schedule — because you’ll be working around the clock no matter what — but many people take pride in sustaining themselves instead of relying on others. And you can be creative with planting. Aside from staple crops like corn and potatoes, you can plant sunflowers for seeds, berry bushes, or trees for fruit and nuts. You reap exactly what you sow, so to speak!

Try looking at the trails near where you live. Although many look for volunteers in the spring, summer, and fall seasons to maintain trail conditions year-round, some longer trails actually employ ridgerunners or maintenance crews. Ridgerunners often spend three or four days hiking along the trail, and then have the rest of the week off. Some trail agencies also employ caretakers at shelters or camping sites to maintain outdoor bathrooms or collect payments from visitors.

Environmentalists, geologists, and archaeologists all work outdoors, but you might be able to find a niche that doesn’t require much education. The downside is that you probably won’t find anything that pays well — but that’s the risk you take for outdoor adventure on a daily basis.

Ever considered working for a zoo? Zookeepers spend much of their time outdoors with animals, which is another boon for many people who appreciate all aspects of nature. Depending on your qualifications, you might be able to find a good-paying job. 

Construction work is often provided by the state, which means you don’t always need much education to get started in a new career. Much of this work is conducted outdoors. It isn’t for everyone, but it’s an option.

Another great option for wine lovers is researching and establishing a vineyard. Although this job requires a lot of patience, many aspects occur outdoors and the financial benefits often pay off. 

The state of West Virginia provides many resources for those looking for a job. Utilizing these resources and other employment services will likely provide you with work faster than the shotgun approach, but to each his own.

The Best State Parks To Enjoy This Winter

Most state parks in West Virginia are best enjoyed over fall, spring, and summer — but some are best suited to winter climates because of the state’s diverse, breathtaking environments. We’ve already discussed Blackwater Falls and Canaan Valley State Parks in previous posts, but keep in mind that they’re recommended for snow sports lovers as well. Any West Virginia state park is great for outdoors enthusiasts who enjoy hiking in snow. 

Pipestem Resort State Park is spread across 4,050 acres in Summers and Mercer counties. Visitors can stay at 26 cabins and two quaint lodges, although winter guests should take note that some lodgings will be closed for reservations until about May 2021. Call ahead to make reservations.  Pipestem is open all winter for cross-country skiers and sledders. There is even an outfitter on site offering rentals for visitors who cannot bring their own gear.

Another previously mentioned location of interest is the renowned Greenbrier River Trail State Park, which encompasses 78 miles of former railroad corridor for hikers and bikers — and even those who prefer to travel on horseback, though we don’t recommend it in winter. Greenbrier River Trail is the longest rail trail in West Virginia and actually one of the longest in the country. Those who venture here in winter will likely want to bring cross-country skis or snowshoes to travel easier.

Twin Falls Resort State Park in Mullens offers visitors scenic vistas of Wyoming County. There are 25 miles of trails with a golf course and swimming pool, and accommodations open year-round for the winter traveler. History buffs will want to check out Pioneer Farm to see what it used to be like in West Virginia during the first settlements. The park offers plenty of skiing and sledding opportunities at Winterplace Ski Area. There is also a winter cafe for those in need of a warm pick me up.